Multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) are a form of private governance sometimes used to manage the social and environmental impacts of supply chains. We argue that there is a potential tension between input and output legitimacy in MSIs. Input legitimacy requires facilitating representation from a wide range of organizations with heterogeneous interests. This work, however, faces collective action problems that could lead to limited ambitions, lowering output legitimacy. We find that, under the right conditions a relatively small group of motivated actors, who we call institutional stewards, may be willing to undertake the cost and labor of building and maintaining the MSI. This can help reconcile the tension between input and output legitimacy in a formal sense, though it also results in inequalities in power. We test this claim using a case study of organizations' activities in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). We find that a small group of founding members-and other members of long tenure-account for a disproportionate level of activity in the organization.
Navigating input and output legitimacy in multi-stakeholder initiatives: Institutional stewards at work