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In response to the numerous challenges facing contemporary multilateral organizations, and indeed the very idea of multilateralism itself, many have called for “wholesale change” yet few have provided specific details on substance or articulated how any such reforms might be supported (politically, financially) or implemented. We summarize key insights from a recent global initiative that sought to both provide a critical assessment of multilateralism at different units of analysis and offer credible corresponding responses, doing so within a basic framework distinguishing between multilateralism’s constitutive elements (e.g., the creation, organization, and collective understandings of the UN system) and its functional components (everyday activities such as budgets and hiring practices). This collection of fourteen papers and six commentaries highlights specific ways in which different kinds of political, policy, and procedural challenges might be addressed, including strategies to adopt more adaptive management practices, ensure compliance with dues-paying rules, and diffuse secession threats; enact difficult trade-offs between imperatives for transparency, accountability, and confidentiality; learn from regulatory innovations in trade and investment rules to strengthen labor, human rights, and the environment; formulate workable domestic and global rules for multilateral cooperation; enhance data on, studies of, and policy responses to rising inequalities; implement potential technical fixes to redress debilitating “binding constraints”; promote greater staff diversity (geographically, demographically, ideologically); forge greater complementarity between regional, “new” (Southern-based) and “established” multilateral organizations; secure the substantive contributions of small states; and respond proactively to the shifting contours of geopolitical rivalries, opportunities, and imperatives.


Singh, J.P., and Michael Woolcock. "The Future of Multilateralism and Global Development: Opportunities for Constitutive and Functional Reform." Global Perspectives 3.1 (December 2022): 57594.