Objectives: A scoping review was conducted to synthesise the findings of evaluations of voluntary agreements between business and government. It aimed to summarise the types of agreements that exist, how they work in practice, the conditions for their success and how they had been evaluated.
Methods: Voluntary agreements were included if they involved a transparent signing-up process and where businesses agreed to carry out specific actions or to achieve specific outcomes. Studies of any design published in English were included.
Results: 47 studies were identified. Voluntary agreements may help to improve relationships between government and business, and can help both parties agree on target-setting and data-sharing. Governments may also use the experience to help develop subsequent legislation. For voluntary agreements to be successful, targets should be ambitious and clearly defined, with robust independent monitoring. Public knowledge of agreements can help encourage participation and ensure compliance.
Conclusions: If properly implemented and monitored, voluntary agreements can be an effective policy approach, though there is little evidence on whether they are more effective than compulsory approaches. Some of the most effective voluntary agreements include substantial disincentives for non-participation and sanctions for non-compliance. Many countries are moving towards these more formal approaches to voluntary agreements.
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