Since the first UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 - the Earth Summit - it was recognized that sustainable development could not be achieved by governments alone. This notion is reflected emphatically in the landmark outcome document of that Summit, "Agenda 21
". Section 3 underscores the criticality of harnessing expertise and capacity from all sectors of society and all types of people: consumers, workers, business owners, farmers, students, teachers, researchers, activists, indigenous peoples, and other communities of interest.
Agenda 21 formalized this concept by recognizing nine sectors of society as the main channels through which citizens could organize and participate in international efforts to achieve sustainable development through the United Nations. These nine sectors are officially known as "major groups".
Twenty years later, major groups continue to demonstrate a high level of engagement with this process. The outcome document of the Rio+20 Conference, The Future We Want,
likewise reaffirms that sustainable development requires the meaningful involvement and active participation of major groups and all relevant decision makers in the planning and implementation of sustainable development policies. It acknowledges efforts and progress made at the local and sub-national levels and the key role that local, regional and national legislatures and judiciaries play in promoting sustainable development. This includes their role in engaging citizens and stakeholders and providing them with information relevant to the three dimensions of sustainable development. Additionally The Future We Want highlights the importance of involving other stakeholders such as local communities, volunteer groups and foundations, migrants and families, as well as older persons and persons with disabilities.
Governments have committed to work more closely with major groups and other stakeholders and to encourage their active participation in processes that contribute to decision-making, planning and implementation of policies and programmes for sustainable development at all levels. They have likewise agreed to work towards improved access to information and communications technologies, especially broadband networks and services, in order to bridge the digital divide through greater international cooperation.