Stake­hold­ers in for­eign-aided projects

The UB Post - - Front Page - By IVAN G. SOMLAI Di­rec­tor of ETHNOBUREA­UCRATICA

Why is for­eign-aided de­vel­op­ment su­pe­rior to lo­cally con­ceived and man­aged ef­forts?

Be­cause it sys­tem­at­i­cally, through an acul­tural re­sults-based man­age­ment process, over­comes prob­lems that pur­port­edly do not ex­ist in one’s own for­eign sys­tem!

I know sev­eral good chefs who know each other, in Er­denet and Ulaan­baatar. Each com­plains about slow busi­ness (of­ten de­pend­ing on the flow of ex­pats), and not enough trained staff will­ing to ac­cept low to mod­est salaries. So I asked them if they have ever thought of join­ing forces for eco­nomic ad­van­tage, and cre­ate a jointly owned and man­aged restau­rant. Their an­swer: each works dif­fer­ently with staff, each has their own ex­pec­ta­tions and, although they know and re­spect each other, they feel that their re­spec­tive work­ing styles might be pro­hib­i­tive to suc­cess.

So it is with par­tic­i­pa­tory method­olo­gies, they do not al­ways turn out as en­vis­aged. Most dis­cus­sions about par­tic­i­pa­tory de­vel­op­ment are well in­tended, but the num­ber of dis­crete agen­cies — some never even con­ceived as need­ing to have a seat at the table -- re­plete with their unique agen­das, are un­able and at times un­will­ing to em­pathize with each other’s needs -- yet are know­ingly putting them­selves into a sit­u­a­tion oblig­ing close col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Now I am not re­fer­ring to chefs from the same cul­ture and pro­fes­sion, rather a more com­plex ad­mix­ture of do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional mul­ti­sec­toral rep­re­sen­ta­tives who need to ar­rive at some con­sen­sus for an idea or an in­tended project.

To il­lus­trate this com­plex­ity:

• The likely or ac­tual ex­e­cut­ing agency might be a univer­sity, NGO, INGO or com­pany, which it­self has in­ter­nal staff as well as cer­tain out­sourced spe­cial­ists; the in­ter­nal staff may have pres­sures to ini­ti­ate projects in or­der to ac­crue prof­its from the in­evitable over­head por­tions of bud­gets — some­times to the detri­ment of “real needs”.

• The fund­ing agency may be a for­eign donor or an in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion or, in some cases, a pri­vate com­mer­cial con­cern; any of these ac­tors could – and of­ten are man­dated to -- make de­ci­sions based on po­lit­i­cal and not ac­tual ben­e­fi­ciary needs.

• Cor­re­spond­ing agen­cies in the host coun­try may in­clude one or more NGOs on the side of the likely or ac­tual ex­e­cut­ing agency; and a govern­ment min­istry through, which the fund­ing agency may need to trans­act. The min­istry may it­self be acutely sub­di­vided in its na­tional, re­gional and district loy­al­ties; and there are cases where the law al­lows a sub-na­tional level to coun­ter­mand or de­lay cer­tain cen­tral level in­ten­tions.

• The ben­e­fi­ciary group is not too in­fre­quently a mi­cro­cosm of di­verse so­cioe­co­nomic, eth­nic and other so­cio-cul­tural do­mains that clearly chal­lenge the best com­mu­ni­ca­tion ef­forts.

• Lastly, there may be the in­flu­ence of po­lit­i­cal par­ties or other in­ter­est groups to con­tend with.

The re­sults may of­ten be that agen­cies aim­ing at im­prov­ing the lives of ben­e­fi­cia­ries are not prop­erly com­mu­ni­cat­ing with each other be­cause of di­verse vi­sions, in­ten­tions, modes of work­ing, back­ground pres­sures and — most im­por­tantly, dif­fer­ent cul­tures. Par­tic­i­pa­tion, even if con­sid­ered suc­cess­ful from the view­points of plan­ning, im­ple­men­ta­tion, eval­u­a­tion and so on, rarely en­velopes the whole de­vel­op­ment process it­self; rather it ad­dresses only cer­tain phases, espe­cially at the front end; thus what may be con­sid­ered suc­cess­ful by the im­ple­ment­ing body may not be sim­i­larly viewed by cer­tain stake­hold­ers in later stages of a project.

All of the above leads to a com­plex­ity that while em­pha­siz­ing bu­reau­cratic ter­ri­to­ri­al­ity re­mains too dis­tant from en­abling the par­tic­i­pa­tory rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of de­bil­i­tat­ing so­cial is­sues in de­vel­op­ment.

Lo­cal folks in­vited to or in­tend­ing to par­tic­i­pate at any stage of an out­side idea in­volv­ing their com­mu­ni­ties, of­ten could use prac­ti­cal ad­vice on how they ought to go about their in­ter­nal de­ter­mi­na­tion of is­sues; their en­su­ing pre­sen­ta­tion of their main con­cerns; lis­ten­ing to and ac­cept­ing the ra­tio­nale be­hind other par­tic­i­pants’ con­cerns; and in­evitable need for ac­com­mo­dat­ing some other par­tic­i­pant, with­out sur­ren­der­ing to more vo­cal main­stream groups, which may strive to mo­nop­o­lize the ex­er­cise. With­out ad­e­quate coach­ing or at least in­form­ing, less ed­u­cated peo­ple may find them­selves over­whelmed by “for­eign fancy talk”. Il­lus­tra­tively, the WWF in Mon­go­lia has a prac­ti­cal six-step process for en­hanc­ing the de­vel­op­ment herder groups. Tested and adapt­able ideas from the scores of other NGOs and INGOs ought to be sys­tem­at­i­cally shared.

Dis­cus­sants who have pre­vi­ously par­taken in par­tic­i­pa­tory ses­sions, espe­cially in for­eign-im­ple­mented projects, have prob­a­bly be­come fa­mil­iar with the req­ui­site jar­gon; but, of­ten miss­ing is the com­ple­men­tary cul­tural ex­per­tise to un­der­stand the nu­ances of each group, each sec­tor, each po­lit­i­cal per­spec­tive and the ben­e­fits that are to pur­port­edly ac­crue to the ben­e­fi­cia­ries. Just as it is un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect ev­ery stake­holder to un­der­stand ex­pertly pro­duced flow and pie charts, pic­tures and maps by project pro­po­nents, sim­i­larly it is im­pos­si­ble for non-lo­cal spe­cial­ists, be they in­dige­nous or for­eign, to un­der­stand the nu­ances ex­pressed by the (of­ten ru­ral) com­mu­ni­ties. And de­pend­ing on the par­tic­u­lar project plans, when stake­hold­ers are de­nied an op­por­tu­nity to in­crease un­der­stand­ing about a new plan, they could end up be­ing dis­placed, de­nied ac­cess to cer­tain ar­eas, have even less con­trol over lo­cal de­vel­op­ment than per­haps al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced, and even ex­pe­ri­ence a gen­er­ally de­te­ri­o­rat­ing life within the af­fected com­mu­nity.

On part of the fund­ing and ex­e­cut­ing agen­cies, if a project does get un­der­way, man­agers should be in reg­u­lar con­tact with stake­hold­ers so as to be bet­ter able to it­er­a­tively as­sess whether an orig­i­nal “co­in­ci­dence of per­spec­tives” is sus­tained; whether in­ter­nal or­ga­ni­za­tional goals have over­taken the orig­i­nal “un­der­stand­ing”; whether the project has been able to ben­e­fit from un­fore­seen but mu­tu­ally ad­van­ta­geous op­por­tu­ni­ties; and whether the dis­parate and of­ten frag­men­tary stake­hold­ers could be steered through po­ten­tial con­flict. If one re­flects on the in­evitabil­ity that even within one’s own com­pany, agency, govern­ment of­fice or com­mu­nity there will arise con­flicts, and that the solv­ing of con­flicts can be painfully long and at times in­ef­fec­tual, it is not a stretch of the imag­i­na­tion to con­clude that with dis­parate stake­hold­ers of strate­gic part­ners, spe­cial in­ter­est groups, do­mes­tic and ex­pa­tri­ate project staff, as well as of course col­lat­er­ally af­fected peo­ple, it is a wiser choice to plan mit­i­ga­tion ahead of time. Yet most projects do not think of this, espe­cially those who think that they know what is best for oth­ers and that the sat­is­fac­tion of the stake­hold­ers is only sec­ondary.

Stake­hold­ers may ac­cept ac­tiv­i­ties as be­ing a pri­or­ity when they are un­der­stood to be in their own best in­ter­ests as well as in the best in­ter­ests of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. It must also be ac­knowl­edged that pri­or­i­ties can change. For ex­am­ple, recre­ational and tourism ac­tiv­i­ties in var­i­ous soums have from time to time been pro­hib­ited be­cause of wild­fires or mod­i­fied be­cause of pest in­fes­ta­tion; na­tional bud­gets have had to be re­cal­i­brated be­cause of ma­jor fluc­tu­a­tions in the value of ex­trac­tives; in­fras­truc­tural dam­age has at times im­peded timely re­con­struc­tion; open­ing of the new 0.5 bil­lion USD air­port, planned to be op­er­a­tional in 2017 and then 2018, has been de­layed un­til the end of 2019 “due to man­age­ment is­sues”; and a ma­jor flood or dzud can to­tally dis­rupt planned work in any soum or prov­ince. Such cir­cum­stances call for flex­i­bil­ity not only by a ben­e­fi­ciary com­mu­nity, but as well by im­ple­ment­ing agen­cies hooked on the lin­ear, re­sults-based man­age­ment fo­cus preva­lent in western de­vel­op­ment cir­cles.

One fre­quent mis­con­cep­tion by donor, plan­ning and ex­e­cut­ing agen­cies is the pre­sump­tion that once some idea has been de­cided at a higher level it now need only a bit of shep­herded stake­holder col­lab­o­ra­tion to jus­tify the orig­i­nal plans. Of course, in some cir­cum­stances, com­mu­ni­ties have been able to de­feat, al­ter or de­cel­er­ate the im­ple­men­ta­tion of projects in­suf­fi­ciently con­sulted; how­ever, there are many other stake­hold­ers that have been duped, ca­joled or oth­er­wise in­cen­tivized to agree to the pro­pos­als con­trary to their re­sent­ment.

Stake­holder col­lab­o­ra­tion must be seen and prac­ticed as a con­tem­po­rary, ben­e­fi­cial obli­ga­tion to max­i­mize the chance for suc­cess of a project or other col­lab­o­ra­tive work, but the engagement of stake­hold­ers can be op­ti­mal only with the con­sid­er­a­tion of lo­cally evolved be­nign val­ues, char­ac­ter­is­tics and prac­tices.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Mongolia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.