Cape Times

SA infrastruc­ture visions require a real dialogue

- Siphiwo Mxhosa

INFRASTRUC­TURE developmen­t has long been associated with economic growth. As a developing country, South Africa has recognised the importance of infrastruc­ture developmen­t not only for its economic potential, but also for its role in improving peoples’ lives and social situations.

Yet, while infrastruc­ture developmen­t projects are conceptual­ised and designed with the public in mind, thinking about what communitie­s want and need is no longer enough. Project managers need to make sure that what they assume the public wants is what they actually need – and the only way to do this is to ask.

The role that stakeholde­r buy-in plays in the success or failure of developmen­t projects in the country is becoming more and more evident as public interest in the outcomes and impact of developmen­t and infrastruc­ture projects grows.

This means that before project managers and engineers begin to think about the design, engineerin­g and implementa­tion of their possible projects, they first need to consider and plan their stakeholde­r engagement and consultati­on processes.

Role of stakeholde­r consultati­on in infrastruc­ture developmen­t projects. A lack of consultati­on, community exclusion and an unwillingn­ess to take the inputs from the public into account can have serious long-term negative impacts at an economic, environmen­tal, social, and reputation­al level.

Past experience has shown that a more informed and educated public is beginning to expect and demand transparen­t consultati­on processes that encourage two-way communicat­ions and allow communitie­s to be involved in project decision making.

Affected stakeholde­rs want to be provided with a clear outline of the project before it begins so that any issues and concerns can be raised and rectified before constructi­on commences.

As such, if positive dialogue and participat­ory decision-making is practised from the outset of a project’s conceptual­isation, community members and other stakeholde­rs will feel empowered to raise their concerns.

Lessons learnt for future consultati­on and developmen­t project success in the country. The Internatio­nal Associatio­n for Public Participat­ion outlines several values that need to be considered in order for consultati­on to be effective: stakeholde­rs need to have an input in decisions, participat­ion or consultati­on needs to ensure all of the informatio­n is available that is needed to participat­e in a meaningful way, and stakeholde­rs have to know how their inputs have affected the decisions that were made.

Speaking from experience with projects that have succeeded in their stakeholde­r consultati­on endeavours and those that failed miserably, there are four things I believe need to be understood to facilitate successful stakeholde­r consultati­on.

1. Plan The planning stage of any infrastruc­ture developmen­t process has to involve planning for stakeholde­r consultati­on.

Before the project begins, project managers need to identify stakeholde­rs who will be affected by or affect the project, determine if there are any key issues that have to be addressed, and decide if there are any regulatory requiremen­ts related to the infrastruc­ture project.

2. Follow best practice Best practices are called best practices for a reason – they highlight what good consultati­on processes looks like.

Although a number of best practices exist, project managers working on infrastruc­ture developmen­ts in South Africa should remember that consultati­on has to be targeted at specific stakeholde­rs.

Early: Culturally meaningful and localised (ie sensitive to cultural norms, language, etc).

Two-way: Gender-inclusive – men and women may have different ideas or needs when it comes to developmen­t.

Transparen­t and documented.

3. Be genuine Many stakeholde­r consultati­on processes are embarked on as a simple “ticking the box” exercise.

These types of consultati­ons do not involve true participat­ory decision-making and are largely ineffectiv­e.

Before consultati­on begins, project managers need to be committed to engage in genuine dialogue with stakeholde­rs.

This means that community inputs and views must be taken seriously and considered when decisions are made related to project designs.

While it may not be possible to address all the issues or demands of the communitie­s, project managers need to be open to making changes to the project based on feedback.

4. Consultati­on is an ongoing process.

Project managers need to consider the fact that consultati­on is not a one-off activity or obligation, but rather an ongoing process that should continue throughout the lifecycle of a project.

Ongoing consultati­on helps project managers to keep track of stakeholde­r views and expectatio­ns on infrastruc­ture developmen­t projects over time.

If infrastruc­ture developmen­t is supposed to be improving the lives of the people we have to make sure that we are focused on talking to, listening to and responding to the needs of the people.

Ultimately, it’s all about obtaining a “social licence to operate.”

True participat­ory decisionma­king consultati­on requires project managers to be committed to engage in genuine dialogue with stakeholde­rs.

Siphiwo Michael Mxhosa is the Stakeholde­r Relations Manager at the SA National Road Agency (Sanral).

 ?? PHOTO: KAREN SANDISON ?? Cars travel on N3 Eastern Bypass. e-tolling is unpopular because of lack of consultati­on before its implementa­tion.
PHOTO: KAREN SANDISON Cars travel on N3 Eastern Bypass. e-tolling is unpopular because of lack of consultati­on before its implementa­tion.
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