‘The rust and grim that enveloped the water facility assaulted me. It was compounded by the stench of fermented human waste with towering elephant grasses strewn all over the premises. The women for which the water facility was established were as usual not in their homes.’ When asked for their whereabout. We were told that they have gone to the stream to fetch water as usual.
The above story summed up the failure of a top-notch non-profit organisation to adequately engage stakeholders before implementing a water project that is expected to meet the needs of a segment of people in a certain community. This story resonates with some projects that have been implemented by organisations in both the private and public sectors. A cursory visit down the line would unveil that the projects have been either abandoned, uncompleted, misused or totally not in use. Whilst several reasons can account for failure of projects to achieve desired objective, a key reason that looms larger than most is poor stakeholder engagement or failure in stakeholder engagement.
In recent times, corporates have acquired a new mindset of strong corporate sustainability behaviour underpinning their delivery of enhanced projects impact. However, in their urgency to develop and sustain their licence to operate amongst host community members, they often leave out a key factor – stakeholder engagement. In its basic form, stakeholder engagement is the process by which an organisation involves people who may be affected by the decisions it makes, or can influence the implementation of its decisions. They may support or oppose the decisions, be influential in the organization or within the community in which it operates, hold relevant official positions or be affected in the long term.
Interestingly, as soon as an organization has the financial portfolio to implement certain identified projects, and the project in question aligns with its organisational goals and objectives and a relevant agency or body is willing to implement the project after a deal is brokered with consent from certain elements in the community, the deal is done. Sadly, ‘the real people’ or their representatives that would be affected by the project may never be consulted. Little wonder an array of white-elephant capital projects exists all over the metropolis oftentimes resulting in conflict and agitation between an organisation and its host community.
The importance of engaging the ‘real people’ in the course of project implementation cannot be overemphasised. They have a wealth of knowledge and historical information of the locality where the project will be implemented and thus can offer timely guidance and counsel. They understand their needs and their people and will be able to advise on the type of project that would bring about sustainable impact. They can also offer their expertise in certain areas and help to reduce or uncover risks in the course of project implementation. This is besides getting their buy in on the project scope, key milestones, and when they will be expected to review any deliverables prior to final acceptance. This enhances the ability of all parties to operate synergistically thereby limiting disruptions during the project life cycle and eventually assuring success.
This aptly applies not only to non-profits but to companies; corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects as well. Companies can therefore optimize their success of project implementation by tailoring their strategies, methodologies, and communications channels to the unique interests of each stakeholder group. Through stakeholder mapping, companies can identify their most important stakeholders and determine the level of engagement for each group. Once companies have a clear understanding of what they wish to achieve, they can select their engagement approach, which should be well conceptualized on a continuum, from simply monitoring stakeholder perspectives through identified communications platforms, to actively collaborating through problem-solving workshops or partnerships.
This would ultimately prevent stories that touch like the one at the beginning of this missive where a certain community was provided with water facilities in proximity to the community. However, the women who were supposed to be direct beneficiaries of the water facility would rather source for water from the stream as it provided a getaway from their demanding domestic duties and an avenue for them to socialise with themselves. Besides, the women had been ‘brainwashed’ that the water facility was not suitable for them. In this case, adequate stakeholder engagement would have easily revealed that what is required in the community is a recreational centre and sensitisation programmes on clean sources of water.
This further buttress the point that no matter how well intentioned an organisation’s motives are, failure to speak, communicate, interact, engage with persons that would be directly or indirectly impacted by its project may result in project failure. If well managed or adequately engaged, stakeholders will contribute to project implementation success and in the mid/long term ; sustainable socio-economic development.
- Gitman, Laura (2015) Breakthroughs in Stakeholder Engagement. https://www.bsr.org/en/our-insights/blog-view/breakthroughs-in-stakeholder-engagement
- Siegelaub, Jay M (2005) Managing stakeholders to achieve true implementation success. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2005—North America, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
- International Project Leadership Academy (2018) 101 Common Causes of Why Projects Fail. http://calleam.com/WTPF/?page_id=2338
- PMI Budapest (2018) 4 Reasons Why Stakeholder Management is Important. https://pmi.hu/index.php/englishnews/785-4-reasons-why-stakeholder-management-is-important.