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Stakeholder engagement key to State projects success

By Christopher Owuor
Monday, January 27th, 2020
President Uhuru Kenyatta
President Uhuru Kenyatta. Photo/Courtesy

Peris Mangira       

Kenyans have in the recent past lost billions of shillings to stalled government projects, while some never take off at all. 

Cases abound of multi-million-shilling projects stalling midway because of lack of expert hands to tackle certain components.

In some cases, some projects have recorded  low or zero utilisation because the beneficiaries see no value in it.

This may sound far-fetched but it happens a lot in public projects and with devastating consequences.

Under pressure to get a project up and running, many implementers often ignore stakeholder engagement, with the misplaced notion that doing so saves time and money. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Effective stakeholder engagement portends tangible benefits for project delivery.

For instance, the successful implementation of the first phase of the Kenya Informal Settlement Improvement Project (KISIP) offered valuable lessons on stakeholder engagement. 

Because of structure and scope of the project, the stakeholder universe was so diverse with internal and external actors, whose voice and interests had to be accommodated.

Among them are beneficiary communities and National government actors—ministries of Transport, Housing, Lands, Water and Irrigation, Interior, National Treasury and Attorney General’s office. County governments were also roped in.

Development partners were also brought on board, including National Land Commission and regulatory authorities such as Nema, utility firms such as Kenya Power and Lighting Company, water and sanitation services boards including water and sewerage companies, NGOs, contractors and consultants. 

We had to leverage and strengthen existing relationships and in some areas and nurture new relationships to ensure success of the project at all stages.

More importantly, we had to do a lot of active listening which opened up two-way dialogues that enabled us to better understand the issues from the actors’ perspectives.

From the stakeholder management experience, there were valuable lessons learned on project success.

The process demanded for cautious, articulate planning and intensive engagement to obtain buy-in and eventual improvement of the residents’ social economic status. 

More importantly was bottom-up approach in community engagement, which ensured the host communities were actively and deliberately involved in planning and execution of projects. 

Additionally, KISIP had a well-functioning grievance mechanism that stipulated the procedures for adequately addressing complaints and grievances from projected affected communities. 

And given the high level of beneficiary participation in the KISIP project, Settlement Executive Committees comprising of representatives from known community interest groups became handy in winning the input and support of all the groups within the settlements thus enhancing their inclusivity and accountability to the residents.

Establishment of a county focal point and roles played by the county heads of departments offer a good level of participation and engagement for county government actors.  

Reaching out to such third parties for assistance as allies or intermediaries only after a problem occurs can be catastrophic to a project due to perceived reputational risks.

Engaging stakeholders from the start allows for inculcation of valuable relationships that can serve as a cushion during challenging times. 

We have learned that not only do effective stakeholder relationships build trust which give projects a social license to operate but they also ensure better and sustainable development outcomes. —The writer is National Coordinator,KISIP

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