“If you want to do something well, do it yourself” is common idiom. You plan, resource and execute as you see fit and the end result, whether well or not, is entirely you doing. It’s a great approach for household projects but not as great for public projects utilizing public funds. Stakeholder consultation is an excellent way to obtain alternative viewpoints your planned action which, if appropriate changes are made, can better serve the stakeholders for which the project is geared. And this is exactly why it is so problematic.
There are many questions to answer when developing plans:
Do you wait for a problem to arise or should your previous plans and actions already prepare you for problems which may arise?
At what point do you know that you have a problem? Is it because you have a process of objective data gathering which support your decision making processes; a process by which selected persons provide information or at the stage of complaints on social media and fiery protest?
Are stakeholder comments even useful? Sure they can tell you what’s wrong but are the proposed solutions technically sound or cost effective?
How do you propose a proactive solution? Do you develop a plan and present it for consultation or begin the process with general discussion?
If you involve stakeholders, are they going to talk about the project at hand or what they want to talk about?
Are the same stakeholders going to be present throughout or do you have to keep revisiting past discussions and decisions?
The EU-CLGF project “Localizing the Sustainable Development Goals in the Caribbean” being run by Trinidad and Tobago Association of Local Government Authorities is faced with similar considerations. In the execution of pilot projects at Sangre Grande Regional Corporation, Penal-Debe Regional Corporation and Port of Spain City Corporation, the formation of municipal working groups are being encouraged. Initial meetings in municipalities were held in August and aim to provide updates on the pilot projects to the National Steering Committee.
One of the key considerations is the composition of the committees. Each municipality is working to have critical members of administrative and technical staff present but also encourage persons from the business community, environmentalists, government institutions and concerned citizens. This is no easy task as it requires the voluntary commitment of time for a number of people. As with all working groups, there will be a gelling phase before they become fully functional or fail. Thus to ensure success, stakeholders must be made to feel that the benefits of this project to themselves, the groupings they represent and wider society is worth the effort.
The Sangre Grande Regional Corporation has an advantage over the other municipalities having established a Local Economic Development planning and advisory committee (LED-PAC) with a similar composition prior to this project.
As with the LED-PAC, the project aims to have the municipal working group as a standing sub-committee of the municipality which can provide advice not only on this project but on many other projects which the municipalities engage in their day-to-day business. Considering that the expertise is also relevant and diverse, this solves the problem of changing stakeholders over time and the technical competence of the committee.
But what happens if stakeholders want to talk about other matters which they deem more pressing in the time allocated for project discussions? Chairman Sammy of Penal-Debe Regional Corporation recommends that this can be turned into an advantage as non-project points raised can be placed on the agenda for their regular council meetings.
A critical point was raised at the Port of Spain Working Group meeting (see photo). Does the stakeholder group usurp the role of the elected council members whose role it is to get the views of persons? The conclusion was that council members have decision making powers which can be enhanced by the views of the stakeholder group but not necessarily determined by them. Further, the involvement of the stakeholders can allow them to be proactive in their spheres of influence and coordinate in the resolution of problems.
Stakeholder engagement is an art and the building of an inclusive society is dependent on instituting appropriate measures to engage stakeholders in decision making.