Above photo: Councillor Stephen Harper (POSCC). Photo by Perry Polar

Every good coach will tell you to focus on the finish line – If you can believe it you can achieve it. There is no doubt that motivated persons who are willing to endure hardship, might see the fruits of their labour, one day. I would like to suggest a less painful way of achieving success – proper planning.

Envisioning the finishing line is not often the major challenge. One might want to be famous, rich or rich and famous. Even if there is a difficult task that needs to be done, such as building a bridge, you can envisage what the bridge will look like or what it would mean to the persons who will use the bridge, but while these may motivate you to want build the bridge, it does not mean you have the know-how, resources, permissions to actually accomplish the task. The real challenge is envisioning the steps that would lead you to your goal (project planning processes), understanding the work that is required to achieve each step (work packages) and appropriately resourcing its achievement (budgeting). We can call the end of each step a milestone or if you wish, a “sub” finish line.

The issue of focusing on finish lines versus milestones was an interesting discussion point at the first project management training workshop on the EU-CLGF project “Localizing the Sustainable Development Goals in the Caribbean” held at Sangre Grande Regional Corporation, Trinidad and Tobago on the 22nd-23rd August 2017. Based on the discussions, persons in municipal corporations are often so pressured to provide services that their concern is primarily with the finish line with the steps being intuitive rather that properly planned. This often means that steps take longer or cost more than expected and problems are encountered are often unforeseen. Ultimately, the work is start-stop but eventually gets completed. As such the workshop placed considerable effort in assisting Municipal Corporations in thinking through the steps, milestones and deadlines required for their pilot project.

R-L: Keston Ali, SGRC, Alderman Daneille Marshall Piper  (SGRC), Abigail Taylor, Nature Seekers, Stacy Ramroop (SGRC), Dr. Perry Polar (CNULM), Shivan Ramdhanie (CNULM) and Dhano Sookoo (Agriculture Society of Trinidad and Tobago). Photo by Lennise Baptiste.

The discussion was a rich and some interesting points emerged:

Benchmarking: Records are kept in Municipal Corporations but information on previous projects, for example, if the projects were on time and on budget, is not often utilized. Such information can be valuable for benchmarking similar project in the future in order to estimate more realistic completion times and costs. It should also be noted that while Port of Spain City Corporation has an electronic system for record keeping, this was not the case for Sangre Grande Regional Corporation and a discussion began on if an integrated electronic database for Municipal Corporations in Trinidad and Tobago could be developed.

Stakeholders: The various types of stakeholders were well understood and generally efforts are made to engage them. Councillors are often at the fore front of engaging stakeholders, particularly residents. There are many challenges with stakeholders in practice including the unseen stakeholders (who do not attend stakeholder consultations or are visible during walks by the councillor), the vociferous (those who believe their opinion is more important that the opinion of everyone else), and the mind changers (who initially support an idea but decide otherwise at a later point). Another key challenge is who to engage given the plethora of agencies and civil society groups and their jurisdictions.

Quality control: Stakeholder can be further empowered to provide feedback to ensure quality control. In a project which provided roads for farmers, farmers were asked to sign a satisfaction form prior to the contract being paid for services. In the construction of roads in Trinidad and Tobago, contractors must inform residents on the specifications of the road. Can a system be put in place to have residents also sign off on their satisfaction with the project to support existing checks by authorities?

Policy changes: It is often thought that the change in political administration often leads to completely tangential policy directions, thus creating challenges for Municipal Corporations to continue work they have been doing. When the issue was interrogated, it was brought out that while some policy directions have complete reversals, some have no change whatsoever, some are repackaged policies of the previous administration, some are re-emergence of previous policies that existed when the particular regime was last in power and some are merely adoption of best practices from the international environment. Municipal Corporations also raised the issues that they would like to negate a change in policy in some cases or encourage a change in policy in others, to which it was brought out the power of the public service in buffering changes as well as the need for strong civil society to lobby for policy change.

The second training workshop is scheduled for September and will address the issue of indicator development.

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