The Herald – Zimbabwe
By: Rudo Grace Gwata-Charamba
Economic transformation is acclaimed to be a highly effective strategy for achieving continued and meaningful economic growth and development.
It involves the implementation of several reforms, in synergy, with associated interim goals incorporating rapid economic growth, reduced poverty, enhanced equality and increased access to services.
In the foreword to the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP), a component of Zimbabwe’s economic transformation programme, President Mnangagwa underscores the need for the nation to join together in efforts to successfully implement the programme towards attaining the status of an upper middle-income society by 2030.
Relatedly, devolution, a vehicle for decentralising government systems, promoting locally driven development, national integration and peace as well as improving public services delivery, is to be implemented concurrently.
This vehicle, among other interventions, can also effectively help to create a conducive environment that supports the realisation of Vision 2030.
The call to work together is in line with both empirical evidence and literature, which show that development programmes belong to everyone, rather than to a specific group, political party or even to the Government, in a world that work best in syndicates.
Consequently, stakeholder participation, notably that of programme beneficiaries, is regarded as an integral part of successful development processes; thus underlining its relevance to both economic transformation and devolution.
Stakeholders are individuals, groups or entities with a role or interest in the aims and implementation of an initiative. Accordingly, in the context of transformation and devolution, every citizen is a stakeholder belonging to one or more groups that encompass end-users, policy makers, intermediaries, implementers, funders, suppliers and watchdogs.
Explicitly, stakeholder participation helps to advance the interests of the people whose needs the initiative is trying to address, facilitates improved service delivery plus learning from involvement.
Participation can take many different forms that incorporate soliciting for input in identifying the needs to be addressed as well as the use of the expertise and resources that they hold.
Communicating stakeholder priorities and meaningfully engaging them in the allocation of resources (including budgeting) and measuring the changes in people’s lives are some of the typical associated activities.
Experience evidence shows that bottom-up participatory mechanisms often guarantee effective decentralisation (or devolution) and real development.
Meaningful engagement entails affording stakeholders opportunities to access, as well as provide information and ideas that influence decision-making. Providing sufficient information and support ensures that high quality and binding that can be enacted are made.
Such engagement promotes inclusiveness, as well as the emergence of a wider range of solutions, to identified problems, hence increasing the potential for success.
For instance, participatory budgeting in Brazil was credited with shifting priorities to improve support of the poorest communities, improving service delivery and infrastructure along with strengthening governance plus further increasing citizen participation.
With such practice, stakeholders gain real control over the allocation of resources which leads to expenditure patterns that accurately reflect the strengths, needs and aspirations of the target population; factors that, consequently, improve the effectiveness of related initiatives.
Similarly, devolved governments need to meaningfully engage residents in decision-making and commissioning processes.
In addition, the notion of wider participation ought to be integrated into the process of developing and implementing devolution agreements.
However, in many developing countries, Zimbabwe included, all phases of development project and programmes, from planning to implementation, are ordinarily characterised by limited or absence of stakeholder participation, notably the general public.
Such shortcoming could help to explain the equally limited impact of the associated initiatives. For example, in the context of the planned devolution, some local residents indicated that their expectation was limited to merely securing employment, within the related initiatives, rather than improvement in their lives, a far higher potential benefit of the agenda.
Maximum and meaningful stakeholder engagement facilitates the efficient allocation and effective utilisation of expertise and resources, held by stakeholders, and contributes substantively to the achievement of relevant and desired results.
The successful Malaysian economic transformation programme is a typical example where such participation is acclaimed for helping to nurture a greater sense of unity of purpose and ownership of development initiatives.
This led to concerted effort towards the delivery of results which, in turn, motivated, mobilised and galvanised even more active participation and effective contributions from most stakeholders.
These stakeholders included government officials, the private sector, non-governmental organisations as well as the rakyat (the populace); the stakeholder group regarded as the most important.
Similarly, Kenya’s ongoing devolution agenda, thought to be among the most ambitious in the world, is supported by a constitution and legal framework that incorporate provisions for information sharing, public consultations and regular gathering of citizen feedback.
The focus on public participation is reportedly proving to be highly instrumental in promoting accountability and quality service delivery.
Participatory planning, with beneficiaries actively engaged, often proves to be highly expedient mostly because, evidently, only the beneficiaries can best spell out their needs and identify priorities to guide the implementation of programmes aimed at creating value for them.
Such participation also underpins bringing on board expanded expertise and resources, triggering more realistic and accurate plans for ensured success.
It also facilitates explicit and shared understanding of expected results as well as their associated problems and opportunities; setting the initiative up for success right from the start.
In fact, highly consultative processes significantly create opportunities to effectively address project and programme execution challenges as they boost the capacity to design and implement successful initiatives through mutual identification of problems and definition of expected results.
It is such mutuality that fosters a sense of ownership and commitment, among the associated diverse group of stakeholders, which then translates into continual effort towards the improvement of performance as well as defence for the related efforts.
Likewise, stakeholders readily assume responsibility and accountability given their mutual consensus towards defined results, agreed processes, decision-making boundaries and management authority.
Hence, they play their respective roles with enthusiasm thus significantly guaranteeing the success of initiatives. That is, key stakeholders readily provide input into planning, funders provide resources, and implementers judiciously execute the necessary tasks and together with beneficiaries and other watchdogs, monitor progress and adjust the execution processes as necessary.
Beneficiaries also readily access project or programme deliverables, towards meeting the identified need(s). In the long term, the integration of social and economic perspectives plus subsequent harnessing of synergies and efficiencies lead to improved quality, effectiveness and sustainability of development initiatives.
Clarifying the expected results during planning prepares projects for effective assessments, again enhancing the potential for success.
Additionally, the participation of beneficiaries and other key stakeholders in the ensuing monitoring processes enhances the quality of data as the authenticity of the sources is almost assured.
Furthermore, the processes help to safeguard against falsehoods and manipulation of data.
In contrast, the absence of meaningful participation by stakeholders brings divisions, within a society, as well as attempts to destroy the efforts for transformation, mostly through political processes.
In such instances, targets, ordinarily set exclusively, are neither ‘owned’ nor used by implementers, leading to reduced impact of programmes.
The Results-Based Management (RBM) with maximum stakeholder participation as its underlying principle and strength, is one of the avenues for promoting the concept as well as good governance which the latter also aims to advance.
Basically, RBM promotes the strategic allocation of resources and enhances coordination through the clear focus on the desired results while emphasising stakeholder participation from the design right through to the completion of development programmes.
In some quarters, the approach is regarded as the panacea for effective implementation of development programmes including transformation and devolution.
Generally, stakeholder skills for effective participation are scarce, particularly in public services where staff almost always tend to prefer operating in silos. This limitation calls for consistent efforts towards capacity building for participation. The lack of an essential skill for effective implementation of development projects is the capacity of stakeholders, notably implementers, to be genuinely concerned about people’s welfare is usually the most pronounced.
The skill helps to uphold commitment to issues of development plus appreciation for the centrality of “end-users” or beneficiaries in projector programme processes.
Therefore, need for skills development cannot be overemphasised.
Clear policies, development of guidelines and minimum standards need to be crafted and combined with civic education as well as outreach to build awareness for purposes strengthening the capacity for stakeholder participation.
The translation of public information into local languages to expand outreach contributes significantly to enhancing the notion of participation.
Allocating budgets for public consultations and outreach, developing feedback mechanisms, and building capacity of government officials to facilitate public consultations and disseminate user-friendly information are other possible avenues for such consolidation.
Partnerships between civil society and government, at all levels, are also essential for designing and rolling-out participatory processes that ensure representation of stakeholders, including marginalised groups.
Such practice also facilitates the clarification and assignment of roles and responsibility to stakeholders.
Additionally, innovative engagement of stakeholders by way of holding structured planning and budgeting fora as well as use of social media to share and receive information often prove to be worthwhile for strengthening participation as well as improving performance.
Furthermore, a cultural shift, which calls for strong, sustained visionary leadership to promote new ways of thinking and behaviour, is also essential for embodying the concept of participation.
The leadership typically demonstrates active participation in the programme planning and execution processes.
Participatory systems are also linked to other initiatives including training, technical assistance and guidelines, among others. Regrettably, employees in most public organisations are accustomed to working independently; rarely share information and make few attempts to co-ordinate and resolve development issues across programmes.
The lack of incentives to promote teamwork also exacerbates this shortcoming.
Meaningful and active participation, aimed at increasing the likelihood of achieving relevant results, improving decision-making as well as promoting ownership and accountability, among stakeholders, is thus essential for the success of both devolution and the realisation of Vision 2030.
This is because it strengthens needs assessment, planning and monitoring processes which help to enhance both performance and effectiveness of development programmes.
Such success is particularly evident where beneficiaries take the lead in defining the results to be achieved by a given intervention, providing data on project performance as well as readily accessing and using the associated deliverables, a practice that is also a key feature of RBM. Fundamentally, there ought to be no spectators in economic transformation programmes that are headed towards success.