PM4DEV Blog

Ideas, suggestions and general thoughts about project management for development.

Characteristics of Development Projects

Development organizations vary in size and orientation, most share the common goal of helping people and benefiting society. There are the large development projects financed by governments and institutions such as the World Bank that focus on infrastructure and improvements in the education, health and justice systems, and international humanitarian organizations and national NGOs that support development activities ranging from community organization, welfare support, health, education, small-financial loans and protection of the environment.

NGOs typically are private, voluntary, non-profit and service-oriented organizations dedicated to helping improve people's welfare and quality of life.

The goal of all development projects is to help improve people's lives through skills training and other livelihood programs. Development organizations prepare and implement development projects and work to strengthen the capabilities of local institutional and promote community self-reliance through sustainable strategies. Funding for projects comes through private and public donations, government assistance and a variety of other sources. Development projects may consist of a single, transformative project to address a specific problem or a series of projects targeted at addressing several problems.

Although, development projects make significant contributions to a community’s socioeconomic development, they also have limitations. A larger number of national NGOs are small in both size and scope of operations and their impact sometimes is limited. NGOs can suffer from financial and technical constraints, often focused on a specific concern or a specific location; many lack a broader economic and social perspective. They are loosely structured and may have limited accountability and their management and planning methods may be weak or too flexible.

One of the key success factors of development projects is when their planning involves people who will benefit or be affected by the project. Beneficiaries need to play a larger role in the planning and implementation of development efforts that will reshape their lives. This is one of the reasons why development projects are gradually is moving away from traditional projects that rely on delivering direct services, and toward projects that include the participation of local organizations to deliver the services that will benefit the poor and other intended beneficiaries more directly.

Involvement of beneficiaries also increases the likelihood of development efforts realizing their intended benefits and can help avoid implementation problems. The concept of participation is concerned with ensuring that the intended beneficiaries of development projects are involved in the planning and implementation of those projects. This is considered important as it empowers the recipients of development projects to influence and manage their own development and helps remove any type of dependency after the project is completed. Beneficiary participation is widely considered to be one of the most important concepts in modern development theory.

 

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What is Project Participation?

Participation in project management is a process that allows sharing some of the control on the project with key stakeholders, especially beneficiaries. By giving beneficiaries the opportunity to participate in the decision making elements of project management helps build a sense of ownership on the outcomes of the project.

Ownership of the project outcomes ensures the support and active involvement of stakeholders. When stakeholders know their voices, opinions and preferences are heard, they know the project is meeting their needs. Participation should not be limited to baseline interviews and occasional communication meetings but should be included in all the project phases; from the design, planning, implementation, monitoring, adaptation and closing/evaluation of the project.

Participation is also a political act in which beneficiaries are empowered to have their voices heard and that simple fact changes the power relationships between the project and the stakeholders. Participation is also strategic to the needs of the project as it increases the impact of the project and increases its sustainability beyond the end of the project. But participation is not cheap, requires the use of resources and time, but the benefits of this investment are recovered by the long term impact.

The principle behind participation is that stakeholders are collaborators in the project, not just simple recipients or contributors, but active partners in the project at every phase of the project. All participation approaches are designed to generate an active participation including making key decisions on the project that have a direct influence on the stakeholders and most important they can even help challenge some of the original assumptions the project had about the stakeholders and that can have a significant input in the project design and strategies.

Project managers must built-in participation in the project planning phase, and choose when, what, why, and who will participate; taking in consideration that asking too much participation can also have a negative effect, after all stakeholders have other priorities and activities that the project is competing with. The project manager must be conscious of the time availability and effort needed from stakeholders. Project stakeholders vary and their level of participation also varies depending on who they are and what are their stakes in the project, the project should identify all project stakeholders and evaluate the level of participation needed from each, when the participation is needed, and why the participation will increase the impact of the project. This simple analysis help focus the project resources on the areas that will bring the most benefit.

 

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