Multi-Stakeholder Involvement

By combining the assets of a multitude of stakeholders, a more complete project is able to form. Government organisations, NGOs, community based organisations, and many more contribute to the project in their own unique ways. Nevertheless, integrating each of these separate stakeholders, poses significant challenges. Each stakeholder has its own perceptions and beliefs on how to solve a particular problem. For example, a community group within a specific informal settlement may feel that flush toilets are the best option toward improving their sanitation; however, a local NGO may disagree, arguing that some type of urine divergent system is the best. Getting every stakeholder involved within a project to agree on the same solution is a very difficult process, among other difficulties which are posed throughout this section.

L. M. Gerrits (2004) explains a number of aspects of multiple stakeholder involvement that make it challenging which can be related to practically any project involving numerous stakeholders. To begin, stakeholder involvement can be broken down based on degree of participation, ranging from simply informing stakeholders about the issue to allowing them decision-making power. Gerrits then goes on to explain some of the most common risks and difficulties which should be considered. These difficulties are listed below and discussed in the following paragraphs.

  1. Asymmetry of Different Stakeholders
    1. Lack of Representativeness
    2. Varying Levels of Knowledge
    3. Communication Barriers
  2. Varying Expectations
  3. Keeping Stakeholders for the Long-Term
  4. Clashing Cultures and Institutions

While there will never be perfect symmetry among stakeholders, Gerrits argues that the
asymmetry should never be too large. It is ideal to include as many representatives as possible and involve them directly within the project. This may require persuasion by addressing the advantages of joining. Although institutionalised stakeholders will have no problem with this, less powerful stakeholders should be helped in terms of organisation, such as community members within an informal settlement. In addition, bringing people in from a variety of social areas will undoubtedly mean working with people of varying knowledge and experience of the particular project.

In terms of water and sanitation in Langrug, community members may be unaware about the various types of technologies offered for toilet designs. On the other hand, governmental agencies may lack the necessary knowledge that the community holds, a type of knowledge that is gained through daily experience of life in the informal settlement. It is understood that these knowledge differences will be evident, so trying to reduce these differences should be a goal. Gerrits stresses the fusion of all types of knowledge into a “negotiated knowledge” which is best met through discussions involving all stakeholders. If ignored, these varying levels of knowledge can be detrimental, but if treated effectively, such as through Shared Action Learning, the results could be great. Furthermore, it is important to realise the importance of communication when dealing with multiple stakeholders. One must realise that there are language barriers which can in turn lead to a significant amount of confusion and misunderstanding, a factor which can be rather time-consuming to solve (Gerrits 2004).

Clashing expectations among stakeholders is another potential problem. Actors within a project may have different expectations regarding their degree of participation. If agreement is not reached, different parties may become upset and feel distrust with the project and its varying social actors. To try to avoid this situation from occurring, it is vital to clearly state what is expected from each stakeholder on the outset. While in Langrug, realising this aspect will be vital. Understanding differing capabilities and responsibilities among the many stakeholders and sharing these expectations with each stakeholder can help avoid confusion. Practice has shown difficulties in facilitating continual stakeholder involvement. In some cases, stakeholders lose participation when their input within the project appears to be complete. In the future, when stakeholders miss out on important decisions due to their increasing lack of participation, they then become disappointed and tend to feel a sense of distrust. To help avoid this, it is necessary to keep stakeholders engaged in every important decision making process. Gerrits suggests keeping stakeholders continuously informed regarding any new developments or considerations that may arise within a project, and if possible invite them into any important discussions (Gerrits 2004). In Langrug, keeping various stakeholders involved with the project, even when the construction is complete, may be a challenge. This is where important considerations in terms of long-term management and care for the facility must be taken into account.

Finally, Gerrits mentions difficulties caused by cultural differences. Culture shapes the way people act and think and may affect comprehension between people. Therefore, when dealing with different cultures, a very careful approach must be followed (Gerrits 2004). This aspect is especially important while working with the community and other social actors in Langrug.

Despite the many difficulties with a multi-stakeholder approach, the WaSH project team in 2011 chose to embrace this approach. They learned that Stellenbosch Municipality’s Department of Integrated Human Settlements (DIHS) had formed partnerships with Shack Dwellers International (SDI), Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) and the Informal Settlements Network (ISN) (Kenney 2011). The municipality and these NGO’s have formed a formal agreement, making it a unique partnership for South Africa. The partnership is founded on the idea that a working relationship between the municipality, NGO’s and the community will be the best way to bring sustainable, effective solutions to communities like Langrug. This partnership has already had some major accomplishments, including the Langrug Enumeration report. The report compiled largely by community members, provides data on Langrug’s personal information, employment, household information, disasters, migration and health and sanitation. With this information, “communities are best positioned to articulate a demand-sided development agenda” (SDI 2012). Without the participation of each group in this multi-stakeholder approach, upgrading informal settlements may be difficult and inefficient. The 2011 WaSH team concluded that the multi-stakeholder approach has the potential to become a model for informal settlements throughout Cape Town and South Africa. See our Cast of Characters and Sponsor Page for more information on these groups.