Picture kicking-off a multi-million-shilling project then getting stuck midway because you forgot to bring on board expert hands to tackle certain key components. Or worse, implementing a project to completion only to have low or zero utilisation because your would-be beneficiaries saw no value in it.
It may sound far-fetched but this happens a lot in public projects and with devastating consequences.
Due to the anxiety and pressure to get a project up and running, many often ignore stakeholder engagement with the misplaced notion that it saves on time and money.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Effective stakeholder engagement carries tangible benefits for implementation and delivery. The implementation of the first phase of the Kenya Informal Settlement Improvement Project (KISIP) carries valuable lessons on stakeholder engagement.
This is due to the structure and scope of the project, which closed on November 30.
We engaged internal and external actors whose voice and interests had to be heard and accommodated. Among them are beneficiary communities, national government actors, key among them, Transport, Infrastructure, Housing, Lands, Mining, Water and Interior, National Treasury ministries and Attorney General’s office.
County governments were also key, particularly the offices of the governors and executives in charge of Housing and Urban Development, Infrastructure and Urban Planning. Others were development partners, the National Land Commission and regulatory authorities such as National Environment Management Authority (Nema), utility firms such as Kenya Power, water and sanitation services boards, non-governmental organisations, contractors and consultants.
We had to leverage and strengthen relationships and in other areas, nurture new ties to ensure success of the project at all stages.
More importantly, we had to do a lot of active listening which opened up two-way dialogues that enabled us to better understand the issues from the actors’ perspectives as well as cultivate allies that came in handy in ensuring the project delivery and success.
Good working relations such as with communities greatly contributed to speedy completion of tenure regularisation activities and construction works.
For instance, the complex and delicate process that involves physical planning, surveying and titling under our tenure regularisation component.
KISIP worked closely with many stakeholders such as the would-be-beneficiaries to determine the boundaries of their areas, what their needs were as informed by the social economic surveys and the visioning of what they would want their community to look like.
Thereafter, adaptive plans that captured their aspirations were developed and then recommended for approval. Given that planning is a county affair, the County Assemblies provided approvals of the plans as well as validated the list of beneficiaries before the Lands Ministry undertook the titling.
Looking at our stakeholder management experience from the community engagement lens for instance, demanded cautious, articulate planning and engagement to obtain buy-in and eventual improvement of the residents’ social economic status.
A game-changer was the robust, well-functioning bottom-up approach in community engagement that ensured that the host communities were actively and deliberately involved in planning and execution of projects.
Additionally, KISIP had a well-functioning grievance mechanism that stipulated the procedures for addressing complaints and grievances from projected affected communities.
As such, it established Grievance Redress Committees that are still active in all 120 settlements across the counties that had the project.
Given the high level of beneficiary participation in the KISIP project, Settlement Executive Committees (SECs) comprising of representatives from community interest groups became handy in winning the input and support of all the groups within the settlements, thus enhancing their inclusivity and accountability to the residents.
The establishment of a county focal point and the roles played by the county heads of departments such as county engineers, physical planners and community development officers offered a good level of participation and engagement.
The county technical team and the focal points engaged effectively with the National KISIP team, despite the fact that the KISIP was conceptualised and designed before devolution took off.
Due to this cooperation, the identified and implemented projects fitted well with community and county development priorities.
Reaching out to such third parties for assistance as allies or intermediaries only after a problem occurs can be catastrophic to a project due to perceived reputational risks.
Engaging stakeholders from the start allows for inculcation of valuable relationships that can serve as a cushion during challenging times.
This was certainly the case for the utility providers such as Kenya Power and the water and sewerage companies that we had to work with, for example in relocating poles to facilitate infrastructure developments or connect the residents to these life changing utilities respectively.
Granted, there were challenges in the eight years that we rolled out the various projects under this first phase of this settlement project but, more importantly, we have fostered relationships that are based on trust and mutual respect.
We have learnt that not only do effective stakeholder relationships build trust that give projects a social licence to operate but they also ensure better and sustainable development outcomes for the works being undertaken.
In our case, the outcomes have directly and positively impacted 1.3 million lives through interventions in infrastructure development and enhancement of tenure security.
The project has empowered these Kenyans and given them back their dignity so that they can actively contribute to the country’s social and economic growth.
So, lessons galore. To people implementing similar projects, there is a need to focus on increasing opportunities and productivity for people and improving the quality of life.
Mangira is the National Coordinator of the Kenya Informal Settlements Improvement Project.