Eight phases UniSearch De Wet Schutte-UniSearch Community Development Consultants
EIGHT IDENTIFIABLE PHASES IN COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS
(Updated - Draft 2)
© Dr De Wet Schutte, TPLR(SA), D.Phil
It is common practice to apply the widely accepted traditional five phases of the project management life cycle, namely (i) initiation, (ii) planning, (iii) execution, (iv) monitor and control, (v) closure, to community development projects (Donato, 2021; Eby, 2018). Though, some authors reduced the phases to four by combining phases four and five (McHale, 2019). With minor changes, these phases also inform most software programmes on project management and are well researched and motivated within the management sciences. But, to what extent are these phases applicable to the fluid and complex environment within which community development projects are to be executed? The purpose of this article is not to defend or suggest changes to the typical and generally applied project management approach and its mutations for community development projects, but rather to search for answers as to why these well-documented phases seldom result in the successful and sustainable implementation of development projects in communities. The conclusion of the suggested eight phases in this article must be seen as an effort to capture practical realities from first-hand experience and documented case studies and build on the typical project management phases. The identified eight phases purport to alert the community development professional to possible reasons why development projects seldom respond positively to the underlying input-output logic entrenched in the typical project management life cycle model. This also article serves as an input to the growing volume of literature that points to community development as a specialised field in its own right within the human sciences. After all, community development is more than mere project management.
In studying the reasons for the success or failure of various community development case studies, it seems clear that all community development projects generally go through eight positively identifiable phases. The different phases used in this discussion come from various combinations of approaches in strategic communication processes and (social) change management processes, as well as the field of project management. Although all phases do not manifest equably prominent during the execution of a community development project, traces of each of these eight phases are identifiable in chronological order in almost all successful or unsuccessful community development projects.
The following five points of departure are rooted in the theoretical principles underlying the basic need community development theory and feed into the theoretical motivation for the identification of the different phases (Schutte, 2015).
It is widely accepted that community development is a process and not limited to a specific or few individual noble projects. Being a process, it necessarily implicates a time-lapse. The implication of this time-lapse is that the anticipated variables that may have an impact on the planned execution of a communal project may have changed during the process. In fact, in community development projects, the project leaders have to deal with a continuously changing environment, sometimes within their control, but often outside their control. These fluid communal dynamics within which community development projects are executed are often visible during the process of the development and implementation of community development projects. It is this continuously changing environment within which community development projects are executed, that necessitates a further refinement of the earlier mentioned five phases of the typical project management lifecycle.
2.1 Development of an idea
All projects begin with an idea, be it an individual thought or the result of discussions with another person or several people. In community development projects, this phase presents the birth of the project when the idea/suggestion of the (proposed) project is discussed among at least among or with some of the members of the target community. Though the development of an idea could originate from outside the community, i.e. a charity organisation or local government department, it will never get off the ground unless it is ultimately discussed among members of the targeted community and identified by them as one of the current perceived needs in the community. It is also during this phase that some people in the community associate themselves with the project, and the project theme becomes part of informal and later, formal discussions with some members of the target community.
Because all ideas have their origin with a particular individual or group, it is to be expected that it would not be necessarily acceptable to all members of the community. Often some members in the target community would simply not be interested in the proposed project or do not see the need thereof at that particular point in time. It is also during this phase that the initiative takes the form of writing a project proposal with the help of those people that were involved therein right from the beginning. During the second phase, meetings are held, project leadership is chosen, needs analyses are done, formal project proposal(s) are finalised and tabled and a formal and official search for funding is launched. During the latter phase, the broader community usually becomes aware of the proposed project(s), and it is only after the funding is secured, that the project will move into the next phase, as it is this overt stimulus of publicly known available funding, that forms the trigger for the next phase.
During this phase general interest in the (by now generally known) project, usually expands among the members of the target community driven by the knowledge and/or rumour that (i) money is available and/or that (ii) it was already decided what the project would be, without the involvement/input of the broader community. During this phase, a renewed interest in the project is usually born among the “former uninterested” members in the target community. The knowledge among members of the target population that money is available and/or criticism as to the decision to launch a certain project that is not needed create new problems for the project management team. During this phase, it is usually required from the project management team to embark on a renewed communication process regarding the process that was followed and led to the proposed project, and/or to start afresh with new “more representative” role players. The latter nearly always pose a risk as it could trigger a new dynamic that could easily develop into a vicious circle through that the new role players that came to the table will in all probability end up in the same legitimacy cycle as the previous role players in this phase. A decision to start afresh during this phase could create a culture in which all development initiatives in the target community end in this phase, only to start again with a new idea and role players under the banner of transparency, legitimacy, etc. It should always be borne in mind that both mentioned problems usually have their origin in the "late comers" to, or "late interest" in the project because of a lack of information re the work that was done during the sometimes long previous phases of the development of an idea and general communal apathy regarding the proposed project.
From the aforementioned scenario, it is clear that the project management should refrain from creating the impression that the work done during the previous phases was irrelevant or is projected in such a way that everything should start from scratch again. The emphasis should be to convince the newcomers that the previous work (needs analysis, project proposals and planning) was done with sufficient community consultation and that what has been achieved up to this stage, is beyond reasonable doubt that what the community wants (provided it was done scientifically). If the project initiators/management/leadership decide to start again, it will trigger a potentially vicious circle for all future endeavours whereby every re-planned project will stall in phase 3.
As mentioned during phase three, the newfound interest in the community development project usually wants to re-invent the wheel. This is when the systematic development of the process that resulted in the proposed project are often questioned and conflict usually manifests itself in personality differences, other trivialities and/or a general lack of trust in the need for the project decided upon, usually as a result of newcomers that were not involved during the first three phases of the development of the project. Suggestions for new projects are often heard during this phase. Interest/pressure groups develop around certain personalities, organisations/institutions and/or specific needs that put pressure on the project team and the project they already decided upon. During this phase, the theme of the conflict that underlies the pressure on the project team is often procedural and revolves around the legitimacy of the process in which the project theme was decided upon. This protest often manifests in arguments that not all interest groups, experts, etc., were involved during the initial phases when the need for the project(s) was decided upon. The key for progress to the next phase is NOT to change the project at this late stage, provided that the initial phases were thoroughly done with the necessary consultation and that the project leaders are comfortable that the project decided upon truly reflects the wish of the majority in the members of the community.
For any community development project to succeed, the conflict phase must be transformed into the orchestration phase. During this phase the battle-axes are buried, general/sufficient consensus exists in the legitimacy of the different (i) role players, as well as the project that is to be undertaken among the targeted community and the people involved. The keyword between the conflict and orchestration phases is legitimacy. During the orchestration phase, the project usually develops its organisational infrastructure. This can only happen, as it is now possible for all role-players to convene around a table. Different role players are identified and their tasks spelt out. This phase sets the phase for “things to begin”. All role players are in place, everyone knows what is expected from him/her, the broader community gave its consent and the funds are made available when needed as per the project proposal.
It could be argued that the mobilisation phase is not so clearly separable from the orchestration phase. However, a study of various community development case studies indicates that the mobilisation of the community manifests in an identifiable separate phase that is an element typically unique to community development projects. The main reason is that it is during the mobilisation phase of a community development project that the planning of the project (orchestration) goes into practice. In this sense, the mobilisation phase reflects on the involvement of both the (i) active role players and the broader (ii) target community. During the mobilisation phase, the project team begin with their activities and should continuously communicate progress with all stakeholders and the target community to keep the momentum and support for what the project aims to achieve. The development of a communication strategy to disseminate progress information from the project team to the target population and the donor(s) usually forms an integral part of activities during this phase.
This is the phase when the project starts to deliver observable results. Needless to say that the content of the realisation phase plays an important role in the content of the communication strategy to foster ongoing mobilisation of the community for the specific project. It is important to note that any changes in perceptions among the target population regarding the progress of the development project should be carefully monitored to continuously inform the communication strategy regarding the project of any misconceptions and/or unfounded or irresponsible expectations that might have a negative influence on the realisation/outcomes of the project.
During this phase, the community usually take ownership of the project and often, new role players get involved therein. It is a gradual switch that results in "stock-taking" and a re-assessment/re-planning/adaption of needed services and/or facilities related to the project in the changed ("new current") communal environment.If all the previous phases were successfully completed, it is postulated that the envisaged outcomes of the project will form part of the memes of the community and through this elevate the spiral of basic needs to a new set of needs of a “higher level” (Schutte, 2015).