Mitigating Risk with Project Advocacy Consultants

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Besides scope, time and budget, the core of project management success is stakeholder acceptance of project deliverables. As such, the risk of stakeholders rejecting deliverables should be identified and mitigated in a project's early stages.
For example, stakeholders in infrastructural development projects, like members of a surrounding community, make certain choices about project execution, such as location, quality and schedule. But, this doesn't always happen. If residents, say, are denied vehicular access to their homes because of an ongoing road re-construction, it's clear there was no stakeholder representative during the execution planning of the project.

African governments often rely on public private partnerships (PPPs) for utility and infrastructure projects. But most proponents of PPPs settle for a design-bid-build business arrangement, in which a single vendor may win concessionary bids to develop, operate and transfer utility infrastructure schemes. In this instance, a concessionary bid is a solicitation process for PPP projects.
This kind of business arrangement increases the risk of eroding the values and interest of that community. Sponsors and vendors could decide to satisfy themselves to the detriment of the residents or other project beneficiaries.
One way to mitigate the risk of communities rejecting infrastructure projects could be to use project advocacy consultancies, which are composed of community and government representatives. The committees ensure that infrastructure projects address the needs of the communities and are accepted by them.
In Africa, it would be a major stride in project management if stakeholders approved of the deliverables of PPP infrastructure projects. Of course, projects would be more widely accepted if communities were involved during the planning and execution of deliverables.

In my opinion, highly leveraged infrastructure projects that are initiated under concessional business arrangements and executed without the involvement of the would-be users should be discouraged. In turn, profits made by promoters and vendors from infrastructure projects could be better justified vis-à-vis community acceptance of the deliverables.

If communities approve of infrastructure projects, post-project operations and facilities management, it would benefit everyone. Promoters would smile at the projected cash flows, vendors would satisfy both contractual and project obligations, and ultimately, the project would be successfully completed.
Do you think involving stakeholders at the outset eliminates project risks? If so, how? What do you think about using a project advocacy consultant?

Read related posts:

"Different Perceptions of Risk on Projects" from Lynda Bourne.

"Use Project Management Tools in the Right Context" from Saira Karim.

Posted by Lambert Ofoegbu on: September 12, 2011 10:25 AM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Bob Burnett
Great article, nothing like getting alignment and clear expectations at the outset of a project. I do not think that this will eliminate project risks, but I do think it goes a long way toward reducing and identifying potential risks.

I had never heard of Project Advocacy Consultants before, but seem to view them as a spokesperson for related project stakeholders. I do not see this as a bad thing. Projects that meet an end to the benefit of the larger community are likely to have greater value.

The one thing I would keep a close eye on though, would be any outlying group that possesses an agenda of their own that might be to the detriment of the larger community. As long as they are unable to leverage the Advocacy Consultant for their singular benefit, then I think it is a good idea.

Bob Burnett, PMP

Himanshu Bansal
Good article. I have never been on an infrastructure project but reading this article I realize that getting an intermediary, who understands subtle stakeholders, may help.

Many times such stakeholders may not seem big but they can really make a difference during later stages of life (we hear of project team's life made miserable because of community).

We can avoid such situations if we can hear what those stakeholders are saying and address the issues before they become severe risk.

Mukul Srivastava
The idea of bringing an advocacy consultant looks interesting, especially in the example set by the author for the community projects.

In my opinion, all possible community members should participate in defining the project requirements. However when it comes to accepting the project deliverables, their involvement should be limited, as there are possible chances of political influence as well as some other hidden agendas.

Advocacy consultant fits in such a situation. The challenge will be to collect the community member requirements, possibly through surveys and public gatherings.

The advocacy consultant then needs to compile all the requirements and devise an acceptance criteria that meets community expectations. The advocacy consultant then becomes an important stakeholder when it comes to accept the project deliverables.

Another question that need to be clarified is who should bear the costs of hiring such a consultant? The communities may not have the sufficient money to sponsor such consultant.

Christina Rozema
These types of groups are vital to projects that work in communities. In my experience of siting, building and operating homeless shelters and low cost housing units, these committees are the make or break of a project. If you engage the community beforehand in the planning, understanding and educating portions of the project, then the siting, construction and operations move more smoothly.

This is not to say they move without problem, but they tend to have better community buy-in from the beginning so the inevitable nimbyism that comes from projects in communities (and these include ANY project -- see for example the negative reaction to wind power in many communities) is mitigated to some degree.

Having these committees set up at the beginning of a project can also aid in the long term success of that finished project now a program.

The key is to engage the right stakeholders and ensure they are empowered to take back the information they learn to their constituencies and also bring community concerns forward for frank discussion and mitigation.

See the IAP2 website for a comprehensive methodology for bringing stakeholders into the discussion. This work can then lead to ongoing participation in these advocacy committees.

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