Sustainable development has always been a complex and challenging social process as it involves decisions and actions concerning the current and future generations of people belonging to a community. There are a number of decisions to be made that might affect issues at local, regional, national and international levels. There is the necessity that social, economic and environmental objectives concerning the well being of the society in common are to be integrated at every available opportunity.
Similarly hard decisions might be need to be taken to trade-off with some of the objectives where the sustenance of them has become impractical. The projects to attain sustainability there needs to evolve new ideas on assuming respective roles and responsibilities by individuals and institutions in the process of executing the projects, so that sustainability can be achieved in a positive and faster manner. The challenges facing project sustainability due to their complex nature always demand new and innovative approaches not only in the matter of decision making but also in the execution of the projects till completion.
Handling of the socio-economic, political, legal and environmental issues interacting with the execution of the projects needs the development of a multidisciplinary approach towards handing these issues. The traditional approaches employed in achieving project sustainability have been rendered meaningless in the current complex social environment. Participation has also been highlighted as having an important role to play in the project sustainability process.
With this background this paper presents a descriptive note on the salient issues facing project sustainability and the ways in which these challenges can be mitigated. Issues Facing Sustainability Sustainability of a project has to satisfy the environmental, social and economic sustainability in order to be successful. Environmental sustainability implies the provision and maintenance of an ecosystem that is well protected and is able to support healthy organisms. The ecosystem should also be able to be capable of retaining its productivity and vigor for renewal.
This would also involve the biodiversity factor. Social sustainability encompasses the relationship between the tolerance of the society for change and the developmental efforts that are being taken through the projects undertaken. By economic sustainability we imply that the value of the project in question to the society should at least be equal to or exceed the costs incurred to implement the project. The sustainability should also ensure that some form of equivalent capital invested is handed down to future generations.
Carely (1994) has identified the challenges facing sustainability of developmental projects aimed to benefit the society as a whole. These among other things include: • Making decisions concerning the socio-cultural, economic and environmental objectives to be pursued so that the benefits of projects can be passed on to generations • Making decisions concerning the provision of benefits out of the projects for the present and future generations • Trying to have a thorough understanding of the complexity of the system Making amends in the projects to accommodate many of the uncertainties facing the implementation of the project • Assessing the need for information flow and to acquire knowledge for dealing with lack of information with respect to certain sustainability issues • Taking stock of the sustainability issues from the local, regional, national and global perspectives and • Initiating coordinated action for accomplishing the project objectives across several levels and groups existing in the society
In view of the above complex issues involved achieving project sustainability can be inferred as a matter of pure judgment which involves an intelligent balancing among different social, economic and environmental objectives and the balancing has to be attempted in such a way that the needs of the current as well as future generations are met optimally. It is to be appreciated that this multi-dimensional balancing would represent the integration of various objectives in situations where it is possible. At the same time it might be the case of making choices between different conflicting objectives in order to promote the societal interest.
These challenges of sustainability being faced by the individuals responsible for implementation of the project often calls for participation of the community in the whole process of project execution from the planning stage till the completion of the implementation. There will be different stages in the participation process which the project management should be aware of. (Pearce 1994) Need for Participation The need for participation has been underpinned in the sustainability of various community based projects.
Need for participation arises to ensure enhanced understanding of the project objectives and to foster effective and clear communication among the participants and the beneficiaries. Participation is also required to achieve consensus on some social issues which the project is focusing on as to arrive at some definite solution on the ways to deal with such issues. The formulation of networks of individuals and institutions to ensure a timely and effective implementation of the projects and to arrive at the concurrence on the roles and responsibilities of the individual and institutional participants, there is the need for participation.
Furthermore, participation ensures more commitment on the part of the participants towards the execution of the project. It has been found that although there are scientific and inter-disciplinary approaches for elaborating on the socio-economic and environmental issues connected with the execution of the project, they are either insufficient or incapable of contributing effectively in the understanding of the issues from the society’s point of view.
Since the mitigation of these issues need some sort of trade-offs or compromises they represent value adjustments which are to be decided with the participation of both winners and losers from the society so that the there will be agreement from the beneficiaries and their commitment for the proper execution of the project. A scientific approach to the achievement of project objectives needs to be supplemented by a people-centered approach through encouraging participation.
With the recognition of this need some of the projects have incorporated the space for participation in their total process from the planning stage to the implementation stage. However the people responsible for the planning and execution of the project need to be equipped with special skills and expertise to handle the complex issue of participation so that it can be successfully accomplished which in turn will lead to a successful execution of the project for the beneficiaries to reap the complete benefit from the projects. Stephen Bass et al 1995) Thus the objectives of participation can be summed up as below. According to Adnan et al (1992) commitment of the beneficiaries would serve to increase the potential benefits from the project that will lead to sustainability. There will be a positive impact on the costing of the project also. (Bass and Shah 19940 Community participation in the context of sustainability is to be encouraged:
• To confirm that the approach to the development follows an equitable path To acquire knowledge and ideas on local values and beliefs so that the decision making process can be aided with more information. This would also bring in wider range of experiences that will contribute to the formulation of more realistic policies and project initiatives • To conduct brain storming sessions to reach concurrence on issues where some sort of trade-offs or compromises are required and to disagree on issues where there is no possibility of reaching any concurrence. This process is sure to strengthen the base of the project implementation as the project leaders can ensure political support and can also aim at reducing opposition for any project proposals. This ultimately helps to build stakeholders’ confidence by taking into account their concerns.
• To ensure that the project leaders get the commitment from both winners and losers from the project implementation by enabling the individuals and groups to feel that the actions under the project would meet their individual as well as collective objectives To ensure that there is adequate changes in the behaviors of the individuals and groups • To provide a conducive atmosphere for the institution of more appropriate procedures and develop institutions to implement the project objectives and • To act in unison towards achieving the project goals especially concerning multiple demands about meeting the social and economic objectives There are clearly defined types of participatory approaches. (Pretty, 1994, 1995)
One associated problem with participation is that any superficial and fragmented achievements will not have long lasting effect on the people. Rahnema 1992) Skills Needed for achieving Project Sustainability The top-down approach in the management of several developmental projects has met with failure due to the unclear position of the developmental agencies, the role and functions of such agencies. Such failures have served as eye-openers for adopting newer methods of management to avoid the reoccurrence of the failures in the future. This also reiterated the need for a wider participation of the stakeholders of the project who are to be benefited by the implementation of the project.
The entire process of planning, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the project needs to have participation from the recipients of the benefits from the project and this constitutes the essence of ownership of the project. This model envisages the implementation of an altogether different model of management, different than the traditional one where people external to the community are given the power and authority to impose the conceptualization, objectives and design of the project on the community.
According to the traditional prescriptive approach the success of the project is made dependent on the comprehension and details of the project design that provides a clear approach to different steps and actions to be taken for the proper implementation of the project. The project design also takes into account the potential problems and risks facing the execution of the project. Thus the role of the manager is limited to the extent of overseeing the administration of the project and achieving the sustainability.
But in contrast to the prescriptive approach the participatory approach challenges all the traditional perceptions of project implementation which necessitates a complete change in the attitude of all people associated with the project implementation. The participatory approach also attempts to create agendas that have the effect of stimulating the creativity of the beneficiaries. (Khan 2003) Irrespective of the nature of projects, sustainability can be achieved only by those organizations which possess the necessary skills and competencies to meet the challenges of the changing business and social environment.
It is to be understood that sustainability cannot be attained on the basis of past experiences and successes. It can only be achieved by assessing the wider social and economic environment and the needs there of. After a careful assessment of the environment it is for the organization or the individuals responsible for the planning and execution of the project to take stock of the skill required and is available within the organization. This is an essential prerequisite for bridging the skill gaps so that the success of the project can be ensured.
Courtney from Study Moose
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