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Broad group stakeholders, discussion and change

Some years back, the seal mob showed up, demanding almost instant change, and threatening a tourism boycott if their demands weren’t met. The rest is history. Their demands weren’t met, there was an ineffectual call for a boycott and nothing changed. I understood why at the time but wouldn’t have understood it had I not had my ears open even earlier than that.
Someone I know gave me the understanding I needed when he said of a visit to a region, “There was a lot of democracy. I had to meet a lot of people, remember their names and hear all of their viewpoints.”
Sometimes things are so obvious that it is almost impossible to notice them. Fortunately that comment stuck to me like glue. When it arrived in my head, it explained a huge part of frustrations that I have experienced over decades.
In the normal course of doing business, decisions are expected rapidly, and yes / no answers are a foregone conclusion. In Namibia this is very often not the case, ‘yes’ answers are often extremely protracted and ‘no’ answers are rare at best, and initiatives are abandoned or die for want of oxygen instead.
This is particularly true if a group of stakeholders or a community are affected by a decision.
The reason is that the proposal and the response is being discussed with limited delegation of responsibility for the decision. In other words the hierarchical decision structure is relatively flat and wide. One person does not make a decision on behalf of others. Everyone is heard and everyone has an input until a consensus is reached.
This can be extremely trying when a project has tight time-lines. However there are several tactics that can used to reduce risk and / or manage situations.
The first tactic is to identify probable groups or communities. If the stakeholder group or community becomes large, there may be opportunities to tailor the project to subdivisions within the group and try and reduce the pool of people who will be involved in discussing the issue. If this is the case, then impacts have to be tailored as well because wider impacts will have to be discussed outside of the smaller group. This is straight forward ethics.
The second tactic is preparatory research. If preconceptions and opinions can be understood then it may be possible to make tentative plans on that basis.
Research is not an unwarranted expense. It is extremely undervalued.
The third tactic is to plan to allow time for the discussion and consensus to emerge. Very often this may require a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude. This is extremely difficult if the project has tight timing.
However an alternative view might be that consensus is more important than immediacy.
If a group or community is not receptive to the initiative, it will have been a wasted exercise in the first place.
If possible, plans should be long range.
If the plan is a known element but its implementation does not need to be immediate, the planner can prepare the ground in advance by introducing its aims into group discussion, and its impacts, well in advance of the operational time-line.
The group or community will have a final say and will determine whether the initiative is a success or failure, so the fourth tactic has to be to allow evolution of the plan or initiative to suit the needs of the group.
The final tactic has to be to make allowances for abandonment of the plan, If tactic two, preparatory research was used, then this should not be a major issue.
This form of decision ‘acceptance’ is often contrary to stereotypical decision ‘making’. However it has its benefits.
Decisions that are handed down in the form of ‘like it or leave it’ initiatives have begun to engender a huge amount of dissatisfaction, particularly among groups noted for governance activism. One of the current buzzwords is ‘inclusiveness’.  If initiatives are to be inclusive, they have to incorporate the elements of consensus and acceptance in decision making.

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