One of the most significant differences between PM in traditional industries and the management of projects in the development sector, is the occurrence of and potential for conflict between stakeholders and beneficiaries. Our work with national NGOs reveals a continuing need to develop strategies and processes for conflict resolution between stakeholders.
To give but one example, an NGO planning and implementing a project in an area containing several communities could be required to include numerous local grassroots organizations. Those organizations may well have different goals, interests and agendas.
The best way to manage conflict is to avoid its occurrence. Rigorous and effective participatory processes which give all stakeholders ample opportunity to contribute to the diagnostics and planning of development projects tend to avoid conflict at later stages of the project.
Such processes take time. Although many projects don’t have the luxury of allowing participatory planning the time and space it often requires, the more homage you can pay to participation, the less projects will ultimately suffer from conflict. In such circumstances, as in many other settings, Tuckman’s stages of group development (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, Adjourning) offer a simple explanation of the necessity to move through inevitable early conflict in order to reach the later stages of group maturity. The tools and techniques inherent in participatory methodologies provide an excellent chance to combine group development with project diagnostics and planning.
When conflict does occur, participation is again key to an effective resolution. It’s important to remember that while democratic participation, under the guise of vote and voice, can end conflict relatively quickly, that can happen at the cost of a satisfactory outcome for all concerned. Dialogue and negotiation, while slower and more complicated, are likelier to end conflict for good rather than smooth it over until the next inevitable outbreak.
Please feel free to post your own experiences of conflict management and resolution in the comments section.
If you would like find out more about stakeholder engagement, you can study the mini-course on Development Project Stakeholders, available at the PMD Pro+