Sunday, February 16, 2014

Managing Project Conflicts

Conflict is inevitable in public projects and activities. This the case when money, influence, and limited opportunity abound. By changing the fundamental nature of stakeholders from power over to power with a higher level of collaboration can occur that leads to better results. A paper by Eivind Brendehaug shows how the planning process can be improved when local stakeholder interests and conflicts can be compromised and integrated into the development process (2013).

Co-management is a concept that helps to explain strategic development with three aims that include 1.) fulfill management aims, 2.) distribute cost and benefits among local stakeholders and authorities, and 3.) supplement representative democracy to reduce conflicts (Brechin et. al. 2003). It is a process of reviewing the varying issues inherent within projects and then finding a way to co-develop that concept.

When projects are developed they rest in the authority of the planners. The planners have instrumental power over the decisions, institutional power over the processes and cultural power over information (Lukes, 2005). This means that the entity in charge of projects has both real and perceived power that stakeholders naturally look to for direction.

Most planning projects are seen as zero sum games where there are clear winners and losers. The process of power over certain entities creates distrust and lack of engagement in the developmental process. Creating plus sum situations encourages higher levels of engagement and requires a paradigm shift of power to increase the likelihood of project success.

Each stakeholder has their own needs and wants. No one should expect to get everything they want as this is a public project. However, by listening to their needs, wants, fears, and concerns it is possible to create a greater match between the production process and stakeholder participation that leads to a more beneficial project.

The case study is important because it helps highlight a few points. Stakeholder develop analysis models for understanding problems and this impacts their influence in the process. The developing authority must desire the participation of stakeholders to realize goals. Conflicts are great sources of information in understanding worries and claims to help planners address these issues. Proper management can move planning from a zero-sum to a plus sum process that hedges the interests and abilities of the stakeholders.

Brendehaug, E. (2013). How local participation in national planning creates new development opportunities. Systemic Practice & Action Research, 26 (1).

Brechin, S. et. al. (2003) Contested nature. Promoting international biodiversity with social justice in the twenty-first century. State University of New York Press, New

Lukes S (2005) Power. A radical view, 2nd edn. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke

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