When we ask our clients and training attendees what hindered them most when trying to engage in full stakeholder participation, and the overriding response was time and money – confidence and knowledge didn’t get a single vote! We want to give some solutions to this, so here goes!
Time and money are challenges for everyone these days and of course the two are interlinked. So the first question is to ask if a participation process is the optimum thing to do, and consider the alternatives and the risks, costs and benefits of those. In some situations, saving time and money on good participation will be a false economy. Much more time and money will be needed to recover damaged relationships or reputations, handle resistance and negative reactions, and deal with costly and lengthy delays or even legal challenges. Damage like that can last decades and broken trust can spread to other parts of your organisation’s work.
If time is the constraint, but you have funds, contract in specialists to design, facilitate and administer the participation process. Or use funds to get in administrative support to help with the behind-the-scenes logistics of running a good participation process. You could also back-fill your job to free you to focus on the participation.
If funds are an issue, then one solution is to broaden the scope of the participation to include other related topics and thereby draw in other partners and other funding – with the added benefit of finding synergies and integrated solutions. Or you could use the funds to build capacity in the training and establishment of a facilitation network. Members of the resulting network can then swap time and skills to help with each other’s participation processes. We have helped train and set up networks like this within organisations and between organisations, and it really is cost effective. External specialists are only needed when the situation is tense, complex or large-scale, and so neutrality is vital and professional-level skills needed.
If both time and money look like constraints, don’t rule participation out. We have innovated some of our best ideas when funding is tight and we need to think of clever ways of doing things. Of course there comes a point when there is too little time or money and any participation would lack sufficient resources, fall foul of good practice and be a disaster. In these situations, press pause and make the case to funders and partners about the need for more resources.
Some people say that any stakeholder participation is better than none – but we strongly disagree. Poorly done participation brings participation as an approach into disrepute and rules it out as the solution in future. So we would say if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well!