Sunday, September 26, 2010

Community project challenges

Community project challenges

By Ramadhani Kupaza

Politicians continue to promise during the ongoing political campaigns that they would establish this and that community development project if they are elected during the general elections in October. The politicians promise to establish projects in order to improve peoples’ lives. But one wonders whether the politicians who make the promises are aware of the enormous challenges that are involved in establishing successful community development projects.

Challenges involved start early during the project identification stage. For instance, financiers like banks or donors do not provide pre-project funds to carry out social economic surveys to determine priority community needs that proposed community projects would address. As a result, the tendency is for community development projects to address imaginary rather than actual priority community needs. It follows that politicians will find it difficult to improve peoples’ lives in the communities since interventions like projects may not often address community priority needs.

Based on a similar argument, politicians will find it difficult to improve peoples’ lives by establishing projects because financiers provide project funds based on their institutions' funding policies rather than on priority community needs. For instance, some institutions finance projects involving some development sectors but not others. For example, there are funding institutions which provide financial support for conservation projects but not for water supply projects even if water scarcity is the main problem in the community. It is a message to the politicians that there are actually fewer relevant institutions that may finance priority community projects than what meets the eye.

Politicians who promise to establish community development projects during campaigns would encounter other challenges at the project design stage. Like for the project identification stage, the politicians would be forced to design community development projects based on imaginary rather than on actual community needs. The reason is the same: financiers do not provide pre-project funds to collect relevant information that would be used as the basis for designing relevant community development activities. Needless to emphasize, irrelevant project activities do not improve peoples’ lives.

As if that is not enough challenge. Financiers that provide funds dictate timing and duration of projects. Yet, such project timing and duration may not be the most suitable for members of a particular community. As a result, members of a community may not be able to participate fully in implementation of a project. Project timing and duration are common challenges that project executants encounter.

A community development project being implemented in Sekei, Arusha

Institutions that finance community development projects require guarantees which indicate that the organization that will implement a project is credible. The financiers assess the implementing agency by conducting what project planners refer to as Organization Capacity Assessment or OCA in short. The framework of an OCA may include how effective an implementing organization manages finances. How it manages its personnel and equipment. Of particular interest to financiers in this case are audited financial reports prepared by a project implementing organization. The reports serve as proof that the implementing organization manages finances correctly. Financiers are obliged to terminate contracts any time if implementing organizations embezzle or misappropriate funds. It suggests that some politicians are simply not aware of the financial management commitments that are

involved during implementation of community development projects.

By the way, a community development project design is reflected in a document referred to as Project Proposal. An approved project proposal is a project implementation guide. The document becomes a Project Contract when contractual aspects like signature pages are incorporated to the document once a financier commits to fund a project. Contents of the Project Contract like agreements between the financier and the project executing institution become binding.

Politicians who promise to establish projects will encounter challenges at the project implementation stage as well. The stage involves identification of qualified personnel, relevant partners and stakeholders to implement the project among other things. Yet, there is acute scarcity of qualified personnel in developing countries like Tanzania.

Community awareness, logistics and empowerment are major challenges when implementing community development projects particularly in rural areas. Awareness is especially important when a project involves new ideas, products, services, technologies and major community commitments. As regards logistics, aspects like transport and sometimes communication are major challenges in many parts of Tanzania.

Community empowerment is important as an act to enable members of the community to implement development activities independently with and without the project. In addition, community empowerment is part of an early preparation to ensure that project activities are sustained in the long run. Community empowerment can be in the form of training on relevant skills, establishment of practical systems to carry out activities effectively and provision of incentives in the form of cash or equivalent. It can be difficult to find relevant individuals to empower.

Politicians will find that it is one thing to implement a project and it is quite another to ensure that project activities are carried out on time and effectively. Project planners refer to such project stage as project monitoring. It is challenging to set up an effective monitoring programme particularly when a project has not been properly designed and when members of project staff are not adequately qualified.

Politicians will continue to encounter challenges at the evaluation stage of a project. Project evaluation process measures causative effects and positive as well as negative changes on lives of members of a community as a result of a particular intervention like a project. Accuracy of the measurements depends much on the relevance of indicators of causes and effects that are usually outlined in a detailed matrix called logical framework. The enormous project challenges suggest that many of the projects that politicians promise to establish in order to improve peoples’ lives are simply wishful thinking.

source: Arusha Times newspaper.

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