The Role of Stakeholders in Community Development

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Development, be it social, economic and/or environmental, has to be understood as an inherently political process of people claiming basic rights to manage the resources their lives depend on. In principle, everyone should be involved. Managing the inherent complexity requires a process of comprehensive engagement and negotiation with a broad range of stakeholders and the conscious and strategic acknowledgement of their divergent values and interests, needs and expectations. This paper emphasizes that dialogue and negotiation among stakeholders are the vehicles through which sustainable community development projects are established, implemented and monitored. Bottom-up CD programs which emanate from the grassroots level and closely involve community members are more successful than those that are developed top-down.

Who is a stakeholder?
There is not much disagreement on what kind of entity a stakeholder can be. The CD process consists of donors, target beneficiaries, partner agencies, government and non-governmental organizations. Bryson (1999) defines a stakeholder as ‘any person, group or organisation that can place a claim on an organization’s attention, resources or output, or is affected by that output’, which concurs with Freeman's definition that: "A stakeholder in an organization is (by definition) any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization's objectives" (1984). Thus, stakeholders are individuals or groups that may be positively or negatively affected by the project and those that can bring expertise or resources, each is of equal importance.

How important are they?
The importance of attending to stakeholders is emphasized in several literatures (Freeman 1984; Eade & Williams, 1995; Hoff, 1998; Bryson 1999 etc.). The authors explain that stakeholder support is needed to create and sustain winning coalitions and to ensure the long-term viability of organizations, policies, plans, and programs. Key stakeholders must be satisfied at least minimally, or public policies, organizations, communities, or even countries will fail.

Stakeholder expectations and their satisfaction represent the basis against which CD efforts and activities are judged (Sautter, 1999). Satisfaction is achieved by being responsive to the needs and expectations of the stakeholders. These expectations are diverse and sometimes in conflict with each other, yet overlooking them could severely restrict CD work. Thus, the role of the stakeholder in the CD process presents obvious problems as each stakeholder carries an element of self-interest in the project, with different expectations and views on priorities. It is important to include stakeholders who represent the true diversity of the community; as Sautter (1999) states, if a project is not meeting the expectations of several interest groups, it probably should not exist at all.

Stakeholder Engagement
Any management activity is fundamentally a negotiation process between stakeholders that should be initiated from the start and maintained not only during the project/initiative but in the long term through appropriate organizational and institutional arrangements (Sanderson & Kindon, 2004). CD projects engage people, organizations, NGOs and government and it is recognized that they have increased success if they promote stakeholder participation, coordination and cooperation and reflect consensus opinion (Kleemeier, 2000; Eguren, 2008).

Newman (2008) and Eguren (2008) appreciate the fact that similar issues affect stakeholders differently. As such, managers need to constantly assess stakeholder significance in the light of individual issues, in order to guide the amount of time and resources allocated to them. Effective CD demands synchronous attention to the genuine interests of all appropriate stakeholders. Sautter (1999) emphasizes this premise and cautions that failure to retain participation of even a single...
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