Christopher High, universitetslektor i freds- och utvecklingsstudier
A substantial shift towards more inclusive modes of governance have been observed in many parts of the world over the last four or five decades. A greater variety of actors are now expected to participate directly in the development, delivery and assessment of public benefit, usually marked by a rhetoric of partnership and participation. Partnership is built into notions of sustainable development, stakeholder engagement and social learning, but a substantial critique points to the difficulties in enacting participatory policy and practice across differences of power and identity. Scholarship on the new public management has linked the bridging of institutional realities to difficulties inherent in the increasing use of contractual procedures with their origins in the private sector for shaping the interactions of actors delivering public good. A recent focus has been an examination of role of projects and projectification (the increased use of temporary organisational forms) and the resulting benefits and difficulties, with a focus on the consequences for social justice.
This paper focuses on a particular pathology of the project state: the tendency to reify project aims and to engage with stakeholder in relation to them. This cognitive framing ignores that for most stakeholders the project isn’t a project, and creates difficulties in engaging with participants to identify and realise potential points of accommodation between different interests. Drawing on examples from applied scholarship, participatory pedagogy and community engagement, a method for engaging productively with stakeholder points of view is developed based on soft systems methodology. The discussion focuses on the practical and theoretical issues thrown up by the use of this approach in practice, such as the relationship between private and participatory analysis of stakeholder positions or the flexible nature of identity, and concludes with an examination of future lines of development for practical intersubjectivity, including intentionality and causal claims.