I have recently been discussing with a Polish NGO a joint project proposal to be submitted to the EEA and Norway Grants. In this project, which will focus on advocy, I will represent CBNRM Networking, a Norwegian NGO that will be a partner. My colleague asked me how I understood the issue of advocacy, and how I would define the partnership, and specifically the role of CBNRM Networking. I wrote the following mail on 8 March 2021 (here slightly revised):
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Thanks for your email. After a long weekend, I was just sitting down and write to you, as agreed upon when we talked together, when your email arrived. I am certainly interested in collaborating with you and your NGO.
You are, on your side, of course interested in how the experience of Norway, Norwegian society, and living in Norway, can be of use in defining your project proposal, and implementing and advancing it, and, not the least, reaching the goals you have outlined. As a Norwegian this is of course my own position and view. Accordingly, the following brief comments are aimed at addressing this. You will find that I to a large extent repeat, but also expand upon, what I said during our talk.
Transparency, Trust, and More
The fundamental concerns that your project can learn and adopt from Norway, and implement in Poland, are the crucial ideas of: (a) transparency and (b) trust. These terms are not separate, they are closely connected. You build trust by being transparent and, vice versa, transparency is a foundation for building trust. In a certain way they are two sides of the same coin. While trust can be understood as a fundamental value in society, transparency is the overt practical / operational way to show this trust, including how to achieve it, build upon it, and, not the least, maintain it.
There are, of course, other aspects of Norwegian society the supports the ideas of trust and transparency. They include: democracy, equality (between genders – btw., congratulations on 8. March today – and between generations), governance, inclusion, the rule of law, and, finally, in ethnic, economic, and political terms.
Differences Between the Countries, and the Implications of This
I believe I mentioned earlier that it is largely impossible to lift parts of Norwegian society and culture out and transport it to, in this case, Poland (if I didn’t mention this, I certainly should have). This is because the two societies, cultures, and countries are so vastly different. This is an objective statement and not a subjective one – I do not mean to imply that one country is “better” (whatever that means) than the other country. So, how to “lift” and move to Poland the ideas of trust and transparency? As this is not a case of transporting an institution or organization, and replicating it in Poland (which would not work, it is fairly straightforward. Starting with transparency, you have to do it. It is as simple – and as complicated and difficult – as that. It is complicated and difficult because transparency is largely unfamiliar in Poland. Still, there is only one way to do it and, hopefully, to achieve it. Namely: to do it.
How to Be Transparent
You “do” transparency by acting it, by being open, by being inclusive, by sharing any and all relevant information, and by involving interesting persons and organizations/NGOs. This applies to your immediate constituency in civil society, as well as to the public sector at various administrative levels, including the Lesser Poland voivodeship (I understand that this province or state will constitute your project area), powiats (counties or districts), and gminas (communes or municipalities). We should, furthermore, discuss to what extent the private sector should be included as a stakeholder category. The essence here is to play with open cards throughout, vis-à-vis any and all relevant stakeholders.
I often work with a methodology or tool called “stakeholder analysis”. This methodology aims at evaluating the sometimes less than obvious reasons for why specific stakeholders, as located in public sector, civil society, or private sector, are interested in a development project. The stakeholders can be placed in a 2x2 diagram consisting of the two dichotomized variables power and interest, resulting in 4 cells, as follows
(1) Low Power and High Interest. Your main target group, keep informed at all times.
(2) High Power and Low Interest. External stakeholders, maybe be useful; keep satisfied.
(3) Low Power and Low Interest. External stakeholders, will likely not be useful; monitor (minimum effort).
(4) High Power and High Interest. Possibly involved stakeholders; to be managed closely.
It is in this latter category that you may find stakeholders that may have ulterior interests in the project (see risk assessment below).
In practical terms, this information sharing and knowledge management should take place via (and depending upon any Covid-19 restrictions at the time):
(1) Physical Events. Including meetings, interviews (with individual persons/organizations), stakeholder consultations,
(2) Media, Print and Online. It will be crucial to focus on the media from the very beginning. As a matter of fact, the project may stand or fall depending upon whether media supports it.
(3) Social Media. Use a host of platforms to disseminate the overall message, as well as how the implementation of the project proceeds.
(4) Evaluation. A final in-house evaluation of the project, to be prepared by jointly by your organization and external civil society organizations, to be disseminated to all stakeholders.
(5) Final Conference. At the end of the project you should organize a final evaluation workshop/conference where all project stakeholders are invited, together with representatives from the public sector and organized civil society in other voivodeships, and media
The overall goal should only partly be on a one-way dissemination of information and knowledge. Rather, is should be on engaging your stakeholders in an ongoing discussion of how to be and operate transparent, and how to build trust. CBNRM Networking, your Norwegian partner, could be involved in several, perhaps most, of these activities, as you see fit. Our role could, in addition and in general, be defined as being an advisor.
The risk assessment of this is that your project may not manage to achieve a necessary level of acceptance among your constituency that, in turn, will be translated into trust. Being and working transparent is relatively easy. The problem is that building trust takes a very long time, and much longer time than you would have at your disposal in the very short implementation period under this project. Of course, this is not a question of either or – that you, at the end of the project will have attained trust, or not. The situation at the time when the project close will likely be that you have managed to build some trust, and hopefully enough that your constituency – meaning NGOs and organized civil society in general – buy into your overall project idea. The risk assessment also has to take into consideration the possibility that some stakeholders may want to thwart your project and/or turn it in a way that will benefit them. This latter risk assessment necessitates a focus on conflict management and conflict resolution.
This brings me to further important term that I mentioned during our talk, namely exit strategy. This refers to how you plan to close the project. The goal here is to ascertain that whatever the project managed to build and achieve during the implementation period, stand a good chance of being continued, and even improved upon after closure. To ascertain this, you have to make it clear that the project activities will be continued – for example, by your organization, which means that your organization will allocate the necessary human and financial resources towards this.