SUSTAINABILITY STRATEGIES IN PROJECT DESIGN

There are specific activities to help accomplish the sustainability strategies in project design.
These activities are not the only appropriate or available approaches; they represent select methods that have proven successful under a variety of conditions.

Furthermore these activities support the design theme of developing a project with conditions that encourage sustainable benefits.

  • Developing a Scope of Work is a routine step for building a design team to ensure that sustainability is addressed.
  • Holding a Team Planning Meeting is a common tool for launching a project development effort. However, it can also be used to stimulate a sustainability perspective.
  • Although Stakeholder Analysis is initiated during the identification phase, its application in the design phase allows for a broader and more in-depth analysis.
  • Conducting Sustainability Assessments is the key means for identifying sustainability opportunities and constraints, and incorporating them into project design.
  • The Logical Framework is a fundamental product of project design. Therefore, it should explicitly reflect a concern for sustainability.

Scope of Work

When procuring technical assistance, how do we make sure that benefit sustainability issues are addressed? As emphasized earlier, sustainability issues extend beyond the conventional life of a project and are longer-term in nature.

When procuring technical assistance, a scope of work (SOW) is needed. To incorporate sustainability, the SOW needs to explicitly highlight the longer-term elements to be taken into consideration in the project design. In addition, contractors with special skills or background which equip them for the longer-term analysis need to be specified.
The substance of the SOW is drawn from the logical framework as completed to date. A concern for sustainability can be included in the design team in one of two ways.

First, one person, often the team leader, is assigned the task of conducting a sustainability assessment and ensuring that all relevant aspects of the project design and related documents address the sustainability issues highlighted during the assessment.

Alternatively, each member of the design team would be responsible for identifying and addressing the sustainability issues related to his/her particular area. It is then imperative that the members of the design team coordinate their activities and proposals either directly or through the mediation of the team leader to ensure that the project design includes a comprehensive and consistent plan for sustainability.

Specific suggestions for adding sustainability to the scope of work are to:

  • Ensure that the objective of the consultancy or project design activities is to develop a project with sustainable benefit flows.
  • Specify that the design team will investigate the institutional environment for the project, assess sustainability targets, identify institutional incentives and disincentives, and highlight opportunities for success and potential problems.
  • Mandate that the discussion of benefit sustainability issues is explicit in the project design document. The document should include a separate section on sustainability that addresses issues relevant to the overall context of the project and to the specific project components.

Team Planning Meeting

Team planning meetings (TPM’s), which typically take place at the initiation of a new activity, help ensure that individuals and teams are prepared for their assignments, and that they understand expectations and the nature of relations with client organizations, and the need to integrate technical knowledge with organizational and process skills.

SinceTPMs provide an opportunity to get early agreements on goals, strategies, expected products and internal work arrangements, they are an ideal opportunity to introduce and build support for sustainability objectives.

The team planning meeting is designed to assist the technical assistance team’s preparation for its assignment. It provides an opportunity to:

1. Understand the larger context in which the design work must be carried out, thereby increasing its effectiveness in the field.

As appropriate to the assignment, discussion during the TPM will review donor agency development objectives including sustainability concerns, any special policy considerations relevant to the assignment, and the relationship of this effort to longer-term development goals in the region. Background information on related socio-economic, cultural, and political settings, and the involved governmental structures will also be discussed. This will set the stage for identifying key sustainability issues in the institutional environment.

2. Explore the team’s scope of work and develop initial action plans to address it.

During the planning meeting the team will clarify and explore the expectations of its key clients, identify expected final products and outcomes of the assignment, and develop standards and success criteria for its work. Team members will develop a current understanding of the assignment including sustainability concerns, and identify remaining information needs and how needed information will be acquired. Additionally, the team will define a sequence of activities that will support its work toward producing the expected team product in the available time frame. This will help ensure that the sustainability assessment is an integral part of the project analyses.

3. Understand the roles and expected contributions of each team member in carrying out the assignment.

Role differentiation and its understanding by each member of the team is critical to the team’s working relationships in the field and to the successful fulfillment of the scope of work. During the TPM, a common understanding will be reached about each team member’s responsibilities and expected contributions to the technical and non-technical aspects of the work. This will clarify who is responsible for addressing the various aspects of sustainability.

4. Understand the team approach to the assignment and form an effective work group.

The team actually begins its assignment during the TPM. It will identify team functions, and establish an initial schedule for team activities. Members develop a team approach to work in the field, and make tentative decisions about how they will work together and support each other professionally and personally. Tentative guidelines for team functioning are expected to emerge during this process including norms for interaction, frequency of meetings, progress reviews, identification of and solving problems, resolving conflicts, etc.

Awellfunctioning team contributes to compatible analyses and recommendations of complex issues such as sustainability.

Stakeholder Analysis

As the project design takes shape, specific stakeholders with an interest in the chosen benefits and implementing organization can be identified. While the project identification phase relies on preliminary stakeholder analysis to help choose among alternatives, stakeholder analysis during the design phase is more directed and indepth to enable the project design to build on the support of stakeholders and minimize their discontent.

First, a comprehensive list of stakeholders for the project design should be compiled and their interests in the project mapped on a stakeholder analysis table like the one presented in the preceding section on identification. For the most influential stakeholders, project designers should develop strategies for capturing the support of favorable stakeholders and heading off the hostility of detractors. Such strategies could include marketing project services and successes or involving a broad range of beneficiaries and stakeholders in decision making.

Sustainability Assessments

A structured approach for identifying key constraints to benefit sustainability in the context of new or ongoing donor-supported development projects/programs/grants, is designing a feasible action plan for enhancing the prospects for long-term impact.

The Rationale

There is a strong rationale for such sustainability assessments. For several years now, international financial institutions have been concerned about the “staying power” of the investments they make with countries around the world. The long-term returns on these development investments are not very good, with over 50% (conservatively speaking) yielding negative results.

The Value

The value of sustainability assessments is outlined as follows:

  • They provide a methodology for factoring sustainability considerations into plans, implementation actions, and evaluations;
  • Since the assessment methodology is structured and transparent, it can be readily applied by individual analysts or used in group settings;
  • The assessment methodology is compatible with many project/program/grant management tools used by donors and countries such as stakeholder analysis, Logical Framework analysis, responsibility charting, etc.
The Questions

The key sustainability questions include:

1) What is the focus (e.g., continuing the valued benefits of a project, a program, a grant, a policy, an organization, etc.) of the sustainability assessment?

2) Which benefits are or are not intended to be continued, and for how long? (this is done through interviews and official document review; the sustainability intent will likely evolve over time)

3) For each benefit, assess whether the factors are in place:

  • Adequate resources for the continuing production of benefits (including financial, human, technical, and natural);
  • Sustainability management systems oriented toward long-term objectives with self-corrective mechanisms (including clear specification of sustainability objectives and activities, stakeholder participation, an appropriate structure for long-term effectiveness, and flexible and adaptive procedures);
  • Client Responsive Services (public value, private value, marketing) in which outputs are either paid for by beneficiaries or by stakeholders so that there are sufficient resources for continuation; and
  • A supportive policy and regulatory framework conducive to sustainable benefit flows (including policies and laws, a supportive public bureaucracy, and macroeconomic, social, and political conditions).

4) What feasible actions are needed during the life of the project/program to enhance the prospects of benefit sustainability in terms of the above categories of factors?

5) What is the specific sustainability plan incorporating the needed actions along with when and who will implement them?

The Preconditions

The preconditions for undertaking a sustainability assessment include a recognition of the need to do more to improve benefit sustainability by country managers and supporting donor entities on the one hand, and a commitment to taking concerted and long-term action on the other.

The Stages

The typical stages of a sustainability assessment effort are as follows:

  • Articulation of interest by relevant host country, donor, or other actor;
  • Conducting of the sustainability assessment by knowledgeable professional(s) in cooperation with key stakeholders for a period of several days to several weeks;
  • Sustainability plan implementation by an appointed task force with periodic expert facilitation; and
  • Sustainability plan monitoring, evaluation, and redesign by a key task force with impact reports to stakeholders.

Logical Framework

Even in conventional project design, the Logical Framework is a useful tool for structuring the logical relationships between inputs, outputs, purpose, and goal; and among the assumptions upon which they are based. In designing projects for sustainability, the Logical Framework is at least as useful for illustrating and clarifying these relationships as it is for conventional design. The Logical Framework for sustainability has a purpose statement that reflects long-term, strategic objectives and continuing benefit flows.

Conventional project design focuses on the end of project status (EOPS), which does not indicate whether conditions are favorable for continued benefit flows. Sustainability concerns suggest that the Logical Framework be modified to articulate and measure Beginning of Sustainability Status (BOSS). In other words, by project termination, are the critical factors in place which are necessary prerequisites to sustainability?

Similarly, the role of assumptions is as critical for a logframe that builds sustainable project benefits as it is for one that strives just for project effectiveness.The long-term dimension of sustainability requires different and additional assumptions— assumptions about both future and current conditions. The Logical Framework tool allows closer specification and inspection of the assumptions that link outputs to purpose.

Find more about Sustainability in project design

Adapted paper from Executive Leadership Institute Portland State University

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1 Comment

MARK · 29/05/2018 at 3:21 PM

It is very informative.
I will try to implement some of those direction in my next projects

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