How to integrate accountability and transparency into the socio-economic development (SED) project cycle


In developing countries like South Africa, socio-economic development (SED) projects have the potential to significantly improve the quality of people’s lives. In practice, however, the impact is often limited due to inefficiency, inequity, and insufficient accountability.

Why do SED projects fail?

SED is treated like a grudge exercise when an SED project should be run with the heart. It’s a caring exercise and it’s so important to tie the SED project to the company’s bottom line. So often, it seems there isn’t any kind of strategy when it comes to an SED project.

By and large, SED projects tend to be a box-ticking exercise with little connection to the overall business impetus. An SED project is just another kind of project and should be run as such; the core values of the SED project need to be communicated clearly so that everyone involved understand their role in bringing the project to fruition. Do you really care for enterprise development? If you don’t change your heart, you can’t connect to the SED objective.

If you have a strong strategy for what you would like to change in your environment, from an SED perspective, you can chase your goals in a constructive and sustainable way. Spend the money in one place, making a real impact, rather than breaking the budget up and spending small amounts on projects that won’t sustain because the goal is to serve a political agenda.

The first step in fostering an environment of accountability is changing the way you, as a business owner, thinks about SED. If you don’t change the way you approach SED you won’t be able to foster an environment of accountability. Business leaders should stop thinking about SED as a box to be ticked; tie it into your overall business strategy. By doing that, the accountability will come about naturally. Your team will understand that this is an important business objective. If you don’t articulate the benefits from the start, you can’t measure them in the end.

A culture of accountability

Accountability is key to successful projects across all industry silos; but particularly so when running a sustainable and scalable socio-economic development project. To understand how accountability works, we must make a distinction between an accountable person and a responsible person in a (project) team.

The accountable person is the individual who is ultimately answerable for the activity or decision. This includes “yes” or “no” authority and veto power. Only one ‘accountable’ person can be assigned to an action. The responsible person is the individual (or individuals) who actually complete the task. The responsible person is responsible for action and implementation. Responsibility can be shared and the degree of responsibility is determined by the individual with the ‘accountability’.

Accountability always resides within the business. A project manager cannot be accountable for the project results. They are responsible for the outcome, but they are not accountable. Accountability needs to reside with the project owner because the project manager cannot make certain decisions. It is essential that this relationship is established and made clear, up front.

There are myriad elements and actions that go into initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, and closing out a project. If no one is accountable, all resources, energy and efforts to grow the initiative are simply ingredients in a recipe for failure. How can you ensure accountability on your project? There are three important things that can help make sure that accountability rules and your project comes to a successful fruition: Strong leadership, a philosophy of accountability and measuring and communicating results.

Strong leadership

It is essential that an organisation’s leadership clearly establish and communicate why the company is undertaking the project and outline expectations to the project manager and the team. Taking a step back, in many cases, a project manager does not have any formal or legitimate power over project team members; and because of this, team members may not see the project’s importance or see it as a priority. Having leadership clearly outline the benefits of the project, the expectations leadership has, and their commitment to the project, will set the stage for project success. Upon going forward with the project, the project manager must realise his or her role as a leader. As a matter of fact, this person should not think of himself or herself as the project manager, but rather as the project leader. This way, the project manager remains the trusted advisor and custodian of the project blueprints.

Philosophy of accountability

It is imperative for an organisation to foster an environment of accountability among team members. The idea is to ensure your team understands what individual and team accountability means, as it relates to the project. This means adopting a philosophy that success is dependent on more than just meeting timelines, going through the motions and ticking boxes. Project team members need to feel a personal obligation to deliver success. They must deliver the highest level of quality and commit to being personally responsible for the success of the project. This can sometimes mean tying the project’s goal to an individual’s value system and providing incentive for responsibility. Incentive can take the form of public recognition or may lead to other opportunities within the organisation.

Measuring and communicating results

To increase accountability on projects it is important to often measure and communicate the project status. Measuring and communicating can have the motivating effect of either a carrot or a stick. For those that are performing at a high level and contributing to the project’s success, their efforts are recognised and celebrated. For those that may not be performing at the required level, measurements and results communicated throughout the organisation can act as a wake-up call and get the team member refocused and on the right track.

Accountability is critical to the success of a project. Ensuring strong leadership support, a philosophy of accountability, and measuring and communicating results, will help to ensure you have the requisite accountability on your projects and help set you up for overall project success.

Clear determination of the projects’ roles and responsibilities can go a long way toward eliminating ambiguities and misunderstandings. An up-front determination of accountabilities and responsibilities is just the beginning. This needs to be followed by a clear communication and acceptance of these roles and responsibilities by the assignees. Blame games and apportioning of faults can only thrive in an environment where it has never been clear who is responsible and who is accountable.

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