Feedback on collaboration for the implementation of Outcome Action Plans (OAPs) in West Africa

By Barthélémy Jean Auguste Batieno, coordinator of the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources Programme, Regional Partnership for Coastal and Marine Conservation (PRCM), West Africa

In many ways, MAVA’s last strategy (2016-2022) contrasts sharply with previous strategies. The structuring of programmes around biological targets and threats and adaptive management are some of the major innovations aimed at generating changes and ensuring sustainability. Marine and coastal ecosystems in the sub-region, vital for national biodiversity and economies, are faced with threats linked to coastal development and infrastructures (transport, tourism, factories, etc.), oil and gas exploration and production, and to unsustainable fishing practices.  In this respect, how can sustainable changes be made in a dynamic context?

Out of small acorns, large oak trees grow: how can we ensure that the numerous initiatives carried out by conservation organisations in West Africa are consistent? 

The context of intervention in West Africa is becoming more complex in terms of economic, social and environmental issues. This requires multidimensional but coherent responses for the conservation of marine and coastal ecosystems. During our project coordination meetings prior to the steering committee session, we analyse the consistency of our actions.  This allows us to define the convergence required for thematic impact, firstly at project level and then at OAP level. A crosscutting analysis of the West Africa strategy should allow for the creation of a level of consistency between OAPs thereby enabling sustainable changes.  This consistency between the initiatives at national and regional levels could focus on: i) the establishment of a more favourable institutional and legal environment for the conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity; ii) an improvement in the knowledge of the technical phenomena and in capacities of the key players; iii) the rooting of environmental awareness in populations; and iv) a better informed and more organised civil society.  From my point of view, the sustainability of the impacts of the programmes and projects in changing political contexts and rapid social and economic changes are based on these four areas.

So, let’s work together to go further…

In terms of the context and the interaction between the phenomena requiring varied skills, working together is no longer a choice if we want to make major changes in the conservation status of biodiversity and ecosystems. Although the advantages can be proven, working together remains a learning process and its cumbersome nature must be removed for the progressive introduction of a reciprocal atmosphere of trust between stakeholders. As Henry Ford said, “Coming together is the beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success”. Committing organisations with different identities, methods and skills required a minimum degree of moderation and mediation, but also of the principles that form the basis for collaboration. A few examples of this would be: i) the principle of subsidiarity; ii) the ongoing cooperation, which allows for the management of misunderstandings at an early stage, before they become crises; and finally, iii) the principle of solidarity and responsibility between the partner organisations committed at OAP level, taking into account the interaction between initiatives and the collective responsibility in terms of the impacts of the OAP.

But how can we work together efficiently?

Each organisation engages in the partnership with their own identity, procedures, competences, etc. Several mechanisms and frameworks for dialogue and consultation between partners have been designed and funded by MAVA: OAP steering committee, project coordination meeting, and adaptive management tools. We thus seized this opportunity to create the basis of dialogue and transparency between the organisations in charge of implementing projects, right from their inception, whilst maintaining communication through regular discussions on monitoring of activities. The annual coordination meeting, established between all the project partners, is a time for critical analysis of the project’s progress –with tools such as the scorecard and planning. This meeting must be well prepared in order to take full advantage of it, notably the consistency of actions, the cohesion of the partnership and the monitoring of the desired impacts.

In its structure and its mode of operation, the steering committee is a great opportunity for the project manager. Personally, it gives me the chance to participate in the exercise of analysing results, investigating the suitability of strategies and approaches, in the discussion and validation of innovations and the changes to be made. Its effectiveness depends to a great extent on the level of preparation prior to the coordination meetings, and to the degree of openness to criticism and to recommendations by the project manager. The challenge will be that of maintaining fluid exchanges between two steering committee sessions, hence the need for optimal OAP facilitation.

In conclusion, working together in the OAPs and projects requires the implementation of the appropriate architecture in the governance of the OAPs and also adjustments within organisations whose procedures and approaches may differ.  However, it is on an individual scale, notably with those who take on the roles of collaborators, that the adjustments are made to address the partnerships’ management requirements, both on strategic and operational levels.

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