Legitimacy and decision making in developmental local government : participative MCDA in Stellenbosch

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis is concerned with the problem of how to effectively address the complex issue of poverty in the context of limited resources. Poverty is a multi-dimensional problem that affects different communities in different ways. In order to use the available resources in such a way as to most effectively tackle poverty, a means of measuring and benchmarking outcomes as well as evaluating choices of intervention is required. However, smart methods of allocating scarce resources are not in themselves sufficient, if they are not regarded as legitimate by the participants of the process. The imperative of legitimacy demands that we both address the issue of quantitative rigour in resource allocation methods and that we look beyond and explore too the mechanics of effective participatory methods. The approach of developmental local government adopted by the new South African government post apartheid, places this complex problem in the sphere of local government. The primary tool available to local administrators for addressing poverty, amongst other issues, is that of integrated development planning. This process draws together the stakeholders who fall broadly into three groups of participants, namely the communities that live in the municipality, the municipal officials and the elected politicians, and allocates them the task of identifying and prioritising community and municipal issues, and developing appropriate plans to address them. This package of plans or projects is compiled into a municipal budget that targets priority issues for the area, in an integrated and coherent manner. This thesis proposes a new method for tackling this specific group decision making problem, namely Participative Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis. This method was developed in an action research setting in the municipality of Stellenbosch, South Africa, and applied to their 2001/2002 integrated development planning process. The method is grounded in the principles of participative action research in which the participation of all interested and affected patties is valued, and in which there is a commitment to work for change to the fundamental fabric of knowledge and power, leading to a greater empowerment of ordinary people. This participative framework strengthens the legitimacy of the approach by promoting a stronger sense of ownership of process and products by all participants. Within this participative framework, tools of multi-criteria decision analysis are used to support the decision making process by quantifying difficult decisions that need to be addressed. It is the synthesis of these two approaches (action research and multi-criteria decision analysis) that provides both legitimacy and rigour for this method within a highly contested and complex public decision making arena. In the spirit of action research, the method is developed by drawing on theory about developmental local government and poverty, as well as multi-criteria decision analysis. In the process of the research, over forty community workshops were held throughout the Stellenbosch municipal area. Community representatives identified and prioritised the issues of their areas; and in conjunction with municipal officials, developed and evaluated projects in response to these issues. These evaluations assisted the local council to compile the final budget for 2001/2002 in Stellenbosch. In this process, the communities (divided into nine development areas) also developed community development measurement scales which formed the basis for the project evaluations and an ongoing basis for monitoring progress in these communities. It unfolded during the course of this research that a fundamental component of this proposed participative public decision making approach is the role of a central co-ordinating person, not connected to or answerable to any of the constituent groups, who can manage the process of participation, promote an awareness of effective and informative data; ensure the appropriate use of quantification tools and maintain a focus on sustainable poverty alleviation. The method developed in this thesis was successfully applied to the process of identifying, prioritising and making choices about community issues in Stellenbosch, under conditions of significant polarisation of the constituent decision making groups, conclude that this method can be used to implement key aspects of integrated development planning as it addresses the issues of legitimacy and rigour in participative public decision making.

Bibliography: p. 221-233.