Collaboration at the crossroads: The enabling of large-scale cross-sector collaborative developments

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis identifies a key to achieving success in large-scale cross-sector collaborations. Surveys of such collaborations, involving multiple and opposing stakeholders in achieving shared objectives, indicate that they invariable fail. I examine a successful case, and demonstrate that the gap between failure and success is created by underestimating both incessant turbulence and stakeholder incapacity; and the gap is filled by a few diverse, dedicated activists - Enablers - and the mandates which help to empower them. The literature review engages with four fields of study. 'Community participation' theory promotes the exercise of popular agency in development, arguing for less state control and the right of civil society groups to get involved in what affects them. 'Collaborative governance' argues for government to actively involve other stakeholders in matters of common interest. The 'participative sphere' endeavours to demystify behaviour and power within different degrees of collaboration. The ultimate challenge is 'cross-sector collaboration', in which shared power between multiple parties in separate sectors is attempted, but seldom yields success. A false assumption that collaborations curb turbulence and can be managed by their stakeholders is, however, apparent. In this thesis I examine an ambitious housing project, the 'iSLP', during South Africa's tortuous transition. It began as an attempt to develop land from which sixty thousand people had been violently displaced to thirty locations. Stakeholders comprised those communities, warlords, apartheid government agencies, recently unbanned political parties and civic movements, municipalities and local industrialists. From conception the collaboration was undermined by private developers luring a succession of stakeholders into potentially profitable alliances. However the collaboration survived four years of transitional governmental paralysis and was rewarded with an enhanced mandate and guaranteed finance – only to come under attack again from different quarters. Ultimately the iSLP met its objective of housing over 32 000 families in fully-equipped suburbs. Through an intensive analysis of project archival materials, particularly of actual participation in collaborative processes, the critical role of a few people emerged. Extensive interviews with them and reflection on my own participation in the project confirmed their unique and un-theorised role, contributing critically to improving planning and coordination of cross-sector collaborations.

Includes bibliographical references.