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The challenges of capital project management within Indigenous community settings

The challenges of capital project management within Indigenous community settings

Synopsis
2 Minute Read

Delivering capital projects within First Nation and Indigenous communities presents unique aspects that require a tailored approach.

Delivering capital projects within First Nation and Indigenous communities presents unique aspects that require a tailored approach. These groups often face challenges related to funding, community engagement, governance, cultural considerations, and sustainability. What are those challenges and how can you go about tackling them?

Overcome access to funding

Challenge

First Nations and Indigenous communities may face funding barriers due to their remote location, lack of access to traditional financing options, and limited financial resources. Project managers need to identify alternative sources of funding. They also need to develop clear budgets and cost estimates to ensure project feasibility and avoid budget overruns.

Actionable insight

As well as government grants, look for public-private partnerships, joint ventures, impact investing, or other alternative funding models to fund capital projects. As early as possible in the project life, develop clear budgets and cost estimates to ensure project feasibility and avoid overruns. Remember, financing can often be a great option, and make sure a thorough financial analysis is undertaken to understand the implications and ensure the debt can be serviced. A flexible (and sometimes deliberately complex) approach can provide communities with access to much-needed capital and resources, and sometimes key expertise, in the case of Public-Private Partnerships (P3), Design-Build-Finance-Operate-Maintain (CBFOM), and Joint Venture (JV) models.

Foster community engagement

Challenge

Those charged with leading and managing a project need to engage community members in the decision-making process, ensure their concerns and needs are heard, and build trust with community leaders. This includes conducting extensive consultations, using culturally appropriate communication methods, and developing a community-based project management approach.

Actionable insight

 Involve community members in the design process through charrettes and workshops, considering specific groups (elders, youth, off-reserve members, etc.) and a tailored, meaningful approach for each. This approach can unlock and foster community ownership and pride, make sure the project is unique and reflective of the people it will ultimately serve, and generate economic benefits.

Navigate governance complexities

Challenge

 First Nations and Indigenous communities often have complex governance structures that can create challenges in decision-making, approvals, and project delivery. Project managers need to work closely with community leaders and governance bodies to understand the decision-making process and navigate the complexities of the governance structure.

Actionable insight

To develop strong governance structures that reflect the community's values, traditions, and aspirations, rally the key political and administrative leaders who speak on behalf of the community and with whom you can have a safe discussion on this topic. Trust is key here and you may wish to draw on your past experiences of capital projects to discuss scenarios where poor governance has caused issues. Seek to develop broad consensus on the policies that will enable the project to move forward in a stable and transparent fashion. Ensure governing bodies, regulators and funders are part of the conversation; your cultural sensitivity and past project experience makes you ideally placed as the facilitator and broker in this multi-stakeholder environment.

Address cultural considerations

Challenge

 First Nations and Indigenous communities have unique cultural considerations that need to be respected and incorporated into project planning and delivery. Project leaders need to understand the cultural context, incorporate cultural practices and protocols, and ensure the project aligns with cultural values and delivers a truly valuable outcome, by the recipient’s standards.

Actionable insight

 Workshop with community leadership (chief, council, and administration) at the project initiation phase about how best to incorporate cultural values, traditions, and practices into the project, to promote cultural revitalization and support community well-being. Having a traditional knowledge keeper or other “cultural liaison” figure is also a good avenue to ensure projects reflect the community's historic and traditional culture as best as possible.

Adopt sustainable practices

Challenge

 Sustainability inexorably grows in importance for capital projects, and particularly so in First Nations and Indigenous contexts, given the deep connection to the land, environment, and natural resources. Project managers need to consider the environmental impact of the project, incorporate sustainable practices, and work with community members to develop sustainable solutions.

Actionable insight

The governance and design aspects lend themselves well to adopting sustainable approaches. Consider how ESG best practices may influence decision-making and a “stakeholder ecosystem” lens when considering project benefits and impacts. Where financially feasible, LEED certification and exceeding baseline building code for sustainability are always good considerations. Additional funding often exists to support green capital projects in reducing environmental impact, improving energy efficiency, and promoting long-term economic and environmental sustainability. Maintaining sustainability as a central consideration in the project can help reduce costs, lower the carbon footprint, and promote environmental stewardship.

In conclusion

The recognized best practices around the leadership and delivery of infrastructure projects have many of their roots in capitalist and colonial ways of being and knowing. The deliberate and incidental social, political, and financial systems to support such projects therefore often follow suit, creating a unique set of challenges. However, many great approaches exist, that combine Indigenous leadership with effective project management to produce truly meaningful outcomes for communities. Access to funding remains the largest barrier to entry; the options are increasing though, and creativity with funding models further expands possibilities. Once that underlying condition is set, culturally sensitive and deep collaboration with leaders and the community will help shape something that is both valued and of value. Finally, the possibilities to undertake projects more harmonious to society and the natural environment should be fully grasped, and present wonderful opportunities support increasing Indigenous leadership within Canada.

Contact us 

To learn more about how to create and sustain a collaborative, thoughtful, and successful project that meets your Nation’s needs now and in the future, contact Mark Machin, Capital Project Planner, Indigenous Consulting at 778.374.2137 or [email protected] or Chris Hild, Partner, Consulting at 604.637.1562 or [email protected]

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