Exploring the eThekwini Municipal integrated development plan as a learning process : a systems thinking perspective.
A municipality, in the new democratic South Africa, is mandated by legislation to facilitate the development of a Municipal Integrated Development Plan (MIDP). The MIDP is a principal strategic planning and development framework that is to guide planning, management and development at a municipal or local government level. In recent years, there has been evidence of discontent with the developmental priorities, strategies, and programmes of some municipalities. In fact, municipalities are seen to be stumbling in their objectives of ensuring the provision of services to communities in a sustainable manner, promoting social and economic development, and encouraging the involvement of communities and organisations in the matters of Local Government as stated in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. This study examines the MIDP process as a core organisational learning and planning process, which is the foundation of the developmental local government system in South Africa. The MIDP process is also examined because it is understood to be a map, which sets out the service delivery and development plan of a municipality. Moreover, the MIDP details how a municipality will spend its limited resources on priorities/priority areas to achieve its vision. The object of this study is to gain an understanding of the key stakeholders of the MIDP process. It ascertains how key stakeholders are engaged, and thus learn in a strategic planning dialogue, which canvass their opinions and input towards the formulation of the Strategic Development Plan for a municipality or local government entity. Such an undertaking is important, as there should be meaningful participation by stakeholders in determining priorities in the development planning process, because the MIDP is seen as an expression of governmental investments and activities in a given locality. . A theoretical-qualitative research paradigm has been followed in this study because the research questions are theoretical in nature. The questions required a theoretical exploration and for qualitative data to be collected, which makes it possible, to gain an understanding of what is the current MIDP process and how it works. The case study approach has been chosen as the method to better understand and contextualise the MIDP process. Furthermore, the approach has assisted in understanding the ‘what, how and why’ questions in relation to the MIDP process. Different data collection techniques were followed to ensure that there are multiple sources of evidence to confirm the validity of the research. Academic literature on the subject matter and other related topics pertinent to the study were reviewed. National, Provincial and Local Government legislative and policy frameworks and other available literature on or related to, the MIDP process was also reviewed. What was evident in the reviews of literature and documents is that the development of a strategic plan, in this instance the MIDP, is a process through which stakeholders’ participation or engagement should take centre stage. Moreover, the process should provide management and political leadership with an opportunity to learn about the demands that are made on local government. The purposive sampling technique was used to select key stakeholders for interviews. The use of this technique was appropriate, as the research was an exploratory study and was to gain insight into the perspectives and constructs of key stakeholders in relation to the process expressed in their own words. Interviews with three members of the eThekwini Municipality’s Executive Committee, five members of eThekwini House of Traditional Leaders, and five Senior Management Officials who are key stakeholders in the IDP process were also conducted. The interviews were to ascertain the stakeholders’ understandings of, and perspectives on, the IDP process. The focus of the interviews was on current conditions and activities in the IDP process and on the platforms for learning. The inductive data analysis approach was followed. The analysis or interpretation of data shows that the MIDP process has become one that is aimed at fulfilling the legislative requirements. The process allows for reflective thinking, while it is seen as being somewhat inflexible. It is both a means to an end and an end in itself. The MIDP allows for some generative learning while being participative, interactive but not that inclusive. Stakeholders are not only engaged through the formulation of the MIDP, situational analysis is conducted and some data is collected through surveys and other mechanisms. In the end, the MIDP remains a strategic planning tool that connects context, a process and designed outcomes. Besides all of the above, the MIDP is a social construct or emergence and is seen by some as political and compliance-driven. What was evidence is that the development of the MIDP is prescribed in the national policy frameworks, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act No.108 of 1996, White Paper on Local Government of 1998, Local Government Municipal Systems Act 32 of 2000 (MSA). Even though there is participation of stakeholders outside and during the formal MIDP process, the formal process does not allow for generative learning. There are no feedback mechanisms in place to create double loop learning which might lead to change in the service delivery system. If the MIDP process is to change to a learning process, planning should be seen as an important strategic learning process. There should be commitment, openness, willingness, trust, preparedness, reflection, and inclusivity in the process.
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