Determinants of systems performance : an enquiry into project practitioners' understanding and experiences with HIV and AIDS Projects in the SADC Region.
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HIV and AIDS projects do not appear to be making significant impact to date as shown by the continued rise in HIV infection and complexity of HIV and AIDS related problems in Southern Africa (UNAIDS 2004). The general understanding of what is required to tum HIV and AIDS projects into successfully performing systems is rather weak. Koskela and Howell (2002) observe that the underlying theory of project management is obsolete and project management lacks theoretical capacity to deal with the need to improve its practice. Using an introspective qualitative methodology to solicit responses from 15 project practitioners drawn purposively- random from 5 countries of Southern Africa and in addition to referencing project literature from organizations working on HIV and AIDS control as well as observations from workshops, the study draws conclusions of a formative nature, on what determines the performance of HIV and AIDS projects. These determinants include: availability of adequate resources; quality of planning; creativity of project teams; timeliness in implementation; quality of leadership and management; competence of project leaders or managers; the social, political, economic environment in which the project is implemented; theoretical or paradigmatic relevance of project designs and implementation methodologies; quality of monitoring and evaluation; motivation of project teams and beneficiaries; participation of beneficiaries and stakeholders; and multisectorality of project efforts. The study suggests that social development project designs appear to suffer from paradigmatic mismatch and in-congruency, employing project design frameworks and methodologies borrowed from physical science projects, with a strong mechanistic, positivist character to address "messy situations" (Ackoff, 1974; Casti, 1994; Eden, et ai, 1983 & Lane, et ai, 2000). Recognising that the use of projects is becoming more pervasive, with more managers entering the field of project management, the study notes that the success of project practitioners depends on their ability to adopt multiple skills and adapt to complex situations, "quickly and accurately facilitating problem solving and decision making processes" (Burke, 1999). The study recognizes that project management in HIV and AIDS is guided by reductionist and mechanistic metaphors which defines the mechanistic character of project designs, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. The development and application of systemic metaphors could improve project management practice in social development efforts. The study provides recommendations for improving sustainable project management practice, most importantly, the use of systems thinking and approach as an alternative theoretical and paradigmatic foundation for addressing complex social development project management efforts such as HIV and AIDS control. The researcher acknowledges that systems approaches provide opportunities for social dialogue and collective consensus, reflective thinking and practice and experiential learning which are necessary to improving performance of complex social development efforts in unpredictable environments, with potential to achieving "the common good".