P2 tip #7: The project has a life of its own

13 07 2011

No matter how much you plan, there will always be project factors outside of your control. A complex, controversial project has so many stakeholders and inputs that you cannot possibly account for all of them. Instead, pick the most relevant, challenging, or influential stakeholders/issues/factors to pay attention to and monitor them the best you can.

The truth is, no one individual or project team can fully control any given project because a project takes on a life of its own. And it should. If the project truly meets a community need it will gain its own traction and support. It will develop its own champions and lobbyists to find funding, move it up the priority list or work connections that help a study move from concept to reality. You never know what the next caller, commentor or editorial is going to say, and that is part of the challenge and thrill of public involvement work.

The thing to remember is that no single person is responsible for the project living or dying. A complex project grows a life of its own that could be slowed or even stopped by a few loud nay-sayers, but it can also be carried forward through such difficulties by the voice of supporters. Perhaps our P2 role is to facilitate space for both voices to be heard in a structured and productive debate. We can’t control people’s opinions and reactions, but we can shape the tone of the discussion and foster civil dialogue instead of listening to a shouting match.

And when you can no longer see the forest through the trees, step back. Put things in perspective. P2 folks are often down in the weeds of day-to-day controversy and it can wear you down. Look at the bigger picture from time to time and appreciate the work being done and your overall purpose. Take a moment to view the project as its own living, breathing thing that can be sustained no matter what you say or do.