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NGOs and participatory management styles: a case study of CONCERN Worldwide, Mozambique

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The concept of participation has become important in the struggle to improve the effectiveness of both the 'management of organisations' and the 'management of development'. However, NGOs may be confused about these two different though related applications of the term. The first part of the paper seeks to clarify this distinction. The author first disaggregates a range of complex issues surrounding the concept of participatory management and attempts to clarify the term. Secondly, the paper points out that the interest in 'participatory management' in NGOs is related to similar efforts within management more widely in the private sector, and has similar goals of seeking to improve organisational effectiveness. Thirdly, the paper distinguishes the introduction of a set of 'participatory techniques' from full-scale 'participatory management' as a comprehensive empowering strategy designed to involve staff more fully. In formalising the use of 'participatory techniques', it is argued that paradoxically more managerial control may be needed. The second part of the paper presents a case study of CONCERN's ongoing attempts to introduce a more participatory management style into its programme in Mozambique. As might be expected, motives and methods for such a change remain complex and diverse. Through discussion with key NGO staff it is found that CONCERN's primary aim in introducing a participatory management style is to benefit the people the NGO seeks to serve, rather than the staff of the NGO, whose needs are seen as secondary. The paper concludes that 'participatory management' for NGOs is perhaps best seen as an aspirational concept which can help to improve organisational impact on beneficiaries through the greater involvement of staff in decision-making. Rather than forming a unitary approach, 'participatory management' is best seen as a bundle of different ideas. It is argued that such a view provides real choices and opportunities for NGOs to improve their effectiveness.

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