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Exploring Power and Procedural Justice Within Climate Compatible Development Project Design: Whose Priorities Are Being Considered?

The authors explore how climate-compatible development design processes reconcile stakeholder preferences and procedural justice, using a case study analysis of two donor-funded projects in Malawi.


The authors explore procedural justice and power in project design through a case study analysis of two donor-funded projects in Malawi. They find that “top-down” and “expert-led” design processes and hidden power dynamics often result in the selective involvement of stakeholders, and that over time, the dependency on funding has led to the institutionalization of the donor project design preferences in the practices of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). While a considerable overlap exists between the stakeholders’ “revealed” priorities, invisible power dynamics encourage the suppression of “true” preferences. Therefore, visible, hidden, and invisible forms of power create barriers to procedural justice in climate-compatible development design in these projects.

The authors also present a theoretical framework that is meant to facilitate a holistic exploration of power and procedural justice in project design. Specifically, they used the “power cube” approach as a starting point to facilitate the understanding of participatory and procedural justice “spaces”, through which stakeholders can meaningfully engage with governance systems, along with the visible, hidden, and invisible power dynamics that delimit these spaces. The framework facilitates multilevel analyses, thereby enabling the investigation of whether and how the procedural justice spaces, open to stakeholders, differ across these dimensions.

The authors suggest that policymakers and practitioners can facilitate the patterns of procedural justice, if they put local priorities first, make participatory assessments robust and reflexive, take steps to reconcile worldviews, and harness co-production between professional stakeholders. Furthermore, to create pathways toward procedural justice, policymakers must avoid making design decisions on the basis of epistemological certainties and embrace discursive solutions.