Joint Solutions and District Development


In contrast to neighbouring districts that have experienced a fast pace of urbanisation, the Waterberg district in South Africa is characteristically ‘still Wild’. As a predominantly rural area, the Waterberg’s main economic activities are in the sectors of tourism, agriculture and mining. These sectors are particularly vulnerable to economic shocks, are experiencing a high-degree of digitisation and automation, and have deep competitiveness constraints. Because of the prevailing historic and current conditions, economic opportunity in the Waterberg is scarce resulting in high employment and rampant poverty. Local communities have been excluded from planning and deciding where investment is most-needed. Joint Solutions is an approach to stakeholder engagement which has transformed the process and impact of district development.

South Africa has a devolved system of government, and district development is the shared responsibility of national, provincial and local governments. While this devolvement of power safeguards democracy, there is fragmentation, low coordination and gaps in service delivery within districts like the Waterberg. In recognition, South Africa’s Cabinet adopted the District Development Model (DDM) on 21 August 2019, as a means of enabling the National Development Plan Vision 2030. The DDM is a Joint Solutions approach to achieving the objectives of multiple stakeholders in relation to the process of district development, which has been piloted in the Waterberg.

Here’s how it works

The DDM aims to:

  • Establish a shared vision and common agenda for district development
  • Establish a new social compact and social cohesion between diverse district stakeholders
  • Enable stakeholder connection, communication and collaboration to build action-oriented coalitions
  • Support community-based, private sector-led solutions

The DDM can be described as a values-driven process of stakeholder engagement, founded on principles of agility, bottom-up solutions and practicality, in order to yield inclusive growth, employment and economic transformation at district level.

The benefit

The big benefit of the DDM is moving beyond stakeholders’ experiences and ideas to joint solutions

Too often stakeholder engagement can be extractive processes or ‘talk shops’ that do not genuinely listen to all stakeholders or prioritise actions for meaningful change. However, stakeholder engagement is of central importance to ensure investments advance inclusive development and contribute towards social impact. But, for stakeholders to buy into the engagement process, they need to know others are serious, they need to be committed to action and they need to have a willingness for co-creation and co-labour.

The process that was followed for DDM was iterative, but not unusual in terms of how to engage stakeholders:

However, the distinctiveness of DDM lies in the following principles for engagement, which provide a bridge between the values of the DDM and desired impact. This bridge to action is further enabled by identifying the problem statement and articulating the intended impact pathways towards a solution. The solution is then tested through small-scale pilots, with an accompanying plan for monitoring progress and identifying areas for adaptation and improvement. The effectiveness and impact of successful pilots are assessed, learnings are captured and shared, towards scale.


Here are three examples of how DDM Principles for Engagement lead to action

Principle 1: Practical and action-orientedThe focus of stakeholder engagement is to reveal solutions to unblock constraints. In many instances there are projects and investments that are nearly at the point of initiation, but with specific obstacles that need to be removed or changed for progress.
Example 1: Regulatory unblocking for an eye hospitalThe Waterberg previously had no tertiary healthcare. Local communities have serious medical issues, including in relation to ophthalmology, eyecare and diseases of the eye. Additionally, tourism businesses recognised the opportunity of medical tourism and the potential for job opportunities for youth and women to be unlocked. A private sector investor was interested in establishing an eye hospital in the Waterberg, and had gained support from the Department of Health, progress had stalled due to  regulatory land-use approvals blocked in local government. The stakeholder engagements highlight the range and extent of economic opportunity, including job creation for the local community, and emphasised the need for the local government to address the pace of the approvals process. Sector champions collaborated to implement a practical set of steps to enable the local government to unblock the approvals process. 
Principle 2: AgileWithin the broader stakeholder engagement process, there must be opportunity to respond to emerging unexpected and urgent issues. When those issues arise, stakeholders will want to address what is top of mind for them. 
Example 2: Contactless payments at Bakwena PlazaSmall businesses in the Waterberg are primarily in tourism and related sectors. Reduced movement to limit COVID-19 transmission has severely affected tourism. With movement restrictions easing, stakeholders noted that tourists were returning, but not into the Waterberg. During the consultations, stakeholders identified that the main gate into the area, the Bakwena toll plaza, was seeing limited entries from domestic tourists because cash-based payments were causing delays due to traffic and concerns about COVID-transmission through contact. By surfacing this issue, small businesses were able to speak with one voice and convince key policymakers of the importance of contactless payments, thereby unlocking much-needed public investment. Importantly, this project was initiated and completed very early in the stakeholder engagement process. The pace and success of this initiative was crucial in building and maintaining stakeholder interest and buy-in. 
Principle 3: Bottom-upThe perspectives and experiences of local communities are often missing from policymaking or investment decision-making. In South Africa, local communities’ needs are intended to channel through local government processes via political representation, but often the main route local communities have taken is through strikes and protests. Intentional and inclusive stakeholder engagement can improve the centrality of local communities’ voice in policy and investment.
Example 3: Food security through game farmingDespite being an agricultural area, food scarcity is rampant in the Waterberg. There has been widespread poaching of wild animals for meat presenting serious concerns for conservation and biodiversity. This is at the heart of district development in the Waterberg, since losing the area’s wildlife heritage also risks its unique value proposition of being ‘still Wild’. The stakeholder engagement process included local facilitators, carefully selected topics, and participatory techniques to enable robust and frank discussion. This discussion enabled a deep and intimate understanding of local communities’ food needs and the underlying context pushing people to poach. Through additional stakeholder engagements, an opportunity was identified for private sector investment in game farming, partnerships between land conservations areas and farmers, and public-private investment in an abattoir.. This sector-wide initiative will unlock investment while addressing food security for the local community.
Joint solutions: a game-changer for inclusive rural development

In order for the DDM to present an opportunity for more inclusive rural development, the following lessons have emerged:

  • The early stages of multistakeholder engagement needs to establish a common vision for district development and this must excite and inspire stakeholders. In the Waterberg, this was a vision for the area as ‘still Wild’, which enabled crucial conversations on land use and land use management.
  • Measurement and management of impact is not siloed. Instead, IMM integrated into pilot testing and taking a pilot to scale. This aspect of Joint Solutions ensures that stakeholder feedback and engagement with measurement information is embedded throughout the process.
  • Stakeholders have greater excitement and buy-in where there is action and results. It is important to identify quick wins and initiatives that can be quickly mobilised. Momentum buys support and sustains engagement.
  • Joint solutions requires that all relevant and concerned stakeholders have an equal seat at the table. This means that power dynamics need to be balanced and the process must be led by a skilled facilitator with local knowledge and a local network. The facilitator should ensure that the right people are in the room for all discussions. 
  • Stakeholders, including local communities, appreciate clarity on the social and economic impact expected, and expect monitoring and feedback on piloted solutions – they want to see that their contributions have led to change. That’s how people are inspired to be involved, remain willing to engage in robust discussion and stay committed to transformative change.

Prepared by Mishkah Jakoet and Alyna Wyatt from Genesis Analytics. 

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