Road Construction beyond Engineering – Lessons from Evidence-Informed Policymaking Convening on Urban Governance

Infrastructure development is a key driver for progress globally and yet it remains one of the most complex challenges of the 21st century in Africa. It is a critical enabler for productivity and sustainable economic growth and contributes significantly to human development, poverty reduction, and the attainment of the sustainable development goals (specific goals: Goal 7 Affordable and clean energy; Goal 9 Industry, innovation and infrastructure; Goal 11 Sustainable cities and communities). In Kenya, infrastructure development has an impact on several key components of Kenya’s economy and its growth. Specifically, road construction has enabled easy access of goods and services. In acknowledging the key role of infrastructure development, the government has given prominence to infrastructure development in its key blue print Vision 2030 with an expectation that it will accelerate and transform of the country into a rapidly industrialising middle-income nation by the year 2030. Kenyan Government is also using the policy document of Road Sector Investment Plan (2010 -2024) where they draw strategic plans for 5 years to identify and prioritized roads in the country for the different regions. Despite all these efforts, infrastructure development remains a big challenge to the government.

Construction of a road and new cottages in the private sector
Construction of a road and new cottages in the private sector. Source: Unsplash

The challenge stem from the fact that infrastructure development requires a huge financial outlay which is out of reach of the government. Given this reality, the government is encouraging public private partnership (PPPs) for the delivery of strategic infrastructure projects.  Lack of inclusive participation by various key stakeholders is also contributing to the challenge since most roads are constructed without involving the affected citizens. An enabling environment where stakeholder voices are key in decision making in planning for a road construction, robust evidence like policies, frameworks, regulations and facilitative partnerships are essential factors that one need to consider before undertaking a road construction in any part of the country (Kenya).

The effectiveness of the stakeholder engagement and partnership dimension was demonstrated in a recent collaborative convening in Mombasa, Kenya. The convening – Utafiti sera on Urban Governance and city transformation, Kenya convened by the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR) Utafiti Sera house on Urban governance led Pamoja Trust. brought together key stakeholders including Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA), Kenya National Highway Authority (KENHA), Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), United Nations-Office of High Commission among other key County actors under its innovative evidence-to-policy programme Utafiti Sera[1]. PASGR’s Utafiti Sera is an innovative approach that brings together communities of practice and interest and provides end-to-end solutions to the gap between evidence and policy/programme action.

Stakeholders during the collaborative convening in Mombasa
Stakeholders during the collaborative convening in Mombasa

The convening was driven by the evidence generated from the urban house activities that led to the development of stakeholder engagement framework in Infrastructure Development Process. According to the framework, the mapping of key stakeholder during the project conception and their involvement in the entire life of a project is paramount. Other important components of the framework include project planning/feasibility study which ensures that the stakeholders are aware of the benefits and challenges they will get as a result of the project; 1st and 2nd preliminary designing of the project and resource mobilization; Project disclosure to the stakeholders to the public and final technical design is done with inputs from the participation by the stakeholders and public involved. The project is implementation is key according to the framework especially when the key stakeholders are also part of the process.

[1] Utafiti Sera (Kiswahili for research-policy) is a combination of many things that ensure and enhance policy outcomes. It is a ‘process’, place’, ‘forum’, ‘platform’, or a ‘vehicle’ for transforming research evidence-based knowledge for policy uptake.

The convening also provided a plartform for evidence presentation by sociologists (non-engineers) on the challenges through different case studies on the road construction. A case in point is Ring Road Fly over, Nairobi where the road constructors built a health facility to serve the workers from the road company and other community members around the place. This facility served more than the population expected and thus the KENHA requested for support from Ministry of Health department for more staff and drugs for the patients. This was important because it increased the service delivery of health services to the citizens staying around the ring road fly over.

The above case study suggests that a number of services are needed when constructing a road and not only engineers but involving other departments like sociologists, Environmentalists among others and other stakeholders leading to inclusivity and beneficial outcomes for all stakeholders like the private sector and the government. The ensuing policy environment could be modelled around the socioeconomic, political, and ethical dimensions to achieve sustainable programmes on infrastructure.

But how then can this be achieved? This calls for capacity sharing/learning forums (such as the peer-to-peer learning initiated by KURA and KENHA in this programme), meaningful stakeholder engagement, collaborations, and co-production. Such reforms may cumulatively seal the gaps in the current policies in the two key organizations dealing with road construction.

In conclusion, it was evident from the convening that participation of all sectors in infrastructure development will contributes to better-conceived projects and facilitates resolution of the inevitable conflicts that arise in infrastructure projects, particularly in relation to land acquisition and relocation, environmental impacts and opportunities for employment. It has also enabled the framing of infrastructure development to include nation building and community development thus incorporating the experts/stakeholders notably anthropologists, sociologists and community activists who were previously missing in the policy discourse.


[1] Utafiti Sera (Kiswahili for research-policy) is a combination of many things that ensure and enhance policy outcomes. It is a ‘process’, place’, ‘forum’, ‘platform’, or a ‘vehicle’ for transforming research evidence-based knowledge for policy uptake.

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