11 March 2024 | 9:32
Jiwat Ram

Project Management for Social Good

(PM4SG)

The projects are delivered to create value for a variety of stakeholders, including (but not limited to) the investor or sponsor, the team handling the project, the users of the project’s output, and society at large. As such, the value proposition of a project’s output has remained a key talking point and at the core of academic debate in project management literature. Despite the growing interest, the understanding of how and what value a project’s output creates for society at large seems to have not attracted much attention, opening opportunities for furthering research on multi-stakeholder value proposition perspectives.

Given that the project’s output often has a long-lasting impact on society, it is important to examine if the project’s output creates more good than harm and vice versa. It is understandable that it could be quite subjective to first define what harm vs. good mean in relation to a project’s output and then measure the impact of harm vs. good to know if good weighs more than harm or vice versa. 

One way to do this is to learn from other domains when examining project output’s value proposition for society at large. In this regard, project management can learn from knowledge on the role of artificial intelligence (AI) for society at large, or, in other words, the social good or common good. Typically, termed AI for social good (AI4SG), it describes the potential capacity of an AI artifact to create social good or benefit for a large segment of society. 

Using the same line of thinking, we can define project management for social good (PM4SG) as the design and delivery of a project’s output in such a way that it has an integral and inbuilt capacity to create good for society at large.

Having defined the PM4SG, let’s look at some of the key aspects, such as the importance of the PM4SG, the actions needed to achieve the objectives of the PM4SG, and possible indicators to measure the impact of the PM4SG. 

1) Importance of PM in creating SG and what to focus on

The role and impact of project management (PM) in the creation of a product or service is fundamental in shaping the look, feel, utility, and value of the creation—the project’s output. Since PM involves the design and development of the output, it heavily influences the social good that the output may create in the end. 

For example, a project that aims to design and deliver an electronic product should create that product in such a way that the direct and indirect use of the delivered product results in a positive impact for various segments of society at large. The impact could be seen in terms of economic prosperity, environmental protection, or societal growth—the three dimensions of sustainability.

Therefore, integrating the principles of social good into the processes and techniques used in project management is vital to delivering outputs that create social good. However, not much knowledge exists in this regard. As such, building some evidence-based knowledge that guides how to refine existing PM processes and techniques that can then help in achieving the objectives of PM4SG is vital. The knowledge of integrating sustainability into project management can be the starting point for further research on ways and means of achieving the objectives of PM4SG.

2) What actions could be taken towards PM4SG

To achieve the objectives of PM4SG, tangible actions at various levels need to be taken. At the macro-level, project management profession bodies may consider building knowledge and guidelines for implementing and measuring the impact of PM4SG. Both academia and industry need to work together to create new knowledge that can be used for the actual implementation of PM4SG.

At the micro-level, organizations can take steps toward creating frameworks that can help guide project delivery based on PM4SG principles and values. Organizations can also create awareness among their staff to understand and recognize the importance of PM4SG and how to achieve its objectives.

3) The indicators to measure the impact of PM4SG

The measurement of the impact of actions taken at both macro and micro levels is important to see what went well and what went wrong. It will also inspire people to do more to achieve the objectives of PM4SG.

A starting point could be using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) as barometers for assessing the impact of PM4SG. The seventeen goals as espoused in the UNSDG can help institutions and organizations see if the project’s outputs are contributing towards any of the seventeen UNSDGs. Later on, the indicators’ scope can be extended further to capture the impact of PM4SG beyond UNSDGs as needed.

Concluding thoughts: 

The growing awareness about creating products and services that are beneficial to large segments of society, or, in other words, have the potential to create social good warrants paying attention to the process by which such products and services are created. Project management plays a significant role in this process. It therefore underlines the need for building new or refining current project management processes that can enable the creation of social good.

With such an intent, this article puts forward some initial thoughts on PM4SG, setting up a platform for furthering work in this direction. The key is to do further research on the actions that need to be taken that lead to the achievement of PM4SG objectives. Further, an understanding of how we measure the impact of PM4SG is another area to focus on. We have discussed some potential indicator areas and actions that provide an initial way forward. Given that these are initial thoughts, much more work is needed to build momentum and actual work on PM4SG. 

Written by
Jiwat Ram

Jiwat is a Professor in Project Management. He has considerable experience of working internationally in diverse cultures and business environments.

He has a growing portfolio of work on issues related to artificial intelligence, machine learning and large language models (LLMs). His work has been published in top scientific journals.

Jiwat actively contributes to project management community. More recently, he has published a number of articles on some of the contemporary issues confronting project management and business management in various industry based outlets.

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