projects: Intercultural Project Management

Academic Course: Intercultural Project Management (IPM)

Interethnic and intercultural relationships have moved to the top of the agenda in the past decades. Due to the outbreak of armed conflicts in various parts of the world and due to the increasing tendencies of racism and xenophobia, intercultural communication and confidence building measures between different groups of the population are widely discussed and urgently needed. In this context the initiatives promoting these relationships are crucial ones.

The course is designed to improve the professional skills of people working on projects in multilingual and multicultural contexts, e.g. NGOs working in education, media, social welfare or managers in development projects (NPOs, private and governmental initiatives) in Europe as well as in North-South cooperation.

Intercultural issues are treated as a cross-curricula topic in each workshop. The workshop is not based on a culture-specific approach, but rather on raising cultural and linguistic awareness. Therefor it is open for participants from different backgrounds and geographic regions. Diversity of participants backgrounds is an important resource for process oriented work within the whole course. In addition to the intercultural experiences within the summer school courses participants will have the opportunity to apply their skills in three different intercultural projects on site.

They cover the following dimensions:

  • Long lasting results in interethnic relationships can efficiently be achieved by various organisations and institutions as well as non governmental organisations anchored in a regional context, being firm in handling specific regional issues.
  • More and more social and cultural activities are being transferred from the state to the so called third sector. Thus this third sector plays a major role in establishing democratic structures.
  • Working on intercultural topics and settings requires trust between parties which can best be achieved in settings of direct communication.
  • As far as NGO projects are concerned, they are characteristically placed in between the interests of the socio-political, socio-cultural, economical and educational systems of states. Part of the NGO´s task is to manage the interfaces between those systems.
  • As NGOs are situated locally and linked to different existing systems, they are more flexible in responding to changing needs.

Presently, intercultural organisations and institutions and NGOs are active in a great variety of sectors such as education, social assistance, culture, media, transfrontier co-operation and health care.

They support the development of societies by their sectorial activities as well as by their integrative function between different groups of society. To be able to fulfill this demanding tasks and to achieve sustainable results, these organisations and NGOs not only need substantial support (e.g. financial, legal, ...), but also support to improve their professional management skills.

Very often these skills are underestimated by members of these groups. In general their competence lies within interpersonal and intergroup communication, combined with high commitment. On the other hand this often goes along with organisational and administrative deficiencies. To maintain the interpersonal qualities it seems to be essential to increase the capability on the management side as they depend strongly on each other. Especially intercultural settings function well only when interpersonal and organisational items are well linked.

To find out more about the most urgent deficiencies, we organised a pilot workshop in February 2000 at the University of Klagenfurt. As participants, representatives from intercultural projects from Southeastern and Eastern Europe as well as NGOs working in a north-south context were invited. It was set to be a pilot workshop in order to elaborate - according to the needs of the participants - a curriculum for Intercultural Project Management.

During the workshop the following difficulties concerning organisational issues were identified:

  • Project members highly tend to identify with their common idea. Motivation comes from working for a good purpose, supported by high dynamics in initial phases; but often these projects depend on charismatic personalities. As the project develops, organisational structures become a must in order to increase the efficiency of work, but sometimes resistance to more abstract forms of management develops.
  • Possibly due to the numerous personal and structural differences and sometimes hostile environments they have to cope with, there is a strong desire to harmonise within the project itself. Necessary conflicts are ignored rather than dealt with. Distribution of tasks and functions do exist generally, but they often contradict the tendency of harmonising which then leads to energy consuming frictions within the team. Organisational conflicts often become personalised and can be further complicated by intercultural misunderstandings.
  • Intercultural projects have to manage not only internal organisational conflicts but diversities of cultures, languages, ethnicity and majority-minority relationships.
  • Some groups like NGOs have to cope with the contradiction of market-oriented environment as well as their self-definition as non profit organisations.
  • To be able to work as intermediate organisations, intercultural projects have to insist on their independence; but on the other hand they highly depend on administrative and political structures as well as on their financial supporters.

Based on the assessment of this workshop we developed a curriculum for a summer school on intercultural project management. The basic idea of the IPM Summer School is to create a training program that provides professional support to all who are in charge of intercultural projects. Originally the SC was designed for project managers within the Council of Europe´s confidence building measures program, but of course it will be open to all participants interested in intercultural and multilingual issues. The program will provide technical skills of project management such as project management tools, project controlling, project evaluation, fundraising and public relations skills as well as project management skills, such as leading and steering projects, dealing with conflicts and conflict management, mediation, team development, dealing with organisational issues, coping with multilingual settings and environments. Intercultural aspects will be a main topic in every course.

The program is conceived as an academic course that will be offered at the University of Klagenfurt, IFF (Institute for Interdisciplinary Research and Continuing Education).

The program consists of three parts:

  1. IPM-Summer school 1: 4 weeks 2002
  2. Project work in situ (three units of three days each)
  3. IPM-Summer school 2: 2 weeks 2003