There clearly have been significant advances in the housing movement in Nigeria. While paradigm shift might be too strong, the advance has been developed through the energy given to structural and systemic reform of constraints that have held back housing development for many generations. But it is now recognized that housing is a key driver of socio-economic transformation and national development and with that recognition, there are plans for further progress, which may also, if ever possible, take housing out of politics.
It is estimated that the housing deficit in Nigeria is 17 million homes. This make any claims for ‘Housing for All’ ring hollow but the claim can remain aspirational if a movement for housing development and financed can be galvanised and interest aligned. In the past, there has been neglect of the participation of key stakeholders, especially those in the private sector and sources of funding from institutional sources such as insurance and pension funds. But now there is a desire that the private sector should become the lead driver in the provision of affordable homes, with partnership working between public and private interests providing for the engagement of relevant stakeholders so as ensure collaboration and coordination. We contend that such working is necessary for the advance but that terms such as partnership, engagement, collaboration and coordination cannot be assumed as a truth or reality. They have to be made meaningful for action through a struggle for meaning based on argument and dialogue and this is the place for a problem-based learning approach.
Making progress on the infrastructure for housing an absolute requirement. In Nigeria, the work of the Nigerian Mortgage Refinancing Corporation and the development of Mortgage Banks have clearly started to lay some of the foundations for what has to be a long term and long lived movement that will grow in complexity as the scale increases. However, the progress is constrained by the orientation to risk taking. In particular, doubts about the valuation of long term projects because of uncertainties about the future create a preference for risk aversion and short term returns at the expense of risk seeking behaviour that is needed for the long term. Infrastructure projects for the long term have to be characterised by multiple sources of risk but central to how these are managed is the vested interests of stakeholders, which can feed collaboration but might also give energy to the opposite. Problem based learning can surface such tensions by providing for equal weight to be given to two key processes:
Problem Finding and Problem Solving
We argue that collaborative working between partners requires such consideration in complex projects because of the inherent uncertainty and sometimes sheer ignorance of the factors needed for success. Participants in a partnership group need to adopt two modes of thinking; the first to embrace ambiguity in problem finding, and the second to align with actions to embrace problem solving. This dual process then has to be repeated in an ongoing and repeating cycle of learning, which we show in the diagram below.
In this cycle, there are different phases of Problem Finding (PF) and Problem Solving (PS). As can be seen, PF characterises the early stages where identification, analysis and definition involves a surfacing of interests against the reasons for coming together. Crucially through dialogue, surfacing assumptions and arguments, sufficient common interest can be found to plan for actions as PS. Actions always provide results, as expected or otherwise, so PF and PS may be required. Similarly, a project must always expect the unexpected so PF thinking is needed to re-act. At an appropriate point, perhaps at the end of first plan or phase, there has to be a review to provide closure. This is a crucial step for converging around what has been learned which also adds to a stock of knowledge that can be shared, reported on and disseminated. It also provides the basis for revising and resetting the direction – another PF process leading to a new phase or plan.
At the centre of the cycle, we place importance on the need for facilitation. Our argument is that the cycle will operate but will be subject to possible distortions which can derail the creative process. With multiple stakeholders, collaboration is possible but so is the opposite. Not all problems can be reduced to solutions and there also needs to be an appreciation of dilemmas and the tendency to over-polarise around preferred solutions.
Finally, we suggest that as problem based learning is accepted, there can be an evolution towards related methodologies that are part of a family of approaches referred to as Action Modes of Research including Acton Research, Soft Systems Analysis, Action Learning Research and Participative Inquiry. Such approaches are problem focused, completed in the context of practice which result in knowledge that is useful through its application. We argue that as Nigeria sets out its roadmap for housing development to tackle its deficit, the infrastructure must also include problem based learning which extends to Action Modes of Research in the future.
Jeff Gold is Professor of Organisation Learning at Leeds Business School.
It is noteworthy that Minister of the Federal Capital Territory Administration, (FCTA), Senator Bala Mohammed suggested in August 2014 that the FCT accounts for 10 per cent of the 17 million housing deficit problem in Nigeria. Furthermore the FCTA Minister hinted that a collaborative land swap PPP initiative – where Greenfield lands are granted by the FCTA to competent real estate developers in exchange for the private developers providing public infrastructure (such as roads, electricity, sewage and water facilities) – might be a practical solution to the housing deficit problem in Abuja. This article contends that the FCTA land swap initiative is a concrete opportunity that could benefit from a problem based learning approach.