Four Models of Consultancy: Problems

This is the third post about four models of consultancy.  This post introduces the four models.

What is a problem?  You may hit a problem when developing a project.  Perhaps a good question to ask is: what prevents you from addressing the problem?  If it is a technical issue, why are you unable to resolve it?  Sometimes organisations would rather ignore a problem than deal with it.  However, many find that actively tackling a problem can be very rewarding.

Intractable problems are often shared with other groups.  The way your organisation works may be the solution to your problem and other groups often share similar issues.  Comparing experiences can bring insights and new approaches to an old problem.

I shall illustrate this consultancy model with the problem of an out-of-date website.  Many groups experience this and if they ignore it, the problem becomes worse.

Six Helpful Questions

  1. What is the problem?  Defining the problem often helps!  An out of date website may have several causes and working out which apply to you may not be easy.  Is the problem an inaccessible content management system?  Or is it a lack of people who understand the cms?  What is the problem behind the problem?  Are you sure you are analysing the right problem?
  2. What have you tried so far?  Listing the various attempts might be frustrating but it is helpful to recall previous attempts to resolve the problem.  If more than one group is experiencing the problem, they may find sharing past attempts  an inspiration.  Someone else’s failure might just work for your group!  This question may uncover problems met when dealing with the problem.  You need to build up a picture of the impact the problem is having not only on the website but on your organisation.
  3. What specific change does your client desire and why?  So, what is the point of solving this problem?  How will solving the problem bring about the changes you want to see?
  4. What are the causes and sources of the problem we need to examine?  By now the causes and sources should be clearer, summarise them and see whether you can nail the root of the problem.  Understanding can lead to insights into how to approach a problem in the future.  Note there will be historic causes, based upon decisions made in the past, eg the choice of CMS may be one reason site maintenance is difficult.  Other causes tend to sustain the problem in the present.  Why does this continue to be a problem?
  5. What are we going to do about it?  The consultor must own the solution.  It should be specific and practical.  The problem will need to be monitored and reviewed to see whether it is in fact working.
  6. What are we learning from our study of this problem?  This question can help you get a different perspective on the problem.  Asking this helps you take a step back and review the whole picture.

Be Problem-Conscious

Problems can be intractable and one reason is a problem-centred approach.  This can result in a negative approach where  allocation of blame becomes the main approach.  It is better to be problem-conscious, aware of the issues or difficulties faced and taking a developmental approach to resolving them.  Whilst planning is always helpful, it is often found that taking action and evaluating the outcomes is effective.  If you have analysed causes and sources, really understand the problem, then you are more likely to see opportunities as they arise from your activities.

Have you ever been stuck and then found a creative resolution to your problem?

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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Four Models of Consultancy: Cases - February 26, 2014 Reply

[…] is the difference between a problem and a case?  A case is a problem handled in a different way.  A problem is shared with other […]

Consultancy and Design - March 5, 2014 Reply

[…] the last four weeks I introduced four approaches to non-directive consultancy and I’ve explored how they can be used by web […]

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