Saturday, 22 March 2008

Management of External Consultants in the Public Sector

What? Consultancy is a growing industry, and its biggest UK market is the public sector. This brings issues of:
  • project iteration processes,
  • culture and roles of various parties,
  • motivations that vary with roles,
  • risk aversion,
  • separate departments’ resources & experience, and
  • good or adverse media.

Why? Government receives variable value from consultancy projects

Research question: How does the public sector manage external consultants?

Preliminary findings: a chain of management exists with official processes such as reviews and reports, but with some missing or weakened links of accountability, e.g. when the consultant doesn’t have to work with the contracting official. See diagram.

Future research: How can improvements in management in the public sector reap value from suppliers?

This is what I am putting together for a poster for a competition for research students. My aim however is also to address public sector workers who might use consultants and could offer me access for my research. So:
  1. Does this content work?
  2. Some people don't like diagrams, so perhaps I should take it out. What do you think of the diagram?

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Negative effect of accountability

Accountability has such a negative connotation. It goes with blame and avoidance of risk and is frequently associated with blame and negativity. It gets passed down a chain until it becomes weakened.

Yet it can have a positive effect. There's evidence that being accountable produces more successful projects. Thomas & Fernández found accountability for project results drove positive behaviours.Their qualitative research explored how 36 Australian companies defined IT project success, finding that when formal definitions of success exist, and can be measured, then IT outcomes are improved and resources better utilized. They found that:

"companies that held business managers accountable for results had the most effective evaluation practices. Accountability was found to drive positive behaviours, improving the both the consistency of measurement & the willingness of managers to act... accountability addressed many evaluation challenges."

They found evidence that holding a client manager accountable for IT projects leads to effective evaluation practices:

"The fundamental principle was that if managers were held accountable then evaluation got done and results were used. Companies without accountability for results tended to complete ex-post evaluations inconsistently or not at all."

Thomas, G. & Fernández, W. 2007. The Elusive Target of IT Project Success, 2nd International Research Workshop for IT Project Management,Montréal, Québec, Canada. From Association of IS Managers SIG conference, paper available at

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Public value

What's the problem that causes these issues:
  • iteration,
  • roles,
  • motivation,
  • risk,
  • silos,
  • media.

The problem is that government gets variable value from the external advice that it receives. The corollary is that it is accountable for maximising this value, then how is that accountability discharged? Can I ultimately come up with recommendations on how to improve that value?

Lines of enquiry
How do we define public value? Perhaps I look at the value that public receives - and trying to increase the value achieved by using external consultants through the lens of accountability
How can improvement in the management of accountability reap value from external consultancy?

Theoretically there's a framework of accountability. The relevant department has a senior responsible owner (SRO) who understands the business, and his role as a leader to exploit IT. The intelligent client is actively engaged, and clear about what wants.

The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) gives advice and guidance. I could correlate the value against that advice to find the public value from consultants turning accountability into a positive thing.

Discharging accountability means getting evidence that a programme is being executed appropriately - easy with something like checking the Olympic building site is growing, but you can't see that with management change, or IT implementation.

What kind of regime could a minister or senior official put in place to discharge their accountability for the success of the programme in terms of knowing that it's going to work. How does a minister get reports about big programmes. What's the equivalent of the walkabout?

My 3rd party monitor suggested finding a plan B and doing a pilot study in summer.. I wonder who would let me in.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Adrift without an anchor

Supervisors have read my latest attempts at avoiding focusing, finding a research question or reviewing the literature. Sup #2 says I need an anchor.
  • the focus should now be on IT consultancy
  • show where the research questions come from, and then prune them
  • write with detail
  • appraise the literature - critically - what are the strengths and limitations of the studies.
Sup #2 has been useful in providing verbal suggestions for future six weeks, and sup#1 has given me detailed comments on written stuff.


I went to see the ENO's Mikado in London. I mention it because of Koko's little list of those irritating people that he might execute. There are alternative little lists including:

"The management consultants whose fees are near a crime
Report to the directors what the staff knew all the time
and the countless thousand bloggers
whose opinions no one reads
I've got them on my list; they never would be missed."
Okay - so that's me done for, end of my research, go and stick my head in a bucket -
"Nobody loves me
every body hates me
Think I'll go and eat worms"
Got a supervision this afternoon.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Civil serf

Today's Telegraph mentioned this blogger who writes about the terrible things that happen (or don't) in the Civil Service. "Oh!" thought I, "this is something I should read", but who ever she is, she's been scared off, doesn't want to be outed, and her web site has gone, isn't there.

The Times announces, "The hunt is on!" for this poor civil servant and journalists suggest that when she loses her job for being a critical blogger then she'll make lots of money by selling her blog as a book. But they forget, that before now, for revealing information, civil servants don't just get fired, but also hauled up in court. So if the newpapers out her, then she could be in big trouble. Some realise that.

Pity, cos now we've lost the opportunity to read what she had to say.

Monday, 3 March 2008

draft table

I am fascinated by the categories of accountability that Bovens finds. He could turn the concept into maths if he wanted. This table is from his 2006 paper in the European Law Journal [1].

Table 1: types of accountability

Types of accountability
Based on the nature of the
forum conduct obligation obligation
political corporate financial vertical
legal hierarchical procedural diagonal
administrative collective product horizontal
professional individual . .
social . . .

[1] Bovens, M (2006) 'Analysing and Assessing Accountability: a conceptual framework', European Law Journal, 13(4), pp 447-468

Typologies of accountability

Accountability is a relationship that involves four types based on the nature of the:
  1. forum (political, legal, administrative, professional and social accountability),

  2. actor (corporate, hierarchical, collective and individual accountability),

  3. conduct (financial, procedural and product) and

  4. obligation (vertical, diagonal and horizontal accountability) (Bovens, 2007).
Table 1: types of accountability

Types of accountability
Based on the nature of the
forum actor conduct obligation
political corporate financial vertical
legal hierarchical procedural diagonal
administrative collective product horizontal
professional individual . .
social . . .

This multi-dimensional model allows 120 combinations (5 forums x 5 actors x 3 conducts x 3 obligations). These types help to define accountability as a four dimensioned collection of types. Assuming one-to-one matches, there are so many combinations, that accountability must be complicated. However, the types differ from each other in that some are mutually exclusive and others can be several. For example, accountability might be legal or political, but not necessarily both, whereas the obligation may be vertical and diagonal and horizontal.
The nature of the obligation involves vertical, diagonal and horizontal accountability, which implies different stakeholders and relates to the nature of the actor, which could be corporate, hierarchical, collective or individual. That implies simultaneously different stakeholders existing – “many eyes” to whom the actor is obliged to explain conduct. However, the actor may not be singular. Bovens (2007) indicates there may be “many hands” involved in corporate or collective accountability.

Bovens, M. (2007) 'Analysing and Assessing Accountability: A Conceptual Framework', European Law Journal, 13 (4), pp. 447-468. Available at