Thursday, 20 August 2009

Theoretical framework

First what is the problem and then why is my proposed framework a good idea?
1 What is the problem?
A problem of managing consultants and their costs in the public sector exists. Public sector IT projects often use external consultants, but are also notoriously expensive and often fail. A common cause of project failure is lack of effective engagement with stakeholders (OGC, 2002). In the public sector, engagement is “a critical element of a consulting project”. But understanding engagement is a problem because different constructions seem to conflate engagement with other phenomena like involvement, participation, commitment, collaboration or even motivation,

The research question requires looking at the process of engagement and how connecting people, and creating communities, builds trust and the commitment that the National Audit Office wants to ensure. That process includes an ongoing negotiation of meaning (Wenger, 1998). Exploration of how meaning is negotiated might be possible using the concept of social capital. Adler and Adler( 2002) identify social capital as
“as the good will that is engendered by the fabric of social relations and that can be mobilized to facilitate action".
It may be possible to relate “the fabric of social relations” to the client-consultant relationship and the “mobilisation of goodwill to engagement”. Hence, the concept of social capital could help in exploring client-consultant engagement.

2 Why is this framework feasible?
Social capital theory can provide a way to explore engagement in relationships between clients and consultants. Its literature provides a framework for performing the specific investigation that is being proposed.

Social capital can be conceptualised as a stock of networks, norms and trust. People develop social capital in organisations. Organisations nurture social capital, which supports the development of intellectual capital because it comes though interaction by people sharing knowledge (Nahapiet and Ghoshal, 1998). Sharing knowledge, norms, and establishing social capital through people coming together on a project, provides the organisation with an advantage.

Nahapiet & Ghoshal (1998) suggest three dimensions for creating intellectual capital through social capital:
  1. the structural dimension of network ties, configuration and appropriable organisation,
  2. the cognitive dimension of shared codes, language and narratives,
  3. the relationship dimension of trust, established norms and obligations of how people behave.
Each dimension contributes in different combinations to create new intellectual capital. Combinations of the dimensions of social capital allow exchange of intellectual capital, and anticipation of value through that exchange. Value anticipated in an IT project may be other than an exchange of intellectual capital. Value may be gained from a project that delivers on time, to budget, and meets all or most of the objectives set for it. These project attributes are valuable to the parties involved. Delivery of such IT projects may be facilitated through a combination of the dimensions of social capital.

This social capital framework guides the interview questions, the three dimensions providing headings for asking questions of interviewees about relationships, concepts used and understanding.

The interview schedule relates the research question and sub questions through the social capital framework. Questions are based round four headings (see earlier posting):
  • background (of project and participant),
  • relationships,
  • knowledge (or learning), and
  • value.
Supervisors want to be reminded of the framework. I hope they're happy because that's I've been using for nine months.

OGC (2002) Common Causes of Project Failure. National Audit Office and the Office of Government Commerce.
WENGER, E. (1998) Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
ADLER, P. S. & KWON, S.-W. (2002) SOCIAL CAPITAL: PROSPECTS FOR A NEW CONCEPT. Academy of Management Review, 27, 17-40.
NAHAPIET, J. & GHOSHAL, S. (1998) Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage. Academy of Management Review, 23, 242-266.

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