Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Another submission

Congratulations from all of us on submitting your thesis

Ting's done some interesting work on supply chain management in China, and has some special case studies. This last year has been hard work to pull it all together. The cut off date was today, 30th September. Ting is exhausted.


I've been reading a paper on stakeholders, which is discussed in depth here. Stakeholder attributes are identified as:
  • power
  • urgency
  • legitimacy
The authors then categorise them in a Venn diagram of the three overlapping attributes giving eight areas to the Venn diagram according to their attributes:
  • LATENT STAKEHOLDERS with only one attribute: dormant, discretionary and demanding stakeholders
  • EXPECTANT STAKEHOLDERS with two attributes: dangerous, dominant and dependent stakeholders
  • DEFINITIVE STAKEHOLDERS with a combination of all three attributes
  • Non-stakeholders
What interests me is that I suspect consultants analyse their clients like this, not using Schein's typology, but identifying stakeholder attributes and then consciously managing their clients.

Are public sector clients aware they are being managed?


Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Wedges under can lids

Yesterday's work was a struggle to fit together the theoretical framework from Napahiet & Ghoshal along with the literature on engagement. Eventually, I came up with a framework based on the engagement literature, and think I'm getting somewhere, though it still needs more work. I feel as if I've shoved a wedge under a can lid, and with just a little more effort will be able to open it, but sometimes those wedges fall out and you have to start again.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Extending Schein's client typology

Schein has this categorisation of clients:
  • contact,
  • intermediate,
  • primary,
  • unwitting,
  • indirect and
  • ultimate clients.
Contact clients are individuals who first contact the consultant. Intermediate clients are individuals or groups who get involved through meetings and other activities. Primary clients are those who own and manage the problem and may pay the bill. Ultimate clients are those whose welfare other clients and the consultant must consider. Unwitting clients are those related to the primary client but are unaware that they will be impacted. Indirect clients are those who are aware that they will be affected by consultancy interventions but either the consultancy or other clients do not know about them.

However, some researchers (like Sturdy) suggest that this model can be extended to include other clients, like ignored clients - those the consultant knows about, but discounts. "Proscribed clients" is the term that Sturdy uses, being people who are excluded from a change process through political manoeuvering.

Interesting. I wonder how much the public sector does this. And surely proscribed clients would be difficult to identify through research, because of the politics that proscribes them.

STURDY, A., CLARK, T., FINCHAM, R. & HANDLEY, K. (2009) Between innovation and legitimation - boundaries and knowledge flow in management consultancy. Organization.
STURDY, A., HANDLEY, K., FINCHAM, R. & CLARK, T. (2009) Management consultancy : boundaries and knowledge in action, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Shoe horn engagement

You know what a shoe horn is? It's a tool for helping you fit into a shoe that's just a bit too tight.

For the last two weeks, I've been trying to shoe horn the phenomenon of engagement into Nahapiet and Ghoshal's framework of three dimensions of social capital. And it doesn't quite fit, or it's too tight. Their framework includes trust, and that seems to be an aspect of engagement. It's aspects of the relational dimension that seem most relevant.

But I can't quite work out how to adapt their diagram to include engagement. Somehow social capital drives and includes engagement, and that helps the combination and exchange of intellectual capital, so increases value. That's my hypothesis anyhow.

But perhaps I shouldn't be trying to use a shoe horn, because if a shoe doesn't fit, then it hurts.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Drivers and outcomes of engagement

I have a list of drivers of engagement and a list of outcomes of engagement, and sometimes they're the same. Or the way the authors write makes it difficult to distinguish between drivers and outcomes. I think drivers include:
  • Trust, Commitment (Block, NAO 2006),
  • Learning {Marcum}, Involvement {Marcum, Wenger}, Interest {Marcum}, Participation {Marcum, Axelrod, 2004},
  • Dialogue {McMaster},
  • Vigour, Dedication & Absorption {Schaufeli},
  • Belonging, Being included, Negotiation Relations of mutuality Coming to the office {Wenger},
  • Round tables {Block}
  • Belief that people matter, Encourage collaboration, Foster participation, Create communities , Connect people, Embrace democracy {Axelrod, 2002}
I think I can combine these drivers with outcomes into a couple of dimensions:
  • emergent knowledgeability
  • communication
Then these various drivers and outcomes might make sense.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Where am I positioning my research in the literature?

Someone asked me:
Where are you positioning this research in the literature?
I stuttered. So he suggested:
In HR? or in organisational behaviour?
Feeling really thick, I can't answer this question, but have in my mind a memory of a Venn diagram I had had on my wall, but removed. Perhaps it was just the wording of the question that threw me, but if the examiner asks me at the viva, I'll have to think of diagrams and answer with those in my mind. The answer would have been about scoping the literature,

There's advice here: on positioning yourself in relation to the existing literature. If you can tell the examiner where your work fits in, then you get the PhD.

Monday, 21 September 2009


The Institute of Business Consulting has launched this best practice about:
"the behaviours buyers of consultancy should expect and receive from consultants in order to create sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships"
Do buyers of consultancy expect any particular behaviours, and if so what? You'd have thought this nothing new, because Fiona Czerniawska published enough advice for the intelligent client in her 2002 book. She advised clients on how to select a consulting firm, and how to manage consultants to maximise value. Unlike a lot of the practitioner literature, Czerniawska addresses her book to the client, not to the consultant. This is a book to help the client get value from consultants, not to help consultants to get more work. She emphasises relationships and factors that have an impact. For example, she writes about trust and the fact that it must be mutual "Trust can never be unilateral", so like the IBC, she is concerned with mutuality.

Yet Castle, speaking at the IBC, says clients still have two overriding concerns:
"Who is in control of the relationship, and how can we be sure we are getting best value?
That's what I'm researching.

CZERNIAWSKA, F. (2002) Value-based consulting, Palgrave Macmillan.


I like this web site at I put a paper I'm writing on my theoretical framework into it and got this picture:

which is about right with all the important words representing concepts and phenomena that I've struggling with.

So it's a fun web site, and so I've tried it on one of my case studies and on this blog. The case study picture showed me that I was indeed writing about projects, programmes, government and clients, though the picture for this blog was less focused. So the site helps me to check that I am writing about what I think I'm writing about. Interesting. Try it.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

What story am I telling?

I choose a quote to illustrate something and my supervisor asks me who said it. Or I don't choose enough quotes and my supervisor asks for more, so as to get an idea of the personality. But no-one checks that I haven't made up the quotes, or that the story I'm telling is what actually happened. Apart from my supervisors observing the process I'm following, because names and organisations are confidential, no-one knows who or where I got the data from.

So why couldn't I make up a story?

To some extent, I am making up a story. I take someone else's words in a document, or from an interview. I transcribe the interview words, losing the hand gestures, and the facial expressions, and the emphasis. I put in punctuation; punctuation doesn't exist when you talk - you just talk. So straight away, I'm creating a story slightly different from the original that was intended by the interviewee - it's a story that is my interpretation of what I think I heard the interviewee say. Then I wrap the interview quotes up with my own words in the paper I write. Then my supervisor reads it and interprets it in a different way from what I meant - gets a different story or even no story from it.

And so it goes on - it's the sociological equivalent of the old IT cartoon about the user requirements where the systems analyst understood a piece of wood had to hang from a tree branch, the designer wanted to hang the wood with three pieces of room, and the programmer sawed the tree trunk in half, propped it up, and hung the wood from two ropes on opposite branches. All the user wanted was a tyre to swing on. The discrepancies between expectations are analysed here.

So the story I'm telling could be as varied as there are people involved in telling it and listening or reading it. That's constructionism.

Thursday, 17 September 2009


On using case studies in my methodology chapter I'll have to comment on generalisation. Mason {2002} says it's not easy, that you have to know what your argument is and its relationship to the production of theory - and that's what I'm struggling with - relating real practical engagement to the engagement literature and social capital theory. I have to support each claim I make with the relevant linking material, Mason says.

The points to make must include:
  • Qualitative research must produce explanations that have wide resonance and are generalisable even though case studies provide a compact unit of research {Payne, 2005 }
  • Case studies should be interesting
  • Case studies should maximise what can be learnt from that particular case
  • Acknowledgement that limited generalisation is possible or appropriate to qualitative research
I need to find how Stake distinguishes between types of case study. From the web, I gather it's:
  1. The intrinsic case study where ‘ this case is of interest… in all its particularity and ordinariness’ , ‘let the case reveal its story’
  2. The instrumental case study in which a case is examined mainly to provide insight into an issue or for refinement of a theory.
  3. The collective case study – number of cases studied in order to investigate some general phenomenon.
I want instrumental case studies to gain insight to the phenomenon of engagement. Collective case studies would be nice if I could get them. I'm not using intrinsic case studies, so don't need to go into details of what the project or programmes are - and that helps to keep confidentiality and anonymity.

Mason, J. (2002). Qualitative researching. London, Sage.
Payne, G. and M. Williams (2005). "Generalization in Qualitative Research." Sociology 39(2): 295-314.
Stake, R. E. (1995) The Art of case study research, Sage. or in
Stake, R. (1994) Case studies, in Denzin, N. and Lincoln, Y.S. Handbook of Qualitative Research, London, Sage

Ethical issues

My dissertation points on ethical issues must include:
  • Dignity, welfare, do no harm
  • Care taken to do no harm. Participants and organisations confidentiality respected.
  • Data accurately collected and reported
  • Permission to conduct research in the manner adopted was gained from the OU ethics committee
  • Interviewees and organisations were informed of the nature of the research and given the right to anonymity, offered the chance to withdraw or discontinue participation, given written details of how their details would be stored and used and asked to indicate their agreement
  • At the interview stage, interviewees were sent or given a copy of the information sheet and an informed consent form. The form was discussed and collected at the beginning of the interview. The form gave the option of separately giving or refusing permission for the recording of interview. The interviewees were given anonymity in the thesis and in the NVivo files by the use of pseudonyms.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009


A supervision meeting was planned today, with both supervisors, which is normal - usually they are both. But one can't make the planned meeting in the morning so I met one at the planned time and the other in the afternoon.

It just goes to remind me how useful it is that they strive to meet together.

Would communities of practice improve IT projects?

Communities of practice share knowledge.
  • Knowledge is both tacit and explicit. Why is that? Who said it? It's probably Nonaka and I can use his material to explain and give examples.
  • Knowledge is social, not just one person's knowledge and I could find examples from the case studies I have
  • Dynamic knowledge - i.e. knowledge changes with experience, including the project life cycle, so knowledge needs updating throughout a project.
  • Keeping the social structures after a project finishes. But teams break up when a project finishes, so you lose, or loosen the knowledge. How can you keep those structures? Perhaps through communities of practice, perhaps through maintaining the social capital, keeping the networks going.

NONAKA, I. (1994) A Dynamic Theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation. Organization Science, 5, 14-37.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Pilot study

I didn't have a pilot case study, but I did practise interviewing someone about her experience of using consultants in a public sector environment. I recorded it to check I could hack the technology. I also piloted my interview questions.
Pilot participants
Three pilot participants who had worked in a managerial capacity were recruited through personal contacts. Two were fellow students and the third was a personal contact. The pilot participants were:
  • Eddie: an ex hospital administrator
  • Robert: a manager of a vineyard
  • Bert: an IT technical consultant
These gave as far as possible in a small sample a spread of technical and managerial relationships as well as providing the change to assess engagement in various situations, though the aim of the pilot interviewees was only to test the flow of the questions, and the length of the interview.
Pilot interview locations
Two interviewees were interviewed in meeting rooms in the OU where they worked, and one in his home. The meeting rooms were best n terms of recording quality and comfort because participants and researcher were on home ground, which helped in building rapport.
Assessment of the pilot interview process
The participants confirmed the questions helped/encouraged them to talk. The researcher found the questions elicited relevant information about their experiences with other workers with whom they may have engaged. The timing was about right at just under 60 minutes except for the least talkative interviewee Bert, where the interview was only around 20 minutes.
Issues identified by the researcher about the interview process
  1. The interview schedule was designed to give a “fairly defined” though not rigid /prescriptive structure to help participants to continue talking. A review of the interviews suggested the structure did encourage in-depth and rich description.
  2. There is danger of varying the questions wording each time – losing precise wording – does that matter? Or is it better to keep rapport by varying the wording to respond to what the interviewee has said?
  3. Asking leading questions versus confirming questions
  4. It is tempting to move to the next question when the interviewee is not very talkative.
  5. The breakup of the four sections helped the interviewer. For participants those sections also formed an agenda for the discussions so that they knew what to expect.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Type of case study

Stake identifies different kinds of case study:
  • intrinsic
  • instrumental
I think there are others, but this information systems research site mentions just two.

Recommended by third party monitor, when I was talking about needing to provide more information than I wanted on a case study - that wasn't relevant and argument for not providing it because the kind of case study I needed for what I'm researching and what I'm interested in.

STAKE, R. E. 1995 The Art of case study research, Sage.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Engagement & value

What kinds of engagement improve value?

My colleague asked me what I mean by value. Value on a project is
  • finishing it near time,
  • near budget,
  • achieving all or most of the original objectives.
Engagement adds value if it improves those outcomes or helps them.

I assume that when people do engage, that effective engagement increases the effectiveness of projects. But some engagement isn't necessary. It's the wrong kind of value adding activity. It's inappropriate. Appropriate engagement strategies are most valuable.

Friday, 4 September 2009


I wrote up a straight forward case study, just describing it with almost no analysis, apart from describing what I found against the three dimensions of social capital that Nahapiet & Ghoshal suggest. One supervisor has looked at its first section and commented:
"a good clear description of the project .. now I feel all orientated to read the rest of the case study!"
Hurray! May be I'm getting better at writing. So I've taken the structure I've used for that case study and have rewritten a description of the first case study in a similar way. It's only 2500 words compared to the last attempt which was 10,000 words. I'll read it again, and then send it to them.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Data collected

Director has just come in - back from her break. First question she asks of course is if I'd had a good holiday. As I mutter something about it being quiet and I had written something, she asks if I'd collected all my data. Ha! think I, third year looms so she thinks I should have collected all my data and it's ready to code and analyse. What an ideal!

Indeed, I'm going to use the data I've already got , but I'm also going to have to use the ad-hoc data that doesn't fit into the planned design using case studies because I can't get access to big IT projects, I can't get to talk to lots of people on one project. But I have got some access to some projects and I have talked to individuals. I might get the chance to talk to other individuals in sufficient depth to know how engagement happens between clients and consultants.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

First of month - ready to change gear

Thirteen months of funding are left to me. I move in October into the third year of the PhD, my fourth year here in the OUBS. Third party monitor says you move up a gear - third year, third gear.