Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Crossing boundaries stories

The stories that people tell me demonstrate engagement across boundaries: preparing, using the environment, sharing, learning, and hindrances.

  • Knowing where the political undercurrents are to avoid,
  • Getting introduced to people so they're ready for you,
  • Assessing people
  • Listening to people
  • Finding advantages in what is in the environment, and sometimes the problems
Sharing crossing and across the boundaries
  • Sharing knowledge and time, sharing abilities and skills - may involve for example piggybacking on others interviews to save an interviewee time
  • Aligning plans is other sharing - let's use the same map as we cross - it's no good one party aiming for downstream whilst the other is aiming upstream
  • Adapting to each other's approaches
  • Gaining new understanding of each others world.
  • Recognising missed opportunities.
  • Lack of expertise
  • Challenges
  • Time wasting
  • Disputed ownership

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Value of consulting

The Management Consultancies Association has produced a report on the Value of Consulting, which estimates the value of consulting to the UK economy as around £56 billion. It looks like sound quantitative research. An academic, Tim Morris, from Said Business School in Oxford has advised on the methodology:
  1. a survey of time spent on training, innovation and service development from over forty consulting firms
  2. a survey of client satisfaction on more than 1,800 projects
  3. a conceptual model of the value consultants add to client organisations and interviews with thirty clients
Thus the answer to 'how much value do consultants add to clients?' is, for very satisfied clients:
"between two and 20 times their cost, or on average, around 10 times the fees paid. This suggests that the benefits of using consultants are worth around £56 billion to UK clients, a return of £6 for every £1 invested."
At that rate, you'd hesitate to reduce your use of consultants, wouldn't you?

The very satisfied clients accounted for 58% of the survey cohort, and 41% described themselves as satisfied. I suspect however, that if you've spent a lot of money on something, it would be too embarrassing to acknowledge post-purchase that you'd made a mistake, so the 41% might actually be lower. How could that satisfied group get better value?

The MCA's conceptual model is not unlike my model of engagement, but concerns itself only with consultants, so there's no exchange of knowledge, no communication and no feedback. It models:
  • ten constituents of knowledge,
  • nine constituents of experience in project delivery
  • eleven constituents of the skills that individual consultants provide
These facets provide benefits to organisations, but so many constituents imply that clients couldn't manage without consultants. Indeed, it might surprise that many organisations don't use consultants given what they can provide.

Alan Leaman, the MCA chief executive, says in his foreword to the report that he hopes an effect of the report will be to help clients to be demanding and intelligent customers. I hope clients realise what they can provide too, so I'm re drawing the MCA's model to show a more balanced model of what knowledge, project management and people the client organisation could provide. The interface between the consultants and the clients is where they need to know how to engage - and that's my research question:
How do clients and consultants engage?
and you can't answer a how question using numbers so I must use a different methodology from these researchers.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Writing case studies

Writing isn't easy. Remember having to write an essay of two thousand words? It was hard to write those assignments three years ago as I studied my Masters in Research Methods. Then there was the thesis of 15,000 words for which we had about three months to do it.

Three weeks ago at a supervisory meeting I agreed with my supervisors that I needed to get them a write up of a case study, one that I'd written up against a framework of social capital, not against engagement. Each case study takes around three or four weeks to produce, and since I'd written up others, I thought I could do this last one in three weeks. At the same time, I have to start working on cross case comparison and analysis. Then I realised that I'd got two case studies to write up against engagement. Oh dear.

But hey! I've written them both in three weeks. I'm so pleased, and so surprised because that's something like 11,000 coherent words in three weeks. If I can write like that for the
  • introduction (5000)
  • literature review (12000)
  • methodology (12000)
  • cases (12000)
  • cross case analysis (12000)
  • findings (12000)
  • contribution and conclusion (5000)
then may be I can write my dissertation by September, all 70-80,000 words of it.

Just don't expect me to blog at the same time.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Asking how

How is a difficult question to answer. Explaining how is harder than answering what or why or who questions. You can ask people
What did you do?
and they might tell you what they think they did or what they want you to think they did:
  • they organised
  • I asked
  • they wrote
  • he interviewed
  • they reported
  • they met, talked
  • I shared this document
  • they offered us a deal
  • she nipped it in the bud
  • they emailed
  • they asked
  • she phoned
  • we saved this money
  • they formed relationships at n levels
  • they painted or stated or communicated a vision
  • they got distracted or called away
  • they've worked with organisations
  • they've become disillusioned
  • I've helped people learn or understand
  • they've laid out a strategy
  • they've tested an idea
  • they changed
  • they get heated
  • they promised they could deliver
  • they pulled the wool over our eyes
  • we ended up with a partner
  • we played through the options
  • he tried to explain, tried to talk, tried to deal
  • they got threatened by the changes
  • she got involved in the detail
  • they responded to issues
But ask
How did you do it?
And they tell you that they did it:
  • confidently
  • carefully
  • assertively
  • cost effectively
or even that they understood strategically or they struggled to understand strategically. I still don't know how they engaged.

But they don't tell you that; they tell you what. They answer with what, so you have to word your questions to elicit 'hows', how your interviewee did it and how your interviewee perceived others doing it. So it's a construction of a construction that I'm reconstructing, and I don't know that what I eventually construct will have any validity at all.

I'm not sure I've got any answer to my question.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Distance learning

Our Vice Chancellor has been presenting the Open University's case here during the public hearings of the Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance.

It's worth watching for a number of reasons.
  1. Firstly to see Martin Bean in action - this is one very impressive performance. The preamble is a tad dull but once he's answering questions he demonstrates his grasp of the agenda and environment and the wider political concerns.
  2. Listen to what is said. The key part is that the OU will not sacrifice quality, so the alternative is it must cut numbers as a response to the financial constraints. We've already seen that this year with some courses being full and thus not taking more students, which is not something I remember happening for years.
The website for the HE Review is http://hereview.independent.gov.uk/hereview/ and there is a great deal more stuff available.

Part time education is 39% of the sector yet students lack the incentives that full time students have to study and to complete

The OU has 220,000 students, of which 10,000 students with disability.

We want to keep human element along with the technical element, but on our short ten-point taster courses presented over the web, the transaction costs are higher.

Yet we want to provide access to all for the sake of social justice and value. And we want to celebrate achievements of those who complete single courses, diplomas and certificates as well as those who achieve degrees

They ask the VC a question on employment and he answers that employers who're worried that their employees will get trained and leave should be more worried about employees staying and not training

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Relaxing reading

I've just spent a happy half hour lying in bed reading the Open University's student and alumni magazine Sesame. You can read some of it on-line here, but the latest edition isn't up there yet.

I don't read on line when I'm having a lie-in, with a late morning cuppa tea. In fact, I wouldn't read Sesame if it were only available on-line. I realised this when I reached page 33 of the magazine where I recognised a photo I'd seen before somewhere - I'd seen it in the on-line version when the OU sent me the link. I'd opened the link, skimmed it and got back to work. Consequently I had missed heaps of interesting articles, such as
  • one by my fellow research student, Tom Farrell, on whether shock-tactic advertising is an effective and ethical campaign
  • Student support for those with Asperger syndrome - one of my students at yesterday's tutorial has that
  • a short course on the physics of sport - something I'd like to know about when I'm doing tae kwon do
But they're going to put Sesame on-line. That's so sad because after more than 30 years as an OU distance student, an associate lecturer or a full time PG, I'll not be reading it any more.