Do you need an independent expert to manage your engagement or strategy work?

You can’t send in the ‘B Team’ for engagement

So you’re planning an engagement, innovation or strategy development project?

Before long, you’ll be asking yourself:

“Who’s going to manage and facilitate this?”

Making the wrong decision about who coordinates and engagement or strategy process can be costly. The right person is crucial to making the most of the opportunity in front of you. The wrong person could embarrass you and your organisation.

This article is here to help. After reading it, you’ll understand how to decide if you need to invest in an independent expert for your upcoming project.


Do you need an independent expert to manage your engagement or strategy work?

Create your own user feedback survey

You have 3 options

Internal staff member

Somebody in your team or organisation can pick up the mantle. We often see board members facilitating strategic planning workshops in charities and non-profits. But just because somebody inside your organisation can do it, should they?

Pros:

  • No extra cost (although this may divert them from other work)

  • No need to brief and manage anybody external

  • They understand the context and know the people.

Cons:

  • Your organisation will not be “an equal” around the table when engaging with people outside your organisation.

  • Your staff member may have a conflict of interest. E.g. they might have a pet idea they want to encourage others to implement.

  • It might be hard for your staff member to get “out of the weeds” for work they are already involved in.

  • Your staff member may have unresolved conflicts with people

  • They might not have robust quality assurance processes.

Independent engagement professional

Another option is to hire a professional engagement practitioner - whether that’s a sole trader or a firm like Business Lab.

Pros:

  • Somebody independent can ask questions that may be uncomfortable for an internal staff member to ask

  • Your organisation can sit “as an equal” around the table when an independent facilitator hosts conversations.

  • An independent engagement professional will build the capability of your organisation through their process

  • Staff can focus on other work

  • An independent professional will have robust quality assurance processes

  • They are unlikely to have a conflict of interest.

Cons

  • Higher cost

  • Staff may be frustrated about investment in outside consultants

A professional related to the project at hand

The other option is to contract a professional related to the project. This might be an architect, graphic designer or communications professional - any somebody who doesn’t specialise in engagement.

We’ve been seeing more professionals from these disciplines dipping their toes into engagement and facilitation work in the past decade.

Pros:

  • They will be able to apply what they learn to the other work you are hiring them to do.

  • You already know them, so don’t have to contract another party.

Cons:

  • They may lack best practice knowledge of engagement

  • They may focus on the issues related to their profession rather than bigger picture issues. E.g. An architect might focus on built environments. A communications professional might focus on branding.

  • They may have a conflict of interest.

Does the facilitator have a conflict of interest that could influence how they do this work?

One of the most important factors in the lists above was the likelihood of your facilitator having a conflict of interest.

Here’s the key question you need to ask yourself:

Could the facilitator benefit from any of the decisions made during this process?

Here’s an example where this could happen.

Let’s pretend you’ve hired an architect or engineer to engage with the community for an infrastructure project. Could they benefit from the recommendations they make to you after engaging with the community?

Yes. An expansive brief is good for architects, but not necessarily for you as their client.

Perhaps we’re overstating the risks here, but it’s certainly something you need to think through and discuss with them.

The value of sitting as an equal at the table

Monique Davidson.jpg
Some of our staff were unsure about having an external facilitator. But it enabled council to participate, not take over.
— Monique Davidson, Chief Executive in Local Government

We see immense value for organisations when they are able to sit at the table as an equal. Their community members view them differently when they aren’t leading the conversation. As a result, it’s easier to collaborate and build stronger partnerships with stakeholders.

People are much less wary of organisations who come to them with an attitude of humility and curiosity - and independent facilitation is one of the easiest ways to allow that to happen.


Nelson Arts Festival Planning Event Whole Group Photo

If you scored over 75%, we should talk.

The Business Lab team are expert facilitation and engagement professionals who help groups move from talk to action. If you want to understand how you can work better with the people affected by what you do, we can help.