Should I use an external consultant? 

The Role of the Consultant
Peter Block, author of Flawless Consulting, describes three main roles that an effective consultant should play.

  • As "a pair of hands," a consultant can do tasks that a client organization knows how to do itself, but does not have the staff to accomplish (e.g., organizing meetings, drafting documents, conducting interviews with clients, and other such hands-on work).

  • In the "expert" role, a consultant provides knowledge or skills that the organization does not have in-house (e.g., doing an evaluation of a program or management function, providing an analysis of the implications of environmental trends in funding or service delivery, etc.).

  • In the "collaborative" role, the consultant works as a partner with the organization, contributing process knowledge, but leaving the rest to the client, who has the task expertise and staff to accomplish tasks once the approach is determined (e.g., providing guidance on the planning process and facilitating planning meetings and retreats, while clearly leaving the content debate to the client).





An outside person working with the group offers objectivity and neutrality. Sometimes it takes an outsider to ask the hard questions, and a skilled facilitator will help surface disagreements about important issues, as well as manage potential conflicts in a constructive way.

In choosing a consultant, an organization must also look for "fit." A consultant may have all the expertise one could ask for, but still should not be hired unless planners truly have confidence in the person. The consultant must be both a good listener and not afraid to speak honestly. Many important issues will be discussed in the planning process, perhaps including delicate issues that demand discretion or could arouse conflict -- so, a good, trusting working relationship between the consultant and the organization is crucial to a successful outcome.

Checklist for Working with a Consultant
The following list delineates many of the issues described above and is a handy reference for organizers as they consider hiring and establishing a working relationship with a consultant.

  • Clarify your broad expectations of what the consultant will do.

  • Decide roughly how much you want to spend.

  • Talk with at least two consultants and check the references they provide to you.

  • Ask each consultant whom you are seriously considering to submit a written proposal summarizing the work to be performed, the time line and cost.

  • Make sure you feel comfortable working with the person you select.

  • Develop a clearly worded written contract, which should include the following:


    list of deliverables

    ۰   a projected completion date
    ۰   a schedule for payment

    checkpoints along the way at which the client and the consultant can
    evaluate progress and resolve any problems that may have arisen


    a mechanism by which either party can terminate the contract before
    it is completed


    identification of the person in your organization who has the authority to agree to expenditures or approve the consultant's work

    ۰   an understanding of who will do the actual consulting work

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