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Project support and consultancy

My happy place is working in complexity, where uncertainty is part of the process, and building relationships is a key operating principle.

What do I mean by “complexity”?

Drawing on complexity theory (more by Liz Keogh about Cynefin and about Ralph Stacey’s work, should you want to dive in), I reckon that if you’re working in public services your activities can be identified as either complicated or complex.

In complicated challenges, you know the questions to ask and how to design the solutions – you may well research your users’ needs and do some testing (in fact I very much hope you do!) but broadly speaking, with your specialist technical expertise and sector experience, you’ve got this.

In complex challenges however, your professional expertise alone isn’t enough. You might be working on long standing issues that are not responding effectively to the usual tools, and need to try a different approach. You might need to pull apart a problem and discover what the contributing factors are, so you can address them – not instead of, but in addition to, the business as usual of responding to the symptoms of the problem. Depending on your sector, you might hear this referred to as innovation, transformation, new ways of working, culture change, systems change, participation, involvement, co-design, or co-production, for example. The key is that you need to bring your professional expertise and experience together with those of a diversity of stakeholders, and service users who have different lived experience and expertise. By raising up different kinds of knowledge and wisdom, and connecting with a range of people who are invested in solving these problems, you can co-create, test and implement solutions effectively. For this work to stick, you need to build connections, trust, and long-term relationships.

I think a whole lot about complexity, pretty much all the time.
In fact, I made this list of complicated vs complex approaches in public services.

What do I do in practice?

I help operational, strategic, research and policy teams learn to operate well in complexity. This means getting comfortable (or at least learning to cope!) with the inherent uncertainty; adopting approaches that return answers and clarity through iterative development; picking up tools and methodologies that lead to meaningful engagement and relationship building. This could be working with a whole range of different people, who might be any or a combination of:

  • citizens and community members (engagement or participation)
  • service users (co-production and involvement)
  • stakeholders across sectors (co-design and co-creation)
  • colleagues, teams and/or partner organisations (collaboration)

(If you’re bamboozled by these jargon terms that all sound the same, you’re not alone. I was too, so I made a glossary to have a clear understanding of what’s what.)

I will work with you on a project for an agreed length of time, and bring various elements into play: I will design and facilitate workshops for your team (to think, plan and learn together), and for your stakeholders and/or service users (to create connection, and move towards collective decisions and action). I will advise on communications channels and content, and can edit and adapt documents for different audiences. I will ensure we consider and build in monitoring and evaluation from the start (both about what we achieve, and also how we achieved it). I can deliver bespoke training sessions to your teams, partners and stakeholders together, and I can offer group mentoring and one-to-one coaching to support your learning. I will cheerlead your efforts, validate your thinking, and constructively challenge where useful.

While my work with you is on a task-and-finish basis, my aim is to build skills and confidence through hands-on experience, so that you can keep applying what you learnt long after we’ve finished. And of course the relationships you develop through this process will contribute to your continuing work in complexity.