• Fernando Zacarias

How to Help Guastecan (Part 2) "In the Beginning..."

Dear Multipodian:

You have arrived in Tamaulica, the capital of Guastecan. Ideally, you will be taken to your hotel to rest, but sometimes, you’ll have to go directly to the local office (if there’s one) of your client for an initial briefing (or to the relevant ministry, NGO, or people with whom you’ll be working).

You have learned that you’ll be meeting with the local technical team, your counterparts, the next morning. You’ll be working with them for the next three weeks. Here’s some advice for your initial situation assessment and diagnosis of the problem:

First rule: A consultant uncovers and defines the problem and makes recommendations on what to do to solve it; a good consultant uncovers and defines the problem and its causes and makes recommendations on what to do to solve them; the best consultant uncovers and defines the problem and its causes and makes recommendations on what to do and how to do it to solve them.

1) Curb your enthusiasm, pay attention… and listen. You’ll discover that many times, your counterparts already know what’s wrong but feel that they don’t have the power or resources to address the problem. At the end of your consultancy, however, they should be aware that they can do it (and how to do it). You are, after all, a problem-solver and a teacher.

2) Ask the right questions. The right questions are open questions (and more specific follow ups) targeted to learning as much as you need to assess the nature, extent and impact of the problem that must be addressed.

3) Be diplomatic: Use formal language and nice words (and tone and delivery) to inquire about not so nice issues and situations that may have to be addressed or clarified; e.g. human rights violations, political conflicts, incompetence, lack of knowledge, etc;

4) Make sure that the problem is a problem; and also, that the problem is the problem. Use a problem tree approach to separate reality from misunderstanding. This will lead to finding proximal, intermediate and distal causes of the problem and their solutions (we’ll discuss this in a future message - “How to Plant a Tree”);

5) If you can, talk about a “magic wand” (i.e. all that is needed) to make things instantly better. This will help you and your counterparts break the ice and find the most important obstacles to solving the problem in a more relaxed atmosphere.

6) Take advantage of the field visits and interviews with other people. Observe, ask, and listen. Read all the documents and materials provided (you may find hidden jewels) and ask for additional essential information (if not available, you already have one recommendation)

7) Make sure that they let you know who are the people or institutions that can influence or determine the success or failure of the problem-solving intervention. At some point, they will need to conduct a formal stake-holder analysis (there will be a future installment on “What’s at Stake”)

8) And, most importantly, make their problem your problem and never think that you are a better professional or smarter than your counterparts. (Part 3 coming soon)

Thank you for reading this; comment, if you wish, DZ


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