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CONSULTANCY

In the organization or organizations with which you work, do any of the following concerns arise?

If you find yourself engaging with concerns such as these, then you will find that Stradspan can provide a source of helpful insights and advice - whether in the course of a brief exploratory discussion or a more extensive consulting contract. In a longer-term assignment, opportunities can be discussed for the formation of a project team which also draws in other consultants or in-house staff with complementary skills and resources.

Among John Friend's more major consultancy contracts since forming Stradspan have been:

  • a joint project with Allen Hickling designed to develop a participatory approach to the organizational restructuring of the West Yorkshire Police;
  • a series of projects for the Department of Health to explore the challenges of inter-agency collaboration in care of the elderly in a community setting;
  • advice to the Ministry of Planning and Development in Venezuela on post-disaster planning, regional economic development and the build up of a new national planning school;
  • development of management capacities in small businesses in the food industry in Lincolnshire.

    The design of a consultancy project is invariably treated as a matter for negotiation with the clients. In a longer-term contract, periodic review arrangements are usually agreed in order to retain a necessary element of flexibility. Depending on the objectives of the project, traditional methods of enquiry based on interviews, participant observation and analysis of documentary data can be supplemented by more interactive methods, including facilitation of group workshops and, where appropriate, training of client staff in facilitation skills.


    FACILITATION

    Stradspan offers a flexible service in facilitation of strategic choice workshops, as a means of helping people to make rapid progress in tackling important issues in a collaborative way.

    A strategic choice workshop is an interactive event in which a group of people with a shared concern in addressing some cluster of strategic issues comes together for a limited period, with a shared commitment to make progress towards agreed decisions. The essential element is the involvement in workshop design and management of at least one facilitator who is experienced in the use of the strategic choice approach and associated group planning methods. Flipcharts are used extensively - often with little or no computer support.

    A workshop can last for anywhere between two or three hours and four or five days; significant progress can usually be achieved in the course of a one-day or two-day event. Normally, the numbers involved will be between 6 and 12; but it is not unusual to work with larger numbers, in which case the workshop design may include significant periods of subgroup work.

    The workshop agenda is treated as flexible. A session normally begins with a collective listing of issues, followed by agreement on a strategic focus for closer exploration of alternatives, consequences and significant areas of uncertainty. The workshop then moves progressively towards the development of an agreed progress package. This consists of a balanced package of steps directed towards the management of important areas of decision and of uncertainty - balancing any pressures for early decision against any counter-arguments for retaining flexibility of future choice.

    In recent years, John Friend has facilitated workshops on the following topics for clients in Britain and other countries:


    TRAINING

    Through Stradspan and other sponsoring organizations, John Friend offers a range of training services concerned with developing individual and organizational capabilities for strategic choice and strategic decision support.

    In recent years, open training courses in the strategic choice approach have been conducted in Britain for the Operational Research Society, the London School of Economics, the LSE associate company Catalyze Limited and the University of Sheffield; in Canada for York University; in Malta for the University of Malta; in Australia for Curtin Business School in Perth; and in Karachi for the Pakistan Institute of Management.

    A typical short course involves intensive practical work over a period of between 8 and 12 hours, scheduled within a one or two day period. Training designs vary: however a typical schedule is built around four or five modules of 75 to 90 minutes each. Each module begins with a brief lecture on methods, followed by work in subgroups on a realistic case example, and concluding with a short plenary session for subgroup presentation and review.

    Stradspan also offers training courses tailored to the needs of particular client organizations; such a course can be arranged either on client premises or at any other mutually convenient location. A two-day package makes it possible to include some tuition in use of the STRAD software, with licences offered, and also some practice in facilitation of strategic choice workshops. It is usually beneficial to include some work on live issues on current client agendas. In-house packages involving training events and/or group software licences have been arranged for a Netherlands consulting group; for Rolls-Royce plc; for the Swedish Naval Operational Research Group; for ICI Chemicals and Polymers; and for Naval Family Services in Plymouth.


    RESEARCH

    The various activities of Stradspan in the fields of consultancy, facilitation and training, as well as the design of the STRAD software, all draw extensively on many years of applied research into strategic decision processes by John Friend with former colleagues in the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations.

    From this experience has evolved a research style which is inter-disciplinary, involving in particular a synthesis of operational research and social science skills; grounded, in the sense that it draws on first hand experience of observing and supporting decision-making in organizations; and interactive, in that it involves close engagement with clients or sponsors in the tradition of action research which the Tavistock Institute has helped to pioneer. Past sponsors for such projects have included research councils, government departments and charitable foundations both in Britain and elsewhere.

    In addition, many of Stradspan's consultancy projects are designed to incorporate elements of applied research, as a means of developing fuller understanding of ongoing decision processes and organizational relationships. Research into processes of inter-organizational planning and collaboration has remained a continuing interest for John Friend since he left the Tavistock Institute in 1986.