In the LocalGovDigital sector, within our respective councils we spend an awful lot of money engaging consultants to help us do things.
Sometimes, the expenditure on the consultancy is genuinely justified - there's a skills gap within the organisation that training won't adequately fill immediately, because skills require experience as well as knowledge, and the consultants can provide both for the period of engagement; if the consultants are good, and the contract is robust, the terms of engagement for the consultancy will include proper knowledge transfer to enable the organisation to not need to engage the consultancy again.
Sometimes, the consultants are engaged not because of a skills gap, but because of a capacity gap - the skills exist within the organisation, but there are four people employed to do the job and there's a temporary need to do eight people's worth of work in a short space of time. As it happens, that's how I entered the sector in the first place, though it would be an exaggeration to say I was employed as a consultant!
Sometimes, though, there isn't actually a skills or capacity gap at all; there's the unflattering characterisation of consultants that what they do is interview all the staff and find out what the staff think should be done, write a report, and then the management goes well done, consultants, you're worth your weight in gold for this insight. Less snipingly, what consultants can bring to the party is a fresh independent pair of eyes - they can hear the ideas in the room, and, without having a vested interest in taking sides, say either 'yes, what you're thinking there is exactly what I'd do, you carry on' or 'are you absolutely sure you've considered all the possible consequences there? In the past I've seen these results when people have tried that'.
So in the third scenario there, we're not paying for expertise, we're paying for independence.
Consultants don't come cheap - is that independent view worth the cost?
Or rather, is the independent view we can collectively gain from each other's collective experience something we can get just as well for a fraction of the expenditure of engaging a consultancy?
We're reasonably good as a sector at informal sharing of knowledge and experience - most of us are happy to have chats with peers in our networks about our experience with any given product etc, and as I said on our internal Teams channels the other day, LocalGovCamp is the place where ideas are shared and ideas are born.
But how about if we thought about some more formal collaborations between councils? I don't just mean two or more councils coming together to collaborate on delivering a shared project, which itself is already happening, I mean the creation of a climate where if, say, BigTown City Council is about to embark on a new project to deliver a new Thing, then rather than getting some consultants in to take part in some of the workshops to provide that independent insight, why not get somebody from Nearby Borough Council or FurtherAway County Council to join in and help facilitate the workshops and give their independent insights and advices as to how to proceed? This could be done either will cash transfers between councils or it could be done on the general basis of what comes around goes around.
How might such an arrangement be co-ordinated?