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The Experience Network’s 10-point guide to the selection of consultants and advisors

There are many reasons for bringing additional consultancy and advisory support into an organisation, including the need for additional skills and experience, to provide an independent impartial perspective and/or to help meet a lack of internal capacity. Selecting the right person or organisation is not inherently difficult, but does require some preparation and an effective selection process.

The TEN network offers this 10 point guide to successful selection:

1. Define the overall selection process

  • Preparation!
  • Write a clear concise brief
  • Circulate and publicise the brief
  • Establish the selection criteria
  • Shortlist the candidates
  • Key skills to be aware of
  • Conduct interviews
  • Agree a contract and manage the project
  • Evaluate the outcome at the end of the project

2. Preparation

  • Consult and clarify with stakeholders where and why you want additional support, what you anticipate achieving, and what sort of person is sought
  • Prepare the ground with key personnel so that the need for the project is understood and accepted by stakeholders
  • Leave sufficient time to write a good brief, and to attract the right candidates – allow a minimum of 2 weeks for consultants to respond and submit a proposal
  • You will also need to consider whether you will speak to a limited number of consultants or have an entirely open tender.

3. Write the Brief

If possible the brief should include:

  • A description and background to your organisation
  • the need or problem that has led you to consider using an external consultant or trainer, and why you think this need or problem exists;
  • the aims of the project and what you want the consultancy or training to achieve;
  • the timetable for the project, and deadline for submission of proposals;
  • the fees and cost for the work including VAT;
  • criteria for the required person including experience, knowledge, skills and values

You should particularly consider at this stage whether your budget and timetable are realistic and appropriate to what you are asking the consultant to do.

4. Circulate and publicise the Brief

Think carefully about from where you will recruit consultants and use at least two sources to ensure sufficient volume and variety of responses:

  • You can use accredited and approved lists such as the TEN network, NCVO Approved consultants, NAVCA Trainers and Consultants Direct and the MDN Network
  • You can ask colleagues for recommendations
  • You can use online media such as LinkedIn

5. Establish the selection criteria

Compile a checklist of criteria for shortlisting consultants:

  • Think about what kind of consultant you want: is it someone with good facilitation skills? Someone who can produce written work or present well?
  • Is it essential that they have some or detailed knowledge of your field of work, or as in many cases, are their generic skills more important?
  • Do they need specific qualifications to undertake the work? Would you like them to be approved or accredited by a national infrastructure body?

6. Shortlist the candidates

You will need to decide whether you will shortlist and interview consultants, or whether you will choose from one of their written tenders. Written proposals by consultants should be expected to clarify:

  • Their understanding of the work
  • How they would approach the project
  • The experience and qualifications of the person(s) who would carry out the work
  • Timetable and budgets including any expenses
  • Examples of previous relevant work
  • References

Be aware that consultants will probably provide new ideas about your project, and that therefore your own thinking will change and be refined throughout the selection process.

7. Key Skills to be Aware of

Depending on the nature of the work, there may be some key skills that you want to ensure they possess:

  • Can they write effectively and persuasively appropriate to your audience(s)?
  • Do they listen? An effective consultant needs to be capable of understanding your organisation, including your plans, operations, values and culture.
  • Can they communicate verbally, and if appropriate, are they comfortable consulting with and presenting information to a range of audiences?
  • Are particular skills (e.g. finance) a requisite of the project?
  • Are they realistic about what they can deliver? Are you aware of both their successes and their failures?
  • Do you believe they will challenge you to think differently?

8. Conduct Interviews

Interviews are an opportunity to explore tender submissions in more detail. In addition to questions relating to the key criteria, other important areas to explore may include:

  • Who exactly will be undertaking the work and what are their skills and experience? Is there cover in the event of illness etc.
  • What are their systems for quality assurance; and how do they review and evaluate their work?
  • What is their current workload and do they have sufficient capacity to undertake the project in the timescale you need?
  • Always ask for references and be sure to follow them up!
  • Always ensure that you respond and give feedback to unsuccessful consultants. (Remember that you may wish to work with them at a later date or at least engage them as potential supporters!).

9. Agree the contract and manage the consultancy

  • Schedule a meeting to formally refine and agree the final brief with the consultant.
  • Be clear regarding who from your organisation is managing the contract and the consultants.
  • Ensure you have an agreed and signed contract which specifies: the project work and outcomes, the timescale, the fees/costs and payment schedule, liaison, mutual responsibilities, access, confidentiality, copyright of written and other creative materials, and arrangements for postponement, termination and dispute resolution.
  • If financial or legal matters are involved, confirm that the consultant has appropriate professional indemnity insurance.

Keep in close contact with the consultant:

  • Giving and receive regular feedback from/to the consultant.
  • Ensure your staff are kept informed of developments and progress.
  • Ensure that the timetable and budget are adhered to and jointly agree any necessary rescheduling
  • Stay on top of your responsibilities in terms of providing information and if necessary, access to the consultants.

10. Evaluate the Outcome

  • Agree with the consultant how you want them to report back their recommendations or conclusions.
  • Decide how the report and/or its recommendations are to be distributed.
  • Decide if the project has given you what you anticipated and discuss the outputs or reports with the consultants and if necessary negotiate any amendments or additions.
  • Finally, the consultant will invite and welcome feedback and should have their own evaluation form.

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