“I wrote on this butcher’s paper 20 years ago” a workshop participant once told me. It was a stark reminder about consultation that goes no-where. And oh boy do regional communities see that time and time again.

If you are someone defined in a marginalised or at-risk group, living in the regions you could (and probably should) run the consultation because you’ve sat through the ice-breaker, key question, brainstorm and hold up the butcher’s paper and talk routine enough times to gain certification.

Consultants, my dad would have said are as useless as ‘tits on a bull’. Probably why I told him my business ran workshops (borderline useful).

Over two decades of consulting I’ve formed a whole new contempt for consultants that don’t care. Particularly having heard statements such as “oh Kerry, they’d never afford us” (when I asked a city based consultant if they worked in the regions) or (a proudly shared reference about a consultant’s delight to pick up a contract on an important community program) “nose in the trough”.

When my work was focused on one small regional town (and when strategies were presented back in print form) I kept the many and varied documents in a stack on my desk. Hundreds of Thousands of dollars invested in words that equated to the same stack of problems the community had experienced when the first strategy was written.

To say it made me annoyed was an understatement.

So, I made a commitment to myself to always care about the work I do and if I don’t or can’t care about it anymore to step aside, or decline a contract. And to always, always leave capacity in community, no matter what I’ve been engaged to do. Why? Because I don’t want to see that butchers paper regurgitated yet again. And more to the point, I think the people of our communities deserve better. Along the way I’ve made friendships, working partnerships and alliances with many people who work in the same vein.

I haven’t always gotten it ‘right’ but by god I’ve tried. And on those times that have failed I’ve apologised, or added in some additional value. Most importantly, I’ve made sure communication lines have been established so there’s room for dialogue about mistakes, mismatched perception and improvements.

This doesn’t mean that your chosen consultant must come from the regions, or even your local community – while this is beneficial sometimes, at other times you need a fresh set of eyes. The common characteristic is that sense of caring.

So, how DO you find a consultant that cares?

  • They will show a genuine sense of curiosity about your community and the people within it.
  • They will shut up about themselves and listen to you.
  • Take them to coffee in a little local coffee shop and see how they interact with the waitstaff, you’ll pick up on their general relate-ability pretty quickly.
  • They will notice and make comment on the unique or distinguishing features of your community.
  • If a process doesn’t work or goes awry they will make an attempt to remedy it.
  • They will be interested in building capacity in community, and where possible willing to integrate ways to do that while they are in your community.
  • They will be patient ‘in the room’ as ideas are being put forward.
  • Their quotation, and their practice will incorporate time to be in the community (there is a lot to be learned by simply walking through the streets, visiting shops and talking to people).
  • You will feel comfortable in their company, not like you’re a hick from hicksville.
  • Their quotation will very clearly outline expectations and deliverables.
  • While the end product of some consultancies can be unpredictable, there will be an understanding of what happens should there be a mismatch of expectations.
  • They won’t be a practicing sesquipedalian.
  • They will look comfortable in their regional attire (oh yes, I’ve seen many a consultant look like they were on their way to a fancy dress party as they donned their regional attire).
  • Their car. I once worked with a consultant who drove a red, convertible Mercedes into a small town in the midst of a crime spike. While perhaps not the most sensible wheels for the mission she owned her choice telling the room she’d leave it on the street overnight in her bid to prove it wasn’t as bad as people currently believed. She owned it. Her car was fine. (we were all relieved).
  • Where accommodation is booked. Is your person prepared to sit out the night in your local pub or 3 star motel? Or are they more comfortable legging it back to the closest regional city for the comforts of a 4-5 star? Yeah, OK this one may be above and beyond in some cases but it will tell you a story about how much they want to support your community.
  • Perhaps most importantly – what are they prepared to agree to formally, and then do informally when the contract has finished? In the very best case you can expect to hear from your person as opportunities related to your strategy arise, or even an occasional how are you going? But if the lines of communication gather dust that’s only swept aside when the strategy is nearing the time of renewal there’s a story in that you need to be aware of.

Even the smartest, best connected consultant is of limited use to your community if they cannot produce a result that carries the voice of your people, and actions you can actually implement. These are the fundamentals of caring.

Choose well.

Make sense? Please share the article with your network.


Kerry Grace, Founder Community Practitioner Academy


Image credit:

Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash