to Choose a Consultant
|Written by:||Marilyn Sewell - OMAF.|
Hiring outside consultants to do short-term projects is common in business. More and more frequently, as in-house resources become scarcer and impartiality is required, organizations and municipalities are turning to consultants to get the job done.
Hiring a consultant for the first time can be a little intimidating. This Factsheet provides basic information that will help your organization or municipality make the best use of consultants.
Consultants generally specialize in a particular area. They may be good at solving problems or doing research or exploring alternatives. Consultants usually work on contract, they sell their knowledge or services for a fee. Professional consultants can bring new ideas to community projects, and your organization or community can often learn from working with them.
The two general approaches are the knowledge approach and the people approach. Its important to choose a consultant who uses an approach that fits how you want the job done. If a consulting job doesn't work out for the client, the problem could be that the wrong consultant was chosen. One of the problems may be that their approach might not have been suited to the job.
Consultants who use this approach work for you not with you. Hire an expert if you just want to get a job done as quickly as possible and theres no need to involve the community. This approach is suitable for straightforward, technical jobs such as designing a computerized accounting system or membership database.
Consultants using the people approach tend to work with you, not just for you. Communities are leaning toward hiring consultants who use this style. The reason? When a consultant works with you and the community, you have a chance to learn something. If you hire a people-type consultant, they would probably work with the people in the organization or community to decide what research should be done and then train them to do the work.
Note: This approach may take more time and, consequently, cost more. But it usually means better research and involves the community. In effect, the research belongs to the community.
In summary, use the knowledge approach for one-time technical jobs that one or two consultants can do efficiently working alone. Use the people approach when the organization or community should become involved in a project that affects it in whole or in part.
Addressing this question sets the stage for determining the terms of reference and helps your organization or municipality clearly state what needs to be done. Only when this is accomplished can you proceed.
Before hiring a consultant, ask yourself if you can do it yourself, or if other help is available?
Once you've answered the first question, you must decide if the people in your community can do the work locally. Heres a short checklist to help assess whether it might be possible to use local talent.
If you answered yes to all these questions, your community could probably handle the job locally.
If you feel your community can't do the job on its own, the next step is to look at other sources of help.
If you decide to hire a consultant, your next job is to find and choose the right one.
Here are some ways to find consultants:
Leaders in the community, project supervisors, and citizens could serve on a selection committee.
The selection committee may be involved in the following aspects of selection:
Note: As a courtesy to other consultants who sent in proposals, it is a good idea to tell them that you have picked someone else for the job. Unsuccessful consultants may request feedback on how they scored. The selection committee should document the review of proposals and the interview. The committee needs to decide in advance how much feedback they are prepared to give.
The terms of reference is a short description of the project and what you want produced. The terms help explain your project to the consultant and keep things on target. They also help the consultant estimate the cost of doing the work.
The terms of reference (project description) should:
The fees that a consultant charges to do a project or other job may vary from one consultant to another. To determine if the fee a consultant quotes is fair, consider the following:
Note that the consultants are responsible for the cost of preparing their proposals and attending meetings to discuss their ideas with the selection committee.
A properly written contract clearly states who is responsible for what and helps prevent unpleasant surprises for both the client and the consultant. When you and the consultant sign a contract, you're both part of a legal agreement. If either party feels at some point that the other hasnt complied with the terms of the contract, each can turn to the legal system to set things right.
You can hire a lawyer to draw up the contract, but you don't need to. Instead, you can get standard contracts and adapt these contracts to fit your own situation.
A contract is a two-way street. You expect the consultant to do a good job, produce acceptable results, and complete the work on schedule. The consultant expects to be paid promptly for the work he or she does.
The contract should include:
This is only a basic list of what you should put in a contract to avoid problems later. Use your judgement in deciding what else you should include.
Everything in the following list should be included in the contract:
Note: Sometimes the original timeframes are unrealistic and extensions become necessary.
Make sure that the contract requires the consultant to submit receipts for all personal out-of-pocket expenses such as meals, hotels or transportation. The same is true for all other expenses like the cost of hiring other people or renting equipment to get the job done.
Make it clear that the consultant must explain if expenses will be more than stated in the contract.
Remember, the whole idea behind drawing up a contract is to avoid misunderstandings and surprises!
The methods of payment most often used include:
| Top of Page |
One of the keys to getting the right consultant to do a job that's right for your community is to work as equal partners. The important thing to remember is that you can't hire a consultant to come in and tell you what you need. You can't walk away when the consultant arrives and expect that he or she will solve all your problems. Hiring a consultant means consultation. You consult with each other.
Before a consultant even arrives on the scene, your work has already begun. You have already defined or examined the problem. By examining the problem, you are really helping define its root or source and possible solutions.
You begin by sending the consultant the terms of reference. This was outlined in a previous section.
Its a good idea to choose a leader to manage the project. The project leader is the link between the consultant and the community. Both the project leader and the consultant should meet often and regularly to review progress and to keep track of expenses. The project leader also meets regularly with community members to let them know how things are going.
If the consultant and the community work together, the results of the project will better meet the community's goals and produce lasting benefits for the people within. The chart at the end of this document shows what you, the client, and the consultant should do to help make the project a success.
When the consultant has finished his/her work for you, it is very useful to review the whole experience. Look at both the accomplishments and problem areas.
The bottom line is: did the consultant help the organization or community solve the problem? Is your community or organization better off as a result of the services of your chosen consultant?
Choose consultants carefully and youll usually get the kind of end result you need. Always say exactly what you want. Supervise the work performed. Be demanding but fair about the final product you accept.
Choosing Consultants and Making the Best Use of Their Services - A Handbook. Health & Welfare Canada, 1989.
Effective Organizations - A Consultant's Resource. Kent, Judy. Skills Program for Management Volunteers, Fitness & Amateur Sport Canada, 1992.
How to Select a Consultant. White, James, P.Ag., Presentation to Canadian Consulting Agrologists Association, August 1979.
Procedures for the Selection of Community Planning Consulting Services and the Preparation of Contracts. Ministry of Municipal Affairs & Housing Factsheet, Community Planning Advisory Branch.
When to Hire a Consultant and How to Get Your Money's Worth. McKelvey, Merilyn. A.J. Diamond Planners Ltd., Municipal World, June 1981.
Hiring a Practicing Professional Engineer for Farm Projects. Order No. 95-027.
|Meeting Goals and Objectives||State them clearly and draw up a contract.||Follow the terms and conditions of the contract|
|Staffing the Project||
Clarify whether and how the consultant will hire organization or community members to help with the project.
Build this into the contract.
Determine the extent to which it will be possible for people from the community or organization to work on the project.
Determine their role.
|Ensuring the Community's Participation||
Arrange for local people to participate.
Get community members to speak frankly about matters that concern them.
Listen to information from the community.
Use it to carry out the project and develop recommendations.
Call the consultant's attention to problems as soon as they appear.
Don't wait until the consultant finishes his or her report.
Listen to the community's concerns.
Remain flexible and willing to make revisions if necessary.
|Dealing with Recommendations||
Make sure the recommendations in the consultant's report are helpful to the community.
Make sure you understand them and can act on them.
|Work with the community to develop recommendations.|
|Evaluating the Project||Evaluate success by assessing how much you feel you have accomplished as an organization or community.||Measure the project's success with impact studies, hard data and also what the organization or community says about it.|