I have worked as a consultant, coach and trainer in the Pacific for over ten years and in Europe and New Zealand for over 30 years. I do agree with many of the comments raised in recent letters, however the issue is somewhat more complicated. As a consultant I am always in the role of outsider – to an organisation, a community or a business. The value of the outsider is to access a fresh and different perspective and, sometimes, a set of skills and experiences not currently available locally. As an outsider it is easier to ask ‘obvious’ questions and to challenge perceptions and assumptions that may be harder to do from within. However, as an outsider I must never forget that there are many things I do not know or understand in depth especially to do with culture, behaviours, attitudes and history. A consultant should always be proud of their specialist knowledge or experience but must always be humble and open to learn. For me, that is what makes the role of the outsider so exciting as well as constantly making new friends!
Like many people, I do get annoyed, embarrassed and upset at seeing others in similar roles adopting superior and patronising attitudes, often with very little appropriate knowledge. Just having a degree or two means very little, as far as I am concerned! A competent consultant needs to be able to apply the knowledge he/ she has in the local setting – that means listening and seeking to understand first. After all we do have two ears and only one mouth. However, there must be a responsibility here for those who employ and contract the services of external consultants. A consultancy contract should always have an end game in mind, an exit strategy, from day 1. In most cases consultants should focus on sharing their expertise and knowledge with their local counterparts to help develop them and build their knowledge. The local counterpart has to play his or her role too by wanting to learn and having the confidence to gradually replace the need for an outsider. They can’t sit back, expect the consultant to do the work and then take the credit!
I do think that in the Pacific there has been a total over reliance on outsiders – consultants, advisors, experts. Outsiders should be used sparingly and carefully, ideally for a limited period of time with a clear goal of leaving behind empowered local leaders. They should be recruited for their ability to use empathy, to coach, to help others become more confident and build good relationships, as well as their specialist skills.