Having built a strong, trusting relationship with one’s client and having reached a preliminary agreement regarding the nature of their working relationship, usually it is time for the consultant to become better acquainted with the organization and the specific issues that of primary concern to her client. The third, fourth and fifth stages concern this information gathering process, as well as the analysis of this information and the feeding back of the analysis to the client.
Stage Three: Information Gathering
Many consultants—especially those who define themselves as experts—are inclined to bypass the third, fourth and fifth stages of consultation and move immediately to planning and implementing the activity for which they have been hired. Although this neglect may be of little consequence in some instances, most consultants have encountered problems at one time or another because they did not know enough about the client and institution they were serving.
The information collection stage may be elaborate and quite formal or it may be very informal, consisting entirely of a few conversations and notes about organizational environment. The consultant may try just to “get a feel” for the organization by arriving a few hours before the start of a workshop. Under such circumstances, consultants must allow the impressions they form to influence any subsequent action. Consultants should be prepared to change the design of the workshop in response to new information acquired about the institution. Too often, they are not. Strategies for gathering information usually will emerge quite naturally from the questions considered when formulating a consulting contract. Even if clients initially think that information collection is unnecessary, the contracting process is likely to convince them that they need to get a better hold on the convening problem or need before working with the consultant on a specific intervention.