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17 May 2022 | Blog
As an organisation run by its own members, our April event provided an early opportunity for us to begin discussions amongst ourselves about Consultants for Good’s strategic direction now that we are a CIC…
There were 19 attendees to this session. Board member Marcus Ward introduced the session with a number of personal observations and thoughts about the importance and value of strategic planning, as well as some of the challenges that can arise for organisations in thinking about their direction and overcoming barriers to effective planning.
Setting direction is of course subject to understanding our external environment, and requires us to acknowledge that the outside world is in a state of constant, arguably increasing flux. Change is a constant and is also often scary. So in a rapidly changing environment where planning is imperfect, what can we as a voluntary network do to map our direction of travel?
Marcus suggested that a first step might be to accept that our world is constantly spinning (24,000 miles every 24 hours to be precise) and we must accept that planning must not be rigid and static but an ongoing cyclical process. Consultants for Good’s own plans must be flexible and agile, and allow us to react quickly according to circumstance. Those circumstances may require us to explore further our reach or scope for influence, or extend our “business” ambitions, or we may just pause sometimes to allow for consolidation and celebration of our support for each other.
As might be expected from a large group of advisors, our discussion meandered – getting agreement on definitions relating to strategic planning, and what was actually strategic was an area of some debate. Some felt that process should begin with our values, or our business plan. Others thought we need to consider what makes us different from other networks or how we measure success. What became clear is that defining a clear strategic direction might be tricky when there wasn’t conclusive agreement on what might be considered the core purposes of CforG. However there was broad agreement that it’s important to differentiate tasks (e.g. circulating work opportunities) from strategic objectives. The latter might include consideration that CforG’s s role should be limited to supporting and influencing those organisations we directly work with, rather than aiming to influence change in a collective way, given the challenges the latter would present. We also considered the value of the network remaining as a small(-ish) network, given that extended ambition would bring its own challenges.
It was recognised that the network has the potential for wider engagement work with external partners and civil society agencies. It was noted that the additional infrastructure requirements for managing an organisation with more members could be significant, but that the Board has a key role to gauge the degree of collective ambition and risk, and how much can actually be achieved given our voluntary status. This led to a final discussion about the methods of member consultation we undertake. Some were in favour of task and finish groups or surveys while others thought the Board should have the delegated flexibility to progress CforG’s purpose, provided there is regular communication on decisions and the opportunity for members to input.
Marcus acknowledged it was always going to be a tricky to start discussing a collective strategy with such a diverse membership, but thanked everyone for their input. He noted that the Board will now consider the feedback, and may consider using a number of different input approaches, when time allows, to progress the work on an updated strategic plan for our lively and valuable network.