Structure — 16 May 2018, Sally Hirst
Almost all the projects we undertake start with some sort of structured consultation process.

The first step is in talking to our client, getting the story behind the brief, the events and ideas that have led them to this point. It may have been summarised in the formal document, but there is always a richer, more detailed story behind the formality. Structure is the key to effective consultation.

The work commences - investigating the context, finding out what people really want and need, getting to the bottom of a problem and what success would look like. That is rarely found in a document, rather it needs to be drawn out and explored through talking together.

These consultations can take the form of one-on-one interviews or in small or larger group meetings. They are vital elements of our project work and it is critical that we get not only the information we need, but the aspirations and concerns of our clients and their communities. This consultation is always structured.

Sometimes we send the structure beforehand, to help people think about how they might share their knowledge. We use diagrams, images and questions to help the thought process.

Sometimes however, the conversations can seem random and free flowing. They aren't quite what they seem. Underneath there's a structure. Our experience has given us a clear idea of how problems and opportunities present themselves and how we need to shape conversations to elicit real understanding. Structure is present even when it is not apparent.

We don't use established templates from other sources, though we learn from others and test new formats constantly. We prepare beforehand, formulating our structure to think about the project and afterwards to order what we've learned. We craft our approach to suit the circumstances. This is an exercise we enjoy, and we hope the people involved do too.

What's not in the structure? A smile, some humour, empathy. That's just part of the service and the pleasure of our work. 

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