Sir Stuart speaks; but we only listen. A Trip on the Gravy Train

Take Away Line

Spending their hard-earned cash and time to be together for a conference is a sign that consultants see value in their membership of professional body, EU Consult. It also means we care about the issues our clients a re facing in tough times. But going from being a group that associates across Europe to one that has a voice about the civil society issues that connect Europe is a bigger and more elusive challenge.  Yes, this is what the membership of EU Consult have chosen to do in their strategic plan.  All aboard; it’s  a great destination. And there are gravy stops on the way.

All aboard!

What do you get when you combine a bunch of consultants working mainly with civil society clients in a great modern art gallery in sunny Lisbon for a weekend of talks, walks, nice food and tours?  A gravy train?  Well, I mean, the weather was lovely, the hotel nice, the company agreeable and the food (in a bull ring) amazing. [No bull.]  Must be a Euro-junket?  Right?

Yes, actually it was.  But in a good way!  It was also said consultants’ professional body, EU Consult‘s summer conference with a theme around how civil society can change the world – and just has in the cases, for example, of Egypt and Tunisia.  The conference beautifully organised too by local members, Call to Action.

Highlights for me included Stuart Etherington’s spot-on run round the track of current developments in civil society across Europe, and David Dixon‘s smooth-as-silk argument in favour of getting to grips with social media.  [So inspired was I that this is me, blogging!]

Networking is the real gravy

But of course the main reason for conferences is networking.  I had some great 121s with folk both in the working sessions and in the more overt gravy train elements between.  Who knows perhaps some of them may lead to new connections and working partnerships?  And one or two changes in my perceptions and behaviours too?

Another valuable gain for me as a board member (and now, for my sins, vice-president) was the adoption of a new strategic direction for EU Consult, something on which I’ve led.  In the next three years, we plan to broaden our appeal to more members, with a wider range of offerings and to find out how we can begin to move from a dining club to a professional body that also has a voice able to contribute to the debates of the day in a way that we have not so far in our first 20 years.

Finding a voice

And it’s the question of ‘voice’ that brings me back to Stuart’ Etherington’s presentation.  He sketched in a political world at both national and EU level which no longer has the appetite or in many cases, including the UK, the inclination to think ‘macro’ when it comes to many policy areas, not least civil society itself.  The oil tanker of state social policy has proved too hard to steer and now languishes in shallow waters, while the little platoons of Burke’s concept of local action are required again to take its place.  Notions of Big Society (in the UK – which in practice ironically means lots of small societies) are spreading in the hope of filling the gaps left by a retreating state.

Fragmentation may be the name of the game, but what’s the longer term future?  Is that how it will be or will there be a new consensus in a few years time?  Stuart didn’t know and probably at this stage it’s too hard a call for anyone to make.  And certainly none in the conference hall could answer.

But I couldn’t help feeling that we (consultants) should be able to engage in these matters and produce informed opinion on the big policy issues of the day that affect our world.  Not so much following debates and turning our businesses to catch the profitable crumbs from other’s ideas, but co-creating new futures.  We (EU Consult) have a long way to go before we bring home the intellectual bacon as well as enjoy the gravy.  To my mind, that is what a great EU Consult looks like.  And who wants to be involved in less than a great EU Consult!

Debating Points

  1. What’s  your experience of enabling the pan-EU conversation work?
  2. How does a small professional club develop into a professionally run body for its professional members?

About transformingtales

What you do is what you do, isn't it? Nothing special there. What I do is work mainly with civil society organisations, but also some public and corporate sector outfits, to help them change. For the better. For good. If you provide a list of the things you do, the services you offer, like strategic planning, leadership development, corporate governance, culture change and performance management, they are just words. And tricky sounding words too that put you off and imply more questions than they answer. So, this blog is about the stories, the joys and the woes of making tranformative change happen (on a good day) and when and why it doesn't (on a bad day). And it's dedicated to my daughter who asked the question a few years ago: 'What do you do again, Dad?'
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