Monday, 4 November 2013

Third Sector Special Interest Group: Pro Bono experience from both the volunteer providing analytical support and the social enterprise he worked with.

Ian's Pro Bono assignment with Participle got this response from their Principal Partner: 'I have just started to digest the work you did for us and wanted to say a huge thank you.  This will be so critical to our growth and I am very grateful indeed for your time and expertise.  The team have described you as "a joy to work with" so I do hope that we might be able to persuade you to collaborate with us again in the future.' So when Ian talks about success factors for a pro bono project, covering how a pro bono assignment differs from a paid one and sharing some lessons learnt, he knows what he's talking about.

Tips for pro bono OR projects
The Third Sector Special Interest Group met in October to hear about the experiences of a pro bono O.R. project from both the volunteer providing analytical support and the social enterprise he worked with. Ian Seath of Improvement Skills consulting and Amanda Briden of Participle both offered lessons learned from their pro bono O.R. project, providing some useful tips for those offering and receiving pro bono O.R. support.
Three top tips from Ian were:
·         Give the same commitment to pro bono projects as you would to your day job. Ian says: “I believe it’s important not to treat these projects as “free consulting” and something to be fitted into a busy schedule if there’s time.  These are “proper” assignments and need to be managed in the same way you would any other client engagement.  Sticking to deadlines agreed with the client are particularly important, otherwise you might send the signal that you are just “fitting it in” around other projects.”

·         Don’t overload the pro bono work with excessive project management. Ian says: “In my experience, some of the organisations I’ve worked with have been relatively “immature” in their management thinking and therefore a light touch approach to project management is called for.  More informal approaches and regular communication about progress tend to work better than the use of project templates and formality.”

·         Be clear about the nature of the volunteering role. Ian says: “It’s really important to have a discussion early on about the type of role the client expects you to play.  Do they want you as a “pair of hands”, an “expert”, or do they want to work collaboratively and work out joint solutions?  That discussion can help avoid any misunderstandings or mis-matched expectations.”

Ian also reflected that pro bono O.R. brought benefits to the analyst providing support as well as to the organisation being supported: “I really enjoy working with people who both need and want help, and who are very appreciative of the sort of support they wouldn’t normally be able, or prepared, to pay for.  The diversity of the Third Sector also makes it fascinating and offers an incredibly broad range of opportunities to work with interesting people on worthwhile projects.”

Ian’s presentation is now available on the Third Sector SIG pages of the OR Society website.

Three top tips from Amanda were:
         Work with the right volunteer. Amanda asks herself: “Will this person be flexible?  Can they handle changes to the scope of the work and moving deadlines?  Are they willing to travel to meet you?  Do they want to participate in your service to better understand the work that they are helping move forward?  Are they motivated to produce a final product and document the key decisions that were made to reach it?”

·         Provide the right incentives. Before they start, Amanda likes to ask volunteers: “What do you want to get out of the experience?”  She makes an effort to deliver on this in order to ensure that the experience is not only valuable to the organisation, but also to those offering pro bono support.

·         Build in lead time. Amanda says that in the future, she’ll coordinate earlier and more consistently with internal and external stakeholders so that their inputs and feedback can be captured in a timely fashion.  She would like to minimise the amount of time volunteers are put ‘on hold’ waiting for key decisions to be made. 

Participle is a social enterprise based in London which works with and for the public to create new types of public services that make a real difference in everyday lives - designing, developing and taking to scale innovative solutions to social challenges.
Improvement Skills is a consulting firm which encourages its employees to offer one day a month as pro bono support to third sector organisations.

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