PhD-research on Learning in Organization Development

Learning is central in management consultancy. At least that is what literature on consulting suggests. But there is very little empirical research on what consultants actually do behind the closed doors in management consultancy. Several authors emphasize the need to research the interplay between client and consultant further, in order to provide an in-depth understanding of the dynamics of their relation, especially when learning is concerned.

The aim of this PhD-research is to elaborate on the existing theories on the relation between the consultant and the client concerning learning in management consulting. The main question to be answered is: How do management consultants shape the interaction with clients in order to provoke learning in organizations?

We like to know how management consultants make room for learning during the entry-phase. We also like to know what actions management consultants take to keep room for learning when the pressure of the client on performance during a consulting process gets high. In the end we like to know what the mechanisms are that drive consultants to shape the consultant-client interactions on learning.

This research takes individual management consultants as the unit of analysis. The focus is on management consultants who, according to their professional profile, consider learning to be a key aspect of their approach, like OD-consultants, process-consultants, etc. As research of consulting in action turns out to be difficult to acces for researchers, consultants are interviewed ‘off stage’ about their experiences in the field. Semi structured interviews are held with a range of consultants using an interview protocol. The result of this research is a dynamic model that is grounded in empirical data and provides a better understanding of the actions of consultants. The model will be presented and discussed with consultants and clients to transfer scientific findings to the professional field. We expect it will help practitioners to make room for something there seems to be no space for.

I already interviewed OD-consultants in The Netherlands and some IODA members during the Conference in Istanbul 2018. Appointments are made with various practitioners from all over the world. Some results will be presented during the Conference in Chile 2019.

Meanwhile all kinds of reactions on my research are welcome!

Fer van den Boomen, PhD-candidate
The Hague University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands