Consulting Summits: history and current directions


The idea for a consulting summit emerged in fall 2014, in response to the significant cultural changes that had been underway at Berkeley for a number of years. Where previously organizations that consulted with faculty were inclined to work within their silos rather than crossing organizational boundaries, budget cuts, staffing changes, and a realignment of campus priorities had led organizations to see the value of collaboration, or at least improved communication. While this communication was already taking place on the individual level, there had not been an event that had consciously tried to draw together the widest possible range of staff and librarian organizations that provide consulting support around both research and teaching.

Consulting Summit, April 2017

The April 2017 summit will be held April 20th in BIDS:

What research, teaching, and learning tools are the most important for campus? How can we maintain trust with the researchers and students we support as we make difficult budget choices about reducing or eliminating services? On April 20th from 10 - 2:30, the April 2017 Consulting Summit will partner with the Reimagining IT initiative to get your input on these and other difficult and pressing questions.

We’ll be looking at the results of a recent survey of campus researchers and instructors focused on their prioritization of 21 campus services for teaching and research, and seeking your input on how to best interpret the results. Over lunch, we’ll hear from two emerging trend working groups -- secure data and visualization -- about their progress during the last six months. After lunch, we’ll have an open and frank discussion of trust in difficult budgetary times. When communities are stressed, what kinds of relationships help the community survive? How can we maintain trust when it’s necessary to eliminate support areas or limit the extent to which we can help people?

Consulting Summit, October 2016

The October 2016 summit was organized by a committee with representation from Research IT, ETS, the Library, and the D-Lab. Following opening remarks reflecting on how the  campus landscape has evolved since the first summit, Patrick Schmitz and Chris Hoffman presented on the Reimagining IT initiative. The working groups formed at the April 2016 Consulting Summit each presented the work they undertook during the previous six months. The Consulting Assessment working group described initial findings from a set of interviews with organizations that offer consulting, exploring assessment through the lenses of operations, user experience design, and impact. While the working group has finished its work, a number of summit attendees were interested in ongoing discussions to share best practices. The Consulting Portal working group demonstrated their proof-of-concept directory of campus consulting services, developed for an initial audience of service providers. The Emerging Trends working group presented a list of trends that seem to be receiving adequate support, as well as ones where additional support is needed. Summit participants signed up for trends that they were interested in supporting, and the Emerging Trends working group will follow up with volunteers about forming working groups around those topics.

The highlight of the summit was the panel of consultees, moderated by University Librarian Jeff MacKie-Mason. Four panelists brought a wide range of perspectives: Ani Adhikari is a teaching professor of statistics, Alice Kang is the program manager for Integrative Cancer Research Group and the Center for Integrative Research on Childhood Leukemia and the Environment, Laura Nelson is a BIDS and Digital Humanities postdoc who received her PhD from UC Berkeley, and Kate O’Neill is an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. One of the most significant common threads in their diverse experiences was the difficulty of finding what kind of help is available on campus.

Consulting Summit, April 2016

Research IT once again took the lead in organizing the April 2016 summit, inviting all original attendees as well as sending personal invitations to contacts in a number of smaller departmental support groups that could benefit from expanding their network of campus connections. Attendance was similar to the first consulting summit, with 40 attendees representing a slightly different set of 15 organizations. Campus CIO Larry Conrad was among the participants.

The cross-training, workflows and referrals group presented their taxonomy, and the emerging trends working group led an activity to solicit new and emerging trends across campus from the participants. Of the original set of working groups, only the emerging trends group felt it would be useful to continue for at least another six months. A new set of working groups were established, with the goal of presenting their work in October 2016. The working groups coming out of the April 2016 consulting summit were:

  1. Emerging trends working group, continuing from October 2015
  2. A “consulting portal” that aspires to aggregate information about consulting services and spaces, and how these resources might support researchers at specific points in research lifecycles
  3. Assessment of consulting services -- both quantitative and qualitative -- with an emphasis on identifying effective ways for organizations to share their impact with campus leadership
  4. Leveraging the expertise of faculty and students, to help people learn from their peers and develop communities of practice

Following the April consulting summit, Research IT presented on the consulting summits at the May One IT Summit. A formal organizing committee was established, led by David Greenbaum (Research IT) and Jenn Stringer (ETS), with additional representation from the D-Lab and the Library.

Consulting planning meeting, October 2015

All participants in the original consulting summit were invited to the consulting planning meeting, with the stipulation that attendees would be expected to participate in a working group leading up to the next consulting summit. Ten organizations were represented at the consulting planning meeting.

The consulting planning meeting featured a presentation of the work being done as part of the Faculty Engagement and Consulting Project (FECP, a joint initiative of Research IT and ETS). Attendees were invited to provide feedback on a draft charter for consulting summits, as well as contribute to a lightweight, Google Docs-based directory of programs that offer consulting, to facilitate making referrals across organizations. Other consultants who were unable to attend the planning meeting were be invited to provide input into these documents after the meeting.

Participants formed four working groups:

  1. Support for digital projects, led by Mary Elings from the Bancroft Library
  2. Information-sharing and identifying trends, led by Cody Hennesy from the Library
  3. Cross-training, workflows and referrals, led by Aaron Culich and Rick Jaffe from Research IT (members included: Meggan Levitt, Richard Freishtat, Rita Conrad, Jim Church, Jon Stiles)
  4. A “consulting co-op” to provide a framework for individuals to receive and and use “credit” for providing consultation, led by Kevin Koy from BIDS

Working groups had an initial meeting to define their own scope, as well as the deliverables they would present at the April 2016 consulting summit.

Between the planning meeting and the April consulting summit, two of these groups emerged as particularly active. The cross-training, workflows and referrals group evolved over the course of six months into a cross-departmental community of practice. Members of this group visited each other’s spaces and deepened their understanding of how other organizations that provide consulting operate, which increased their ability to make constructive referrals to those other organizations. Group members sat in on one another’s consulting engagements, which at times evolved into co-consulting as the observing consultant contributed his or her perspective on the issues at hand. The group also developed a “taxonomy” that described common steps undertaken as part of consulting engagements. The digital projects working group provided input on the final taxonomy document. The emerging trends group was also active on an ongoing basis, and developed an interactive activity to present at the April consulting summit.

Consulting Summit, January 2015

The first consulting summit was jointly organized by Research IT, the D-Lab, the Library, ETS, and BIDS. More than 40 participants from over 15 organizations participated. In many cases, it was the first time participants had met, or had carried on a substantive conversation around consulting practice. The agenda was open-ended and designed to facilitate discussion among participants. Several needs were identified through these conversations:

1) Doing a better job of referring researchers to available campus services or consultation resources that meet their specific needs.

2) Coordinating publication of event listings (particularly trainings and workshops) to improve visibility of these resources and opportunities for scholars and the staff who support them.

3) Tracking consultations across multiple organizations to develop metrics on populations served, to identify sets of services and resources required, and to measure effectiveness.

After the summit, all attendees were added to a mailing list to keep them informed about future developments. The Library, in consultation with CDL, ETS, and Research IT, worked towards developing a pilot directory of consultation resources and services for campus researchers. Research IT explored ways that event listings could be aggregated from the multiple web sites and systems through which they are currently announced.

While participants expressed broad interest in reconvening in 3-6 months, competing priorities and a lack of clear next steps postponed planning efforts until fall 2015. After consulting with partner organizations, Research IT moved forward with organizing a consulting planning meeting that would lay the groundwork for the next consulting summit.