To top of page

Story: Innovation in an association of management consultants

The board of an association of management consultants wants to innovate, to play a role as sparring partner in social issues in the Netherlands, like innovation of the public sector. They adopted innovation as theme of the year 2004. With a group of four members we started a workforce to investigate the questions: "How did this organization deal with innovation so far? What crucial, noticeable results in the past can be marked as innovation?"

We talked a lot about our approach. Time was a restraining factor, since the investigators and the members of this network organization have to perform this project in their spare time. We decided to align as much as possible with events that were already planned. Like the annual marketplace, a workshop of theme groups, a conference on innovation.

What we did:

  • Study a lot of documents: annual reports, newsletters, research reports
  • Visit four insiders and one outsider to note their stories on innovation in this association
  • Discuss our observations in the research group
  • Categorize observations and narratives
  • Make a two-column "building blocks" document with notes and reflections
  • Make a time line
  • Make causal loop diagrams and flow diagrams
  • Present elements at the annual meeting (market place form, see photo); we invited members to comment, verify and add their stories
  • Present this further developed story at a gathering of 45 key-members in the year theme innovation; some board members were there
  • Present and discuss this method at the conference "organization of innovation" in a parallel session


  • The method of qualitative research appeared to be relatively unknown in this association, so the members were pleasantly surprised
  • The lack of a sponsor gives a lot of freedom, independency, but brings also great tension between ambition of the learning historians and available time
  • We still have to discuss the "history" with the board; there seems to emerge a cycle in the desire to innovate that is linked to the economic cycle: In periods of recession there is lot of time available, the ambition to start new things rises, in times of growths attention is shrinking because most consultants have a lot of work to do. 


  • Does the board want to know?

Driving forces in dealing with innovation



Presentation and member check
 in market stall