Date Submitted: 3/22/2022
Passing judgement on organizations that offer me research consultancies ?
When you are hired as a consultant, your job is to complete the work outlined in the terms of reference of your consultancy, period. If you have been asked explicitly to evaluate the organization's work, then do so in the "unbiased and well executed" manner that you carry out your research more generally. If you are hired to carry out other research tasks, then it is not appropriate to offer unsolicited advice/judgement. While some consultants may indeed "have an axe to grind," you should you assume that your work is being carried out independently of their efforts and that your judgements are in no way contingent on theirs.
I’m not entirely sure how to interpret your question. Is the organization asking you specifically to pass judgment? If not, is your question whether to accept the consultancy or turn it down? In my view if you can provide sound, unbiased research then I think there is nothing unethical about accepting the consultancy and speaking truth to power. I think the problem you may arrive at is when they ask you to write up findings as part of your consultancy that you feel compromise your ability to truly speak truth to power. Even so, then I think you’re dealing in shades of grey. There is what you will write which (especially if they must make it public somehow) will need to be tailored to the organization in ways you may not prefer, so know your bottom line: I draw it at outright fabrication or sins of important omission, but there are other nuances you can only grasp in a specific context. Bear in mind that much of the consulting will go on behind the scenes. I am at this moment engaged with a stakeholder who is unhappy with the draft I’ve prepared because it sounds ‘judgmental.’ I’m open to negotiating the tone of what I’ve written, and reframing some content to make it more palatable, but I’m not going to compromise my research principles to be told what to write, and you can bet that I’ll be taking advantage of the ‘briefing’ and ‘review and comment’ dialogues to be pressing my perspective as a neutral academic more forcefully in person than I may be permitted to do in print. At any rate, if your qualm is whether to accept the consultancy at all, my view is that it is better to do so, and have an inroad to communicate critical insights. It’s not a choice between passing judgment by passing up the consultancy, or becoming a tool of the stakeholder. There is a broad middle ground where you can locate considerable power and value, and I encourage you to try it – but, know your bottom line.