Last edited 09 Oct 2015

Using ‘local-consultants’ for out-of-country projects

Consultants may undertake design work for out-of-country projects; for example in developing countries which do not have some or all of the capabilities in-country, or organisations, for their own strategic reasons, may decide to procure the design works out-of-country. It may otherwise be impossible, due to local legislation and restrictive practices, for consultants to set up fully-functioning multi-discipline in-country offices. Whatever the reason, it may be necessary to employ local-consultants, on a sub-contract basis.

Typically, by engaging a local-consultant, consultants feel they have demonstrated to the client that they have ‘ticked the box’ of having all the local knowledge required to deliver a complete design. However, these arrangements do not always work as envisaged: the designs are not appropriate for the locale they are intended for and the statutory processes are not as seamless as envisaged. Often the blame for poor performance is placed, by the consultant, on their local-consultant. However, it is just as likely to be the consultant who needs to review their approach to the relationship.

With respect to the scope of works for the local-consultants, consultants often cover the bare-minimum of duties; for example:

  • Advising on the local hierarchy of legislation, its interpretations and ways and means of deviating against them. This may be particularly challenging when the local regulatory systems are not sufficiently well developed or robust in terms of processes and procedures: there may be tacit requirements which are not published.
  • Facilitating communication with local enforcing authorities, particularly regarding their processes and requirements for materials and workmanship.
  • Providing services only available to locally registered consultants; for example, duties associated with permits and applications to the equivalent of Building Control and for utility services suppliers.

However, by strictly limiting the scope of works, consultants fail to benefit from the experience of local consultants with respect to their knowledge of local suppliers and distributors, particularly with respect to maintenance and spare-parts, and knowledge of local weather conditions and microclimates. Consultants may also miss out on important input from other stakeholders, particularly those with no contractual links to the projects. Lack of such dialogue leads to guesswork, which introduces unnecessary risks to the project.

Other issues to consider when engaging local consultants include:

Use of technology

Obviously, local-consultants will be non-collocated with the consultant and collaborating for relatively short periods during the design and construction of facilities, thus the technology to facilitate communication; for example, web extranets and knowledge management technologies, needs to be properly planned and executed.

Cultural sensitivity

Projects and relationships can be severely hampered because of inconsiderateness and lack of appropriate intercultural awareness and respect. This includes language and differences associated with age, gender, religion, race, culture and educational parity. Developing cross-cultural communication skills and addressing cultural barriers to effectively communicate and interface with professionals from other cultures is becoming critical for international projects.

A good relationship between consultants and their local consultants will benefit the design process leading to a better design, with fewer issues arising during the construction and occupation stages.


This article has been contributed by Jackie Portman

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