When arranging project cooperation or delivering training sessions, one of the important first steps is how to adjust expectations. We talk about what we can realize, the steps required and the implementation timeframes, we define responsibilities and the desired outcomes; we sometimes formalize these discussions into a written agreement that is also legally binding, such as agreements within Erasmus+ projects, and sometimes the result of our activities is consolidated through other forms of documents, such as Europass Mobility document.
Arranging or contracting sometimes may be burdensome for us as practitioners, as it requires additional time for paperwork, as well as additional time for discussions with associates and training participants. Sometimes this process takes place simultaneously with other work tasks, so we are not quite aware of the process itself and the steps in the process. To be able to follow the process of contracting and develop routine to support us in that process, we will present the key parts of that process below. The process of contracting, defining outcomes and adjusting expectations may be found in different theories dealing with teaching process or training. Below is the summary of different theories, which mostly rely on the application of transactional analysis in education.
Why is it important to have the contracting process in mind?
A contract is an agreement of all parties on joint work and whether it is legally binding or not, written or verbal; it is a summary of all joint goals and methods of operating. When we are clear about what we strive for and we have clearly assigned responsibilities, then both expectations and goals are clearly defined. For example: what the responsibility of trainer is to training participants, and what to organization that hired that trainer; what the trainer requires from the organization, and what from the training participants. The advantages of the contract are that the common understanding of expectations and a common goal encourage engagement and motivation of all the participants in a process, as the common goal they are headed to is clear.
Which are the parts of the contracting process?
Contracting has three aspects: administrative (procedural), professional and psychological.
Procedural aspect is focused on defining topics such as deadlines, responsibilities (who is in charge of which tasks), defining the expenses and responsibilities, what happens when the deadlines are not met, when there is cancellation, etc. In this aspect of contracting, it is very important to rely on good practices and different experiences to define all relevant tasks, for example the list of all expenses, what happens when the trainer or participants cancel their participation, how many hours a training session can last, etc.
The aim of the professional aspect of a contract is to define the outcome of the joint work, for example which competences the participants will gain after the training. It is of particular importance here to formulate the training outcomes so as to be comprehensible by all the parties included in the process, meaning that the objectives will sometimes be presented to the organization and participants in a different manner. It is also important to define these objectives whenever we can so as to make them measurable, and that both the participants and the trainer can observe whether they have been achieved. Within this aspect, it is also important to consider how the relevant actors contribute to the objectives, for example what the tasks of participants are, which skills and knowledge they use during training, and what the task of the trainer is, for example preparation of materials, selection of relevant examples, etc. In this step it is important to consider whether trainers and the organization members possess appropriate competences, i.e. whether they are competent enough to deal with a certain topic and task. During this step, it is also very important to have in mind that our ethical responsibility as a professional is to say to which extent we can deal with certain tasks, and which are the tasks we find we are not competent for, for example honestly state when we are not the appropriate lecturer for some topic or which are the target groups we do not work with.
Psychological aspect of contracting pertains to creating the cooperative atmosphere: how to create mutual respect and appreciation, how to show that we trust one another. Cooperative psychological contract means that, as trainers, we will enable our participants to make their own decisions on how to apply what they have learned, and it also means that we will recognize their prior experience. On the other hand, training participants will respect trainer’s competences and training structure. This aspect of contracting shows us that, in order to create cooperative relationship with the participants, it is important first to create cooperative atmosphere with all other associates, to create space for high-quality training, for example to be able to have all the required materials, to be able to select the method of work, and, if needed, to be able to dismiss some of the participants from the training, etc.
How to make this complex process simple?
Each contracting situation will have certain specificities, and we cannot have one recipe that can be easily applied to all situations. We can look back on our experience in arranging with associates and training participants and make a checklist of the most important issues for each of the above aspects, for example defining the working conditions, defining the outcomes clearly. If we consider contracting with training participants, it is also important to dedicate one segment of training to arranging the method of work and normalization of expectations, for example “we will not learn everything about that topic, but we will know the following…². Finally, it is important to keep in mind that contracting means that one party might refuse cooperation, and that it is a normal part of the process, and not a failure, as the aim of contracting is to find out whether we can cooperate at a given moment in time or not.
We will deal with the topic of contracting in the following period, too, so we invite you to follow the new texts that will elaborate on each of these aspects, and deal with the topic of tripartite contracting in particular. We invite you to share your good practices and questions on this topic with us in your comments.