Head of Research & Evaluation, Dr Louisa Thomson, shares what she gets up to in a week leading Renaisi’s consultancy team.

Hastings Pier

I’ve worked at Renaisi for five years and I lead our team of research and evaluation consultants. My background spans academia, politics, and local government, but the variety and diversity of working in a consultancy environment has always been (strangely) addictive.

All consultants will tell you that no week is the same.  This is true. They will also talk wistfully about how August is a quiet month for catching up with neglected tasks as many organisations press pause on issuing tenders. This is a lie.

In light of both of these things, I’m going to give you a whistle-stop tour of what I might get up to in a (not so) average week at Renaisi.

Project work

Renaisi’s consultancy team supports a whole range of organisations with research, evaluation, learning and strategic advice. Alongside other senior members of staff, I am Project Director on a number of contracts where I provide a steer when needed or review different outputs.

I’m a qualitative researcher by training and keeping my hand in with fieldwork is an important part of my ongoing development (and sanity) at work. Before the pandemic hit, I still did interviews and visits. Wintery trips to Hastings in 2019 as part of our research project for Defra on mental health, wellbeing, and the natural environment were a particular highlight.

More recently, I’ve been facilitating workshops and meetings for the places I support on the Place-Based Social Action programme, and through our ongoing role as the learning partner on Esmée Fairbairn’s Leaving Care funding stream. I’ve also been managing a large family ethnography project for Impact on Urban Health which is entering its final stage.

Across our projects, we’ve collaborated with illustrators, video ethnographers, made podcasts, spoken to people on park benches and in fields, and joined in with making pottery. I love that our projects take us in new methodological directions that hopefully make research more accessible and even enjoyable for participants.

Louisa Thomson at IntoU event
Louisa at an event with video ethnographer Elliot Manches.

New business

We’re a social enterprise and the consultancy team business model is based on securing work from external clients. As a result, our annual income target is firmly imprinted on my mind.

Each week I look through tender opportunities as well as considering other leads and conversations that might result in new work. I discuss with colleagues what we should go for – and then who will develop the bid. Writing proposals and going to pitches is an essential part of the team’s work.

Internal meetings, admin and processes

A significant proportion of my week is inward-facing.  That might include delivering a training session, preparing updates for the Senior Management Team, or meeting with the Senior Project Managers to discuss resourcing, project performance, team management and business development.

Over the years we’ve become much better at collecting data (for example, on how we spend our time) although there’s always room for improvement! There are certain crunch points in the month that always seem to creep up on me.

Other less defined aspects of my role include: watering the office plants, making coffee that some people feel is too strong, and hunting down lost dictaphones.

Office life

I’m a big fan of our light, colourful and airy workspace. We’re located near several excellent bakeries (E5 Bakehouse and Popham’s) and London Fields Lido – and conveniently the latter helps to mitigate against the effects of the former.

Like many companies, we are currently navigating hybrid patterns of working. We’ve had a few days recently where more colleagues have come in, and the office has a flickering of its former buzz. The person I’ve probably spent the most time with at the office this year is our Director Michael Toyer. We generally start the day with a gentle grumble on topics that include ‘essential’ cycling purchases, the role of procrastination when facing last-minute work, and pondering why no-one has emptied the office dishwasher.

I know that in the future it will be important to have at least a few days a month where most of the team are in the same place so they can join in with these fascinating conversations to brainstorm, share ideas and frustrations, and make decisions in-person. However, I’m moving on from Renaisi in October and it will be someone else who takes the team into its next phase. If anything in this post has inspired you – do get in touch.

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Louisa Thomson