Guest post by Emma Richens
Mattia joined Research Consulting in 2014 as our very first employee and has been with us ever since. Recently promoted to Principal Consultant, Mattia leads on delivery of some of our largest and most complex projects. We thought it would be a good idea for our readers to get to know him better!
What other jobs have you had? How have they shaped who you are today?
I started my career as a public policy geek, working for advocacy organisations on issues related to public governance, transparency and climate change. I also had a stint as a civil servant trainee and trailed the United Nations negotiations on climate change for some time. This work required a lot of knowledge, the ability to understand people and agendas, and good communication. In terms of raw skills, it was not a million miles away from consultancy.
Over the past five years, my career shifted towards the business sector. The transition started out of concern for the impact that communication technology was having on the politics of climate change – the old way of working suddenly felt anachronistic and ineffective. Technology was becoming politics, so I decided to found a startup to fight fake news and promote science. Being an entrepreneur requires self-motivation, discipline, grit, the ability to think outside of the box and a 100% focus on understanding what the customers really want (as opposed to what they say they want). All skills that a consultant should have. I always challenged myself professionally, and thanks to these experiences I can relate to the needs and ways of working of our clients whether they are in the public or private sector.
How did you first hear about Research Consulting? What made you apply?
I joined Research Consulting over 4 years ago out of passion for science and innovation. The company was working on open access (i.e. the movement to make scientific research freely accessible to the public), a cause that pandered to my frustration with online misinformation. I joined part-time whilst working on my startup and have stayed ever since. Juggling the consultancy work with managing a growing company was really hard, and I worked in excess of 80 hours a week for several years – not great for my personal life. But working with Research Consulting was great in many ways: we are doing great work that has an impact, I am learning a lot in different fields, and I am completely in tune with the mission, vision and approach of the company. So, here we are now…
What is your area of expertise at Research Consulting?
I came in as the policy guy but my role has changed over the years. I worked on projects that are closer to typical management consultancy, and I used my startup experience to advise clients launching new tech products in scholarly communication and research data management. I also got passionate about the innovation coming out of academic research, and the ways in which this can be used in policy or commercialized. I did not appreciate all the work that goes into translating scientific discoveries into technical or policy advances – it’s a fascinating area. I am now managing a large project that looks at strengthening research systems in Africa, which aims to help the UK Government formulate a solid strategy to drive innovation and development across the continent. It’s very exciting.
What skills do you think are important when working in this sector and job role?
To be a consultant, you have to be knowledgeable and able to learn fast. When I started, I thought analytical and project management skills were the most important ones, but now I think client management is at least as important. Figuring out what clients really want is often as challenging as figuring out how we can give it to them, so understanding the needs, goals and ways of working of our clients is key. As I now spend more time working at the company, I will also dedicate more attention to managing budgets, staff and associates. With our ever-changing teams and projects, we use a dynamic approach to project management and keep a close eye on project risk factors.
What are your professional goals now working at RC is your main role?
I have always been driven by impact, so my number one goal is to be involved in ambitious projects that have a positive effect on issues I care about. I have two goals for the company: the first is to secure bigger, more ambitious and more impactful projects. I want to continue developing our relationship with anchor clients and identify new ways we can help them over the long term. Under Rob’s leadership and with Dan King joining in 2018, the company has grown a lot over the past few years and we now have the capacity, and experience, to manage larger projects. My second goal is to help improve management processes internally so that we all work more efficiently as a team, without sacrificing any of the quality that we give to our clients. Companies often grow faster than their management capacity, and while this is not the case at Research Consulting, a bigger team and bigger projects present new challenges to maintaining healthy margins and mental sanity… We often speak about these things as a company, so I am keen to test ideas that can improve the way we work internally and with our clients.
Tell me about the professional accomplishments you take pride in.
This is such a difficult question, it’s hard to choose one example. In general, I like the way I challenge conventional thinking and seek impact through innovation. I’ll give you a few examples. Nine years ago, I set up a sustainable development project in Ecuador that worked with rural communities to find economic alternatives to slash-and-burn agriculture. It reframed local communities from being part of the problems to being part of the solution. More recently, my startup launched a news aggregation app that did not get traction. We were in financial trouble, but because we had engaged with media companies in the process we learnt about their challenges and changed the product to serve their needs. At Research Consulting, we are constantly faced with projects where the old way of doing things is no longer working, and we need to come up with new solutions that our client can implement in practice. We deliver knowledge where it matters and when it matters. What binds these experiences together is that they all take confidence to innovate, all use a structured process to validate new ideas, and all rely on the ability to bring stakeholders around the table and shape the solution.
What’s the best career decision you’ve ever made?
I think my best career decision was not going into academia, which was the most logical option after getting a PhD. Academia is a great career path, full of perks, intellectual challenge and freedom to innovate. But I like working with people in fast-paced environments and I like to see that my work has an immediate and measurable impact. That’s why working in a consultancy is a much better fit for me.