The client-oriented-project option was created for students who are more interested in practical application of what they have learned than in scholarly research. This option includes both the comprehensive project and individual arrangements by students with clients. The project is in its essence a consulting job. As with any consulting job a contractual relationship should be formed between you and your client. While a formal contract may be unnecessary, certain essential matters should be resolved before the project is undertaken. It is good practice to include these understandings in a letter of agreement. Among the items which should be agreed upon are the following:
1. The scope of the work:
The comprehensive project/client project, whether a group or individual effort, goes beyond a mere technical, narrowly conceived report. Each topic must be placed within a broad policy context, including the history of the project, an analysis of the issues, and a literature review. The topic may grow out of a paid or unpaid job/internship assignment (which may be completed long before the comprehensive project). Individual position papers regarding the assignment cannot be submitted without being reworked into a comprehensive project format.
Examples of the above include:
a. You are assigned to do an analysis of park and recreation facilities in a locality; your objective is a needs assessment for a projected time period. The client project places the assignment within the context of recreation policy and changing patterns of use. Issues such as funding and maintenance should be addressed.
b. You are assigned to estimate projected shelter beds for a locality's housing element. The client project places the assignment within the context of housing and homelessness policy, exploring alternative financing and legislative scenarios.
c. You are assigned to create a development potential plan for a local community development corporation. The client wants to know which units need rehabilitation and what can be built in the neighborhood with minimum displacement.
2. Terms of payment (funds and in-kind contributions by the client):
The client may pay or provide in kind contributions for a comprehensive project. In some cases this may cover the narrower assignment that is part of an internship. In cases where money is available from a separate grant, the contract must set up what is paid for, (e.g. production costs). Where several people are concerned, decisions about allocating funds are difficult because work on one assignment may take longer than another or one person may work more than another. Given such problems which can affect group dynamics, funding priorities should be given to production costs, including materials, computer time, graphics, etc. A budget should be an integral part of the contract where funds are involved. In your budget, be sure to anticipate cases where clients may require money if asked to perform various tasks (a potentially sensitive point).
3. Access to and provision of information necessary for completion of the project by client:
Timely and usable data are important requirements for fulfilling any project. Mechanisms for obtaining data need to be worked out with the client prior to commencement of the project. The state of the data, (e.g. on disks, aggregated, years available, etc., and liaison for collecting data, etc.), needs to be determined.
4. Disclosure of the nature of the research and plans for dissemination to those interviewed:
Everyone is urged to be honest and forthright with the client. The client should be aware of your intentions. Certainly some research projects by their very nature will raise ethical issues for which there are no blanket solutions. These issues will have to be addressed as they develop.
5. The type of review by client (both periodic -- once or more per quarter -- and final):
Regular reviews and consistent interaction between student and client is stressed. Interaction may take the form of informal briefings. The contract should specify deliverables and dates of delivery for different types of products.
6. The form of the product:
The product may take several different forms, (e.g. memos, a report, an executive summary, a popular version (graphics, videos, etc.)). This should be identified in the contract. (Ask the Graduate Advisor, or refer to previous client projects in the Southern Regional Library Facility for examples.)
7. How the product will be distributed:
By whom: the student, the client or both; when: in progress or final product only, period of time client has to review before release; and to whom: including whether there will be public distribution of information such as in a press release, press conference, and/or publication.
8. The rights of the students and faculty to use the information collected in the project in other contexts (later publication and the like):
The client should be informed that the project must be filed with the university as a requirement for the degree and that the product is, therefore, a public document. While you and the client may agree to a planned, concerted effort to control the release of information, access to the report cannot be restricted upon demand. It should also be made clear to the client that the work is accomplished in completion of a masters degree, and the product is the student’s product and not that of the university.
Students should consult the code of ethics of the American Institute of Certified Planners in deciding how to resolve any disputes with clients. The code sets forth a dual responsibility to the client and to the public. Individual situations will have to be analyzed to resolve any conflicts within our obligations as planners. Finally, the client needs to be informed that while the client will be consulted on the acceptability of the product, the final decision on awarding of grades and the degree is up to the faculty and the university.