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Thousands of people worldwide serve on advisory groups for government agencies, nonprofit organizations, schools, and universities, to name a few. In some cases the group and its activities and deliberations are a fulfilling experience for the volunteer members and for the organization or agency that is being advised.
Volunteer programs, especially the very large ones, can benefit from engaging people in providing advice and counsel on a variety of topics. In this and subsequent issues of Volunteer Today, we will tackle the “how-to” of creating and sustaining an effective advisory group. In this issue we focus on the types or styles of advisory groups available to the manager of volunteers or other paid staff or the leadership in an all-voluntary organization.
The first step in having an advisory committee is to determine what type of advisory group is needed. Engagement of those affiliated with the program or organization is a useful way to gain participation and input from those most impacted by decisions.
Begin by asking questions
What information can be gained from people advising on current programs and practices?
Will having an advisory board increase the transparency of the decision-making process?
Is there an issue that needs study before moving on?
Is the program too large and/or complex to gather this information informally?
Is there a staff person with the appropriate skills to oversee this group? (Badly managed and staffed advisory groups are worse than none at all)
Are there sufficient people available who meet the criteria of membership to serve on the advisory group?
Citizen Advisory Committee
The most common type of advisory group is one with serial meetings whose task is to understand programs, funding, and deliberate current and future issues, advising on direction. It is not governance.
There are minutes and guidelines to spell out the membership criteria and terms of service.
Usually the leadership is elected from within the group.
The task force is also advisory, but on a specific issue or situation. The task for this group is to provide solutions or recommendations for action, often by paid staff or leadership volunteers.
Leaders are usually appointed by the convening organization.
Representatives from those impacted by the issue
Time is always limited, but can last as long as a year, depending on complexity of the issue
This is a committee, usually of government, that is appointed by elected officials. Frequently the board is established by the laws or regulations of a governmental body. These advisory groups usually have more authority than most advisory groups; i.e., library board, planning commission for county or city government, parks and recreation advisory committee.
Members are appointed by governmental entity.
Members apply for open positions
Members must usually be a resident of the governmental entity appointing the volunteers
Frequently a term of service in years
The emphasis for this type of advisory group is on gathering perspectives, insights, and opinions of participants through conversation and interaction. There is a skilled and trained facilitator, who is viewed as neutral. Deliberations of the group are usually videotaped.
People who provide a cross section of views on the topic.
Need for people in favor of the idea and those opposed and those with no opinion, yet.
On occasion selection can be random
Size is usually 8-12 people
Most focus groups meet once.
During a recent US Presidential election, groups were consulted periodically for months leading up to the election
These advisory groups are made up of people who meet regularly over a period of weeks or months to address a critical public issue in a democratic, collaborative way. Participants examine the issue from many points of view and identify areas of common ground. They emerge with recommendations for action that will benefit the community.
Groups are usually around 8 – 12 in size
Groups are open to anyone interested in the topic
Members do the research and report to the group.
Duration depends on the topic under study. Can be weeks or months, rarely more than 1 year.
Liberally adapted from information at http://www.uap.vt.edu/cdrom/tools/tools2-2.htm