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26 CHAPTER five Conclusion Based on this analysis of the literature review, agency and the country indicated little consistency between committee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) survey, and size, membership composition, level of formality, manage- case studies, MPOs and transit agencies throughout the ment structure, or any other aspect of committee organization country can follow clear successful practices for the involve- or structure. For example, respondents reported success- ment of advisory committees in transit planning and opera- ful committees with a full range of authority levels and no tions. Some areas could benefit from additional research. discernible correlation could be made between committee This chapter will review both. success and committee size. The case studies suggest that, although no one approach guarantees successful involve- ment, effectiveness stems from careful planning and atten- Conclusions tion to the needs of the agency or MPO and the community when forming and operating advisory committees. Transit agencies and MPOs throughout the country involve advisory committees as part of public outreach and involve- ment activities to support decision making about day-to-day Key Lessons Learned operations, policy issues, service or fare changes, long-range planning, and capital project planning and construction. Clear expectations and communication about committee Advisory committee involvement happens at all types of roles and responsibilities contribute to an advisory commit- agencies and cuts across geography, agency or MPO size, tee's success. and complexity of planning activities undertaken by an agency or MPO. Each of the agencies profiled in the case studies noted the importance of committee members understanding their role, Even as the public involvement tools and techniques have responsibilities, and decision-making authority. Committees grown in diversity and sophistication, advisory committees can fill a variety of roles from serving as a sounding board have maintained currency. While Web-based surveys and that responds to proposals to making decisions, but mem- hands-on workshops provide new opportunities for public bers can feel frustrated if they do not understand their role feedback, advisory committees provide agencies with input at the outset. Successful committees can take many forms, that is uniquely grounded in knowledge from consistent but expectations about a committee's role need to be aligned involvement of and dialogue among participants with differ- with the agency's needs, the community's participation cul- ent points of view. Committee members, by virtue of ongo- ture, and available resources. ing involvement, provide informed feedback to agencies and act as liaisons between agencies and their constituents. Expectations about things that seem mundane on the surface, such as the participation of committee alternates, The practice of involving advisory committees has grown decision-making quorum requirements, attendance expec- in sophistication. Most committees adopt protocols for com- tations, and staff roles (e.g., preparation of meeting sum- munication and decision making at the outset of the process, maries, distribution of meeting materials), are important and many agencies provide committees with a clear charge, to clarify early in the process. For standing committees, or statement of responsibilities. Even with these strides this may take the form of operating bylaws that are consis- in committee management and facilitation, agencies and tent even as members rotate on or off the committee. For MPOs have room for improved practices, including commit- ad hoc committees, these decisions may be made during an tee management and evaluation of effectiveness. early committee meeting or be determined by staff. When determining expectations, it is important to think through This synthesis summarizes a variety of committee struc- the staff's ability to meet expectations established for com- tures, organization, and management philosophies that mittee members. Committee staff might consider whether support successful committees--the bottom line is that the project schedule will allow for distributing materials a managing successful committees cannot follow a cookie- full week before each meeting or if full meeting minutes (as cutter approach. The survey of agencies and MPOs across opposed to meeting summaries) will be prepared.
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27 For committees that operate by consensus, defining what Some agencies, particularly those with standing commit- consensus means can be helpful in moving toward decisions. tees, reported complex selection processes. In some standing Public involvement practitioners often define consensus as committee cases, new members were selected by existing the point at which all members can agree that the decision committee members without assistance from staff. In many is best for the community as a whole. Reaching consensus cases, final approval of committee appointments comes from is easier when all committee members are operating with the transit agency or the MPO's governing body. the same expectation about what this means. In addition, the successful groups often agree ahead of time what to do if Although smaller committees might be easier to man- consensus cannot be reached--for example, will the group age or may advance decision making more easily, agencies continue discussions, ask for additional technical work, or that tended toward larger committees noted that the more note majority and minority positions and move on? comprehensive representation of community diversity and viewpoints inherent in a larger committee outweighed the Confusion and frustration can emerge among commit- drawbacks. In cases such as the Central Corridor Light Rail tee members when their role in the decision structure is not Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) in the Twin Cities or clearly defined. If authority is not clearly defined, committee TriMet's advisory committees in Portland, Oregon, larger members might expect to be decision makers--a role that is committees allowed agencies to include appropriate diversity. often reserved for executive staff or elected officials. Clearly In any case, practitioners agree that the size of the commit- articulating where committees sit in the decision-making tee could be considered in the context of overall availability structure, what kinds of decisions they can affect, and how of resources to manage the committee and the skills of the their input will be communicated to and used by decision facilitator. As a general rule, larger committees require more makers can reduce confusion and frustration. The commit- management time, longer meetings, and more sophisticated tee's role or authority can change over time as projects or facilitation skills to successfully fulfill their charges. programs progress or as agency or MPO needs change. This change in itself is not negative, but it is critical to communi- Agencies throughout the country engage people of dif- cate these changes to the committee as they occur. ferent backgrounds and abilities as part of advisory commit- tees. With careful planning and support, committee members These expectations can be communicated through char- who have limited English reading or speaking abilities, who tering or protocol-setting documents, adopted committee have disabilities, or who have different levels of experience bylaws, or formal chartering sessions. The importance of with public policy and group decision making can partici- setting protocols cannot be overstated. Establishing clear pate meaningfully in an advisory committee. In practice, expectations, roles, reporting relationships, and committee staff awareness of the different needs and experiences of structure is paramount to committee success. If the com- committee members can result in a better experience for all mittee's role changes over time, those changes can be com- committee members. In addition, a good understanding of municated by revisiting the chartering documents, bylaws, the demographic and interest groups in a corridor can sup- or agreements. port the identification of an appropriate range of stakeholder group members. This understanding may be intuitive for a It is important that committee membership be carefully staff person who has a long history of working in a commu- considered, and the need for representation of all viewpoints nity; when it is not intuitive, stakeholder interviews, review be balanced with the need to maintain a manageable com- of local newspapers and blogs, and discussions with local mittee size. staff can help determine who stakeholders might be. Agencies surveyed and featured in case studies carefully Agencies tended to have strong opinions about the appro- considered committee membership. Many agencies devel- priateness of including elected officials or staff as part of an oped matrixes or other tools to ensure representation of key advisory committee. In some communities, including staff viewpoints and demographic groups. These tools were used or elected officials is commonplace. Reported benefits of this both by agencies that selected members directly and those approach included building trust between local governments that selected members through an open application process. and community members, transparent decision making, and The range of viewpoints needed on a committee generally an increased understanding of the total context of decision are identified through interviews with local jurisdiction staff, making (i.e., budget constraints vs. community desires). key community leaders or stakeholders, or planners, manag- Other agencies were strongly opposed to this practice on the ers, or community outreach specialists with knowledge of basis that advisory committees are places for community the community. Many practitioners report that procedures members to provide input and that other venues are provided to add a viewpoint to a committee, if an unexpected issue for staff or elected officials to provide input. These agencies arises or if it becomes clear that a viewpoint is not repre- believed that combining the groups would lead to confusion sented, are important. about roles and dilute the mission of advisory committees.