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28 Ultimately, the composition of committees is a decision that ings themselves, and drafted their own recommendations. every agency or MPO makes in the context of its overall In other cases, agencies planned for committee meetings decision-making structure. by developing agendas and presentation materials, meeting with committee members off-line, and writing committee Agencies find value in the input provided by advisory reports. The bottom line is that committees can be under- committees and think of them as an indispensable part of the taken with limited or extensive resources; however, it is public involvement process. important that they be designed carefully to fit the resources available to support them. Most agencies find the benefits of including an advisory committee in a project--such as the consistent participa- Committee evaluation can lead to improved effectiveness. tion of knowledgeable community members, transparency in the decision-making process, and sharing of information Agencies that regularly evaluate the effectiveness of between members--outweigh the drawbacks. The agencies individual meetings or an overall committee process report featured in the case studies tended to report on advisory improvements based on feedback. However, most agencies committees as a standard, expected part of the process by do not evaluate the effectiveness of their committees from community members, staff, and officials. the viewpoint of either committee members or agency staff, and they do not have objective targets from which to gauge Agencies noted that advisory committees supported success. a thorough outreach process not only because they pro- vided public input into the decision-making process, but also because the advisory committee members held staff Areas for Additional Research accountable for early and credible public outreach in the community. Advisory committee members often provided The following questions and discussion provide some sug- input about outreach methods that would be most effective in gestions about future study that could advance MPO and their communities. In this way, advisory committees are an agency practices related to the effective involvement of advi- important part of a public involvement program, but they do sory committees in transit planning and operations. not replace the need for other outreach methods. What advisory committee structures and designs work Most agencies reported serious consideration of advisory best and how does a practitioner choose a structure? committee input and recommendations by decisions makers. In many cases, advisory committees reported their recom- Handbooks on public involvement provide guidance on mendations or input to decision makers in their own words establishing and managing some types of advisory com- through committee-authored written recommendations, mittees and generally are focused on project-level planning. committee presentations, or communication between a com- Additional guidance on the full range of advisory commit- mittee's chairperson and decision makers. tees from sounding boards providing individual input to decision-making task forces, including information on how Many agencies employ professional public involvement to select the best advisory committee structure for a project, staff to support committees and other outreach activities. agency, or MPO's needs could be useful to practitioners. Many agencies noted the involvement of professional How can standing committees be established, managed, public involvement staff. Several agencies interviewed for and involved? case studies noted that teams of outreach staff support major capital projects. These staff people both serve as liaisons to Although more than 100 agencies and MPOs reported the community and provide expertise in managing and facili- on the involvement of standing committees in the question- tating committees. In many cases, these specialists represent naire, little, if any, literature or guidance is published on the project, agency, or MPO in the public and carry public how to structure and manage these committees. The prac- input back to the agency, MPO, or project. In some cases, tical differences between standing committees and ad hoc agencies make a special effort to hire multilingual outreach committees require separate study or at the least research staff who can assist with reaching communities where Eng- that draws out the differences between the two. Practitioners lish language proficiency is limited. operating these committees have questions about member- ship duration and rotation, committee agendas and meeting The level of effort to manage advisory committees varies frequency, and reporting relationships that are not adequately greatly based on the amount of autonomy given to commit- addressed. Further study could provide guidance for agen- tees and their structures. In some cases, advisory commit- cies and MPOs that involve these types of committees and tees self-manage with limited participation by staff. A few could further benefit from consideration of agency size and committees developed their own agendas, documented meet- complexity in identifying successful practices.
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29 How can committee effectiveness be evaluated? membership and meetings led by a skilled professional facil- itator can be effective. Further research on the trade-offs of Relatively few agencies engaged in regular evaluation of each approach, including required staff resources, commit- committee effectiveness from the perspective of the agency tee member satisfaction, and committee effectiveness, would or committee members. Without thoughtful evaluation, it is help practitioners determine the most effective facilitator for difficult to know which advisory committee practices are the committee. truly effective and successful. In addition, a methodology for assessing the relative costs and benefits of inclusion of How can committees be involved in planning and opera- an advisory committee in an agency or MPO public involve- tions at smaller transit agencies and MPOs? ment program is not available. Further guidance on how to evaluate advisory committee effectiveness from the per- This synthesis report did not specifically ask about agency spectives of staff, decision makers, committee members, or MPO size in terms of operating or capital budget, transit and the public as well as guidance about how to evaluate the system complexity, or population served. Substantive differ- cost effectiveness of including advisory committees, could ences may exist between the ways committees are involved provide practitioners with useful tools for making the case at smaller agencies and MPOs compared with committees for involving or not involving advisory committees. This involved in larger agencies or between agencies involved in research could improve practices when advisory commit- smaller communities compared with bigger cities. The case tees are involved. studies in this synthesis are drawn exclusively from agencies and MPOs in larger cities. Further study on how advisory Who can most effectively facilitate meetings? committees are used in smaller communities or by smaller agencies and MPOs would help practitioners design success- Based on the results of the case studies and the survey, ful advisory committees that meet their needs, without over- meetings led by a chairperson elected from the committee's burdening resources.