12 July 2012

Public meeting challenge? Send in the working groups.

There has been much informative discussion this week on the topic of advisory committees, or working groups as they are sometimes called, at the NCI Charrette System™ training at the Michigan State University Extension in Lansing. A number of participants have spoken about the positive role that working groups have played in their projects. Working groups can be particularly effective in communities in which people will entrust this committee to become experts, advise and create ideas that become options to be investigated at a charrette. In some communities however, the community members at large prefer to be involved and “do it all” in large workshops rather than have some parts of the process filtered through a working group. For this reason, it is important to use some care in getting to know your community and deciding whether or not an advisory community is the right tool to use.
The working group is comprised of community members representing all crucial viewpoints such as business, housing, environmental, pedestrians and bicycle advocates, faith-based organizations and other interests. This group should also have representation from different geographic areas. Minority and under-served groups must be represented. These working group members gather to work on behalf of the project. They should commit to attend educational sessions and recruit other community members to attend public meetings and the charrette. A key objective of creating a working group is to assure the presence of a well-informed, diverse set of participants at public meetings and the charrette. In this way, working groups can be an indispensable strategy for assuring a balanced set of viewpoints are present during the charrette and especially at public meetings.