Citizens Advisory Boards are convened by government agencies to seek advice over time. Members are typically selected from diverse perspectives. As a cross-section of the broader community, they commit to spending time together to develop agreement on the advice they will provide to the sponsoring agency they serve.
Documenting the Citizens Advisory Board’s advice is an essential function. Their meetings must be documented, as well as their advice.
At a minimum, meeting records should include a list of people who attended, the agenda, informational materials (presentations and handouts) provided, and any meeting outcomes, including decisions and assigned actions. Citizens Advisory Board meetings can be recorded through audio- or video-tapes, detailed written minutes, or more summary “group memories,” all of which are typically archived for future reference.
• Audio and video recordings can be made available to the public online, but finding specific discussions can be challenging. In addition, care must be taken to ensure that recording devices are working properly.
• Advocates for detailed minutes argue for a more easily accessible, yet complete record of everything said. For long meetings (over two hours in length), detailed meeting minutes can be quite lengthy.
• Group memory documents focus on describing what occurred in a summary fashion with more detailed documentation of meeting results.
The Citizens Advisory Board members and the sponsoring agency should work together to understand any legal requirements that might apply and then agree on the level of documentation that is needed and appropriate to their needs. The most important audiences for meeting documentation include Board members who missed the meeting and staff people with the sponsoring agency working to address the Board’s advice.
A skilled facilitator working alone can typically prepare group memories. A Citizens Advisory Board wanting a more detailed record will usually need both a facilitator and a note-taker who can then work together after meetings to prepare the desired level of meeting documentation. Increasingly, a Citizens Advisory Board relies on recordings to address legal requirements for detailed minutes, but uses group memories to support member and sponsor needs.
A Citizens Advisory Board’s advice should also be documented. Remembering what an advisory board recommended six months (or more) later can be hard even for those who were there. Providing a clear record of the advice will help everyone remember what was said.
Depending on the diversity of perspectives represented within the Citizens Advisory Board and the strength of their convictions, reaching agreement on advice may require the services of a neutral group process facilitator.
The Participation Company’s partners have extensive experience supporting Citizens Advisory Boards for federal, state, and local agencies. We can assist in developing a Board’s charter and operating procedures, recruiting and selecting members, working with the sponsoring organization to identify objectives for Board involvement, designing meeting agendas, facilitating effective meetings, and documenting meetings as well as advice.
Author: Wendy Lowe