Joining a State Taskforce, Board, Commission, Council or Other Planning Group

A leader is a man who has the ability to get other people to do what they don't want to do and like it.
-- Harry Truman

You should do it. It is a great opportunity to get your voice (and your clients’ and your organization’s voices) heard by policymakers. It gives you an opportunity to educate policymakers about your issue and the credibility of influencing recommendations on the state’s letterhead. Legislators and their staff do not understand your world as well as you do; it is your job to help them understand. Committees bring expertise to the policymaking process that the state could not access (or afford) any other way. Serving on committees is a great way to develop relationships with policymakers, advocates, and others. Having said that, it is a ton of work and you won’t get everything you want.

First you need to find out if there is a committee that addresses your issues. Unfortunately, there is no clearinghouse of state committees for Connecticut. You can search the site and ask friendly legislators and their staff. If there isn’t one that addresses your issue, you can ask a policymaker to create one.

Committees can be either permanent to address broad issues or short-term groups to work on a very specific issue. Some are set in statute with defined membership and specific appointing authorities. For example, the Medical Assistance Program Oversight Council was created in 1994 and meets monthly to advise the state on Connecticut’s Medicaid program. The Council has over 50 members, all designated in statute, each appointed by a specific legislator or agency. Other committees are created by agencies or the Governor with their own rules and timelines. Committees generally meet at the Legislative Office Building or Capitol and may be televised on CT-N. Click here for rules and customs to navigate LOB. These are open, public meetings that are subject to Freedom of Information Laws. Most will have designated staff and formal agendas, minutes/summaries, and slides from presentations that are generally posted online.

Decide what your goal for serving on the committee is. It’s best to be clear and specific. Ask for something that they can reasonably do. You may want to ensure that the needs of children or the elderly are considered, that communities of color are consulted, or that the impact on consumer costs are minimized. Consult with other advocates and colleagues to refine your goal, ensure it is realistic, that it will make a real difference, and how to best make your points. Be prepared with research, your personal experience and/or stories from other consumers to support your points.

You will not be paid for your time working on the committee, mileage, or other costs you incur.

You should not join a committee hoping for a grant or other favorable treatment by the state. That will become clear quickly and hurt your credibility.

You may feel that no one was listening, your recommendations are ignored, and that you wasted your time. You didn’t you never know how your work will impact the issue or what really bad ideas were stopped because of your voice. Sometimes, especially on very contentious or expensive issues, just getting everyone talking is a win.

Your committee will have at least one Chair. Set up a meeting, preferably face-to-face, with the Chair(s) as soon as possible and connect with the committee staff. Ask them how the process will work. Share your thoughts, experience, and resources. Ask how you can help. Opportunities include providing background material, arranging for presenters on relevant topics, getting consumers affected to testify, or assistance with writing reports. Find out who else has been appointed to the task force and reach out to anyone you know. If there are still openings, you can make suggestions of great people.

At the first meeting, the Chair will likely have everyone introduce themselves quickly and give their organizational affiliation, if they have one. You will likely review the charge to the committee, either from statute or from the policymaker who convened it. You may get the schedule of future meetings, a breakdown of the work of the committee, and a list of all the members. Many meetings begin with an opportunity for public comment. This allows people who aren’t on the committee to make a statement to the members about the topic. It’s usually best, especially if you are joining an existing group, to listen more than you talk at the first meeting or two. Watch and see how things work. If you have questions about the process, ask the Chair or another member after the meeting. if you want to ask a question or speak during a meeting, signal to Chair to catch their eye. Try to show up to every meeting; let the staff know if you have to miss one.

Do your homework and come to meetings prepared. At most meetings, there are presentations on your topic with opportunities for the members to ask questions or make comments about what you’ve heard. It is best if you review the materials ahead of the meeting, so you can form good questions.

Report back regularly on the committee’s progress to your colleagues and other advocates also working on your issue. Be sure expectations are clear. You may or may not represent the same organization and there may be processes for determining advocacy goals. Even if you don’t formally represent them, get their feedback on potential recommendations and how they would work in the real world. Bring their suggestions back to the committee.

Some committees develop reports with recommendations. Review drafts carefully and give thoughtful input in writing. Come to the meeting prepared to respectfully discuss your input and others’, looking for common ground. Stick to the facts and never question others’ motives.  Most committee recommendations are unanimous, but not always. There may be a vote on some recommendations.

When your committee ends or you leave, send a thank you note or email to the Chair and to the policymaker who appointed you.

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