Jennifer Baldwin

by Jennifer Baldwin, Senior Planner at Alta Planning + Design

Steering committees are often seen as a tough crowd. Too controlling. Too bureaucratic. Not engaged. It doesn’t have to be that way! Steering committees provide excellent insight into the needs of the community and often serve as a great conduit between the public and the project team. Here are four easy steps project managers can take to get your steering committee moving in the right direction.

    • Workshop Style. To facilitate brainstorming and encourage participant interaction, the steering committee meetings should run like mini public workshops. Participants break into small teams and rotate through stations organized by project topics.
    • Backup Materials. Compile packets of information for each station, such as copies of previous plans, existing conditions maps, marketing materials, and user survey results. You can also develop to help members think through the opportunities and challenges of the project. It’s fun to watch each team dig through the materials and discuss the project from their own unique perspective. Here is an example from one of Alta’s projects:
  • Street Cred. Conducting field work just before the committee meeting puts the project team in a position to speak with local familiarity and can improve your credibility with the steering committee. Sharing field work notes with the committee teams can also help facilitate discussion in case the committee gets stuck on an idea or issue.
  • Unique Perspectives. When organizing your steering committee, be sure to select individuals representing a diverse mix of expertise or experiences. For instance, having an individual with hearing loss would provide firsthand accessibility experience and motivate the entire steering committee to make accessibility a high priority of the project.

Alta is working on a Park Facilities Master Plan in Wake County, NC. The project has a steering committee full of stakeholders, county staff, and users of the park system. Using the four key steps outlined above, the steering committee has been an instrumental asset to the project, providing key recommendations and direction for the plan.

Have you ever managed a steering committee? What works or doesn’t work for you?

Steering Committee members broke into small groups and rotated between stations to provide key opportunities and challenges for the project.

Steering Committee members broke into small groups and rotated between stations to provide key opportunities and challenges for the project.