Keeping Advisory Members Motivated and Engaged

Bradley A. Leger, PhD

OK . . . we’ve got the Advisory Council engine going, and we have to make sure that all pistons are firing. We’ve assembled the movers and shakers of the community and gotten their creative juices flowing. A recurring theme throughout these discussions is that we need to keep in mind that these busy folk need to feel that serving in this capacity is a good investment of their time. So, how to keep this wonderful group motivated and engaged?

As I ponder these points, several things come to mind. The first words which come to my mind are that we need to treat them in a “first class” manner. Naturally in terms of hospitality, we always need to make them feel welcome as they enter the room. Do we take the time to greet them individually? Of course, our culture dictates that we have some form of refreshment, however simple. What about creature comforts? Are the chairs and meeting room arrangement comfortable? What about room temperature? Time and location of meeting? Is the meeting site accessible to all? Were the meeting announcements sent out in a timely fashion? (There’s nothing more frustrating to me than receiving such an invitation at the last minute, only to find that my calendar is full. Remember, we’re dealing with busy people!)

But . . . let’s also talk about keeping them engaged in the process. How do we make them feel that their input and commitment to the process is taken seriously and is respected and honored? Remember, they are not there merely to “rubber stamp” what we are presently doing. (If that’s the case, why should they even bother being involved?) I think that a great start is to work with the chair of the council (elected by the members, of course) to plan the agenda. The chair should also be conducting the meeting, not the Extension professional. Thus, she/he should be provided training if she/he lacks the skills. What kind of input do members have in planning the meeting agenda? Frequency of the meetings? Opportunities for considering issues between meetings?

The next step, of course, is what is done with all of the great input acquired from council members? Do they know what is being done with this information with regard to programming? What about ongoing feedback from members throughout the year?

Comments, please!

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One Response to Keeping Advisory Members Motivated and Engaged

  1. Matt Fannin says:

    Bradley, advisory councils are very important in their traditional function for Extension. I look at councils providing macro-level vision and determining priorities. However, that group, or another group in an individual parish, community, or region can also be further “engaged” through a more detailed process at the micro-level of Extension and Research. My co-PI and I documented a process we fashioned at the University of Missouri titled “Community Decision Support” or CDS. We believe it is a subset of the more general participatory research paradigm. It allows an advisory panel to guide the applied research process of faculty or agents to generate information from which specific decisions are made. It was published several years ago in the Journal of Regional Analysis and Policy at http://www.jrap-journal.org/pastvolumes/2000/v37/F37-2-3.pdf.

    My own opinion is that the CDS approach works well for both applied research and extension when goals and objectives are clearly defined by all stakeholders in the community and researcher or extension is conducting research and education to move the community to a specific decision. I am working with several joint LSU AgCenter/LA Sea Grant extension agents using this model to help local governments (parish and municipal) make financial decisions to be more financially resilient to future tropical natural disasters. We are currently developing an extension manual as a part of a couple of grants that documents this process.

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