Early in my career I was asked to be on an “advisory committee” sponsored by a state agency; the group met quarterly under the guise of advising the state agency on specific issues. But in the years the committee was in existence, the sponsoring agency was never advised on anything, though that was supposed to be the intent of the group. In fact, I’ve only participated in one advisory committee that actually advised and, not surprisingly, it was not sponsored by a government agency.
While government agencies are probably the worst offenders, thousands of committees across the country have words like ‘advisory’ or ‘recommending’ in their names – implying their role is to advise another group or individual on decisions based on the group’s collective experience and expertise. It is crucial for groups coming together to have a clear purpose, but it is equally as important to understand what type of group they are.
Once groups establish a clear purpose and level of authority, they need to make sure their name reflects what they do, not who they are.
It is perfectly acceptable to bring various stakeholders together to compare information and not make decisions as long as the committee name, purpose and authority level make that clear. Savvy individuals will quickly catch on and may either stop coming or put public pressure on you to live up to your name.
There is a tendency when bringing together ‘policy makers’ or ‘leaders’ to add the word ‘policy’ to the committee title as though that is what they are there to create. It is ok for people in leadership positions to participate on a committee of their peers to compare information and coordinate work. If this is the case, make sure that words like ‘policy’ or ‘leadership’ in the name reflect who, not what.
Name committees with the following formula: who does what (for whom). While this formula doesn’t produce catchy names or clever acronyms, it provides a starting point for naming a group appropriately.