What We've Found
Citizens Advisory Groups(CAGs) can play a vital role in the strength and success of a project. Consistently meeting with CAGs will promote strong stakeholder
relationships and a better understanding of issues
or concerns. The members serve as important links between KYTC and the community at-large and provide meaningful discussion, viewpoints, or feedback. They also serve valuable roles as assisting in planning public involvement activities and making recommendations on project decisions particularly in Phase I design. Once the Phase I design is completed, this core group (if applicable) can form the basis for a second CAG that would serve during Phase II design. A CAG can also be utilized to develop context sensitive solutions.Just the Facts
CAGs should be composed of a broad cross-section of stakeholders including local citizens, government officials, local businessmen, and any other organizations that may have an interest in the project. It is important to include citizens who may be opposed to your project as well as those who are in favor of the project.
If people come to the CAG with different interests, the group will be stronger, especially if controversial issues arise. This smaller subset of the community is better able to discuss and come to agreement on actions that may diffuse controversy. Besides self-interests, CAG members offer their technical expertise and community knowledge and insight.
CAGs are usually involved in the planning and Phase I design processes but can be useful in other phases also. Regardless of the focus, the CAG is charged with assisting the Project Team by discussing issues and concerns, and sharing findings and recommendations with the Cabinet and the general public.How To Do It
1. Define the CAG's role
- What is the mission of the group?
- Is the group going to be responsible for selecting an alternate or corridor or act more in an advisory capacity by making recommendations on the selections?
- How will recommendations and/or selections be documented?
- What is the life span of the group?
- How will it be determined when the work is completed and the mission achieved?
- How much time commitment will people need to make including large meetings, subcommittee meetings and actual assignments?
- Will members be compensated for travel expenses or other costs incurred while performing duties?
2. Recruit Members
Memberships may be open to the public, made by invitation or appointment, based on an application process, or a combination of methods. However it is done, it is vital that the group reflect many interests. For instance, make sure that all potential stakeholders are represented such as minority and low-income groups, business people, elected officials, landowners, conservation groups, recreation groups, historical and cultural groups and technical areas such as engineers or scientists. You need to look at the overall potential impacts of your project and determine who the stakeholders are and then base your CAG membership on that. Also, consider the desired purpose of the group when deciding on the ideal size for the group.
Look for citizens who are, or were in the past, active in their community such as serving on boards or hosting events. Ask people for referrals. You want people who have shown commitment to hard work but who are also not over extended. Make potential CAG members aware of the group's purpose, responsibilities, and time commitment.
3. Organize the Group
The first time that the CAG meets in the time to establish ground rules and make decisions. For instance,
- Who will act as a facilitator and key contact person?
- Who will fill other roles such as note-taker for the subcommittees?
- How will the group discuss topics and make decisions?
- How will the group communicate outside the meeting?
- Provide a contact list for all members
- How should meeting summaries or announcements be mailed: electronic or regular?
- Can or should subcommittees meet on their own without a KYTC representation?
- In looking at the project schedule, what are the key tasks that need to be done and by what date?
4. Set a Meeting Schedule
An effecting CAG should meet regularly to assure continuity. Establishing a regular schedule such as the third Thursday of the month helps everyone plan better. It is always easier to cancel a meeting than it is to find a common date when everyone is free. Don't meet just for the sake of meeting. If there are no current items on an agenda to discuss, then cancel the meeting until there are items to discuss. Remind members of upcoming meetings with phone calls or emails. Provide a meeting summary to those members who are unable to attend.
If possible, meet in the same place to avoid confusion and start-time delays due to people getting lost. It is also a good idea to send out a postcard or email as a reminder of the upcoming meeting.
Meetings should ALWAYS have written agendas with expected results. Though CAG meetings are not operated in the same manner as a public meeting, these meetings should be open to the public. There should be ample notice and advertising in the newspaper or other venues.
The purpose of the CAG meeting is to allow discussion between the Cabinet and the public. The Non-CAG members can be allowed to attend and listen but should not be "active participants" in the meeting. The CAG should be able to finish the items on the agenda without disruption from the public.
5. Never Take Them for Granted
CAG members are, after all, volunteers. They play a vital role in the success of your project. Provide regular updates to the CAG on throughout the decision making process. Explain how their ideas and input have factored into project planning and design. This could be achieved through phone calls, emails, websites, or newsletters for the CAG.
Don't wait until a planning or design process is finished to show your appreciation, especially if it is a multi-year project. Send personal notes, give printed hats or shirts, provide meals on meeting nights or any other tribute that shows how much they are appreciated. (These tokens of appreciation should be considered as you develop your scope of the project for your consultants. It is much easier for a consultant to provide meals and drinks than the Cabinet.)
At the end of the project, them members should all be publicly recognized for their roles.