Public Involvement Techniques
1.B.b - Civic Advisory Committees
What is a civic advisory committee?
A civic advisory committee is a representative group of
stakeholders that meets regularly to discuss issues of common concern.
While these groups are often called citizens advisory committees,
the term civic is used here, since citizenship is not a requirement
for participation. Civic advisory committees (CACs) have been used
for many years and are not in themselves innovative, yet they can
be used very creatively. For example, a CAC was used in Louisiana
to find consensus on environmental issues for input to public agencies.
In Florida a CAC advised on designs for deployment of a traffic
Representation of agencies on a CAC is highly desirable
as a means of interaction between local residents and their government.
For example, in Portland, Maine, a 35-member CAC developed a long-range
transportation plan with agency help. Because it can be used either
alone or in conjunction with other techniques, a CAC is widely used
to achieve a basic level of local input to transportation planning
A CAC has these basic features:
- Interest groups from throughout a State or region are represented;
- Meetings are held regularly;
- Comments and points of view of participants are recorded;
- Consensus on issues is sought but not required; and
- A CAC is assigned an important role in the process.
Why is it useful?
A CAC is a forum for hearing peoples' ideas. It is a place
where agencies present goals and proposed programs. It provides
a continuing forum for bringing peoples' ideas directly into the
process and a known opportunity for people to participate. In the
San Francisco Bay area, special efforts have been made to include
representatives of disabled residents and minorities, including
people who speak languages other than English.
A CAC molds participants into a working group. It is democratic
and representative of opposing points of view, with equal status
for each participant in presenting and deliberating views and in
being heard. It is a place for finding out stances of participants
on issues. It is a place where people become educated on technical
issues, over several meetings if necessary. It gives a better understanding
of the effort and milestones of public agency progress. Its members
feel freer to ask agencies for assistance, clarification of points,
and follow-up on questions.
Does a CAC have special uses?
A CAC demonstrates commitment to participation. Its existence
demonstrates progress toward involving people in projects and programs.
It helps find common ground for consensus about a solution. If consensus
cannot be reached, a CAC provides a forum for identifying positions,
exploring them in depth and reporting the divergences of opinion
to the agencies.
A CAC is flexible. It can be part of regional or State planning
or of a single project, with community participants assistance
in anticipating construction and identifying measures to reduce
potential disruption. It can be subdivided. In the St. Louis area,
three CACs were formed to develop the regional long-range plan.
Who participates? And how?
Representatives of community groups or stakeholders are
selected in one of two ways: 1) an agency carefully identifies all
stakeholders, including the general public; and 2) the public self-selects
CAC memberships; i.e., those who are interested attend. If membership
is not fully representative, an agency should encourage groups not
represented to attend or seek their input in some other way. San
Francisco County Transit Authority appoints 11 CAC members, drawing
upon a pool of self-selected candidates who submit resumes. People
who attend meetings are asked if they would like to be considered
for CAC membership. In appointing members, the Authority proactively
seeks diversity and balance of representation by race, gender, neighborhood
activists, business interests, the disability community, bicycle
proponents, et al. The CAC is used as a sounding board by the Authority
on a wide variety of transportation issues.
Diversity in viewpoints is a plus, to ensure full discussion.
Though no special training is required, attendees typically have
a broad, long-term view in discussing issues within a geographic
areanot a specific, single project. In many areas, such as
the San Francisco Bay area, agencies make targeted efforts to involve
People participate by examining and discussing issues with others.
Mailings prior to a meeting help participants understand issues
and form questions. Major points of discussion are typically recorded;
in some instances substantial detail on issues is desirable.
How do agencies use the output?
A CAC helps monitor community reactions to agency policy,
proposals, and progress. Observing interactions at the periodic
sessions of a CAC, agencies become aware of opinions and stances
at an early point in the processoften before they become solidified
or difficult to modify. Working with a CAC, an agency crafts compromise
positions through give-and-take and over a relatively short period
of time. For example, in Pennsylvania a CAC helped determine the
extent to which a highway project would affect a rapidly developing
area in the Pocono Mountains.
Who leads a CAC?
A CAC elects its own leader. Dynamic and firm community
leadership is effective in enlivening a CAC. In Chatham CountySavannah,
Georgia, a charismatic leader strengthened the CACs role in
planning. Typically, CAC members select a leader who can deal with
agencies in an open and friendly manner and who is sensitive to
group dynamics and able to effectively lead the discussion and draw
opinions and positions from participants.
What does a CAC cost?
A CAC requires support staff within an agency, and the work
can be substantial. Meeting minutes must be taken. Background information,
minutes, and agendas must be sent out before meetings. A site for
the meeting must be selected. Agency representatives must attend
to provide resources for CAC questions and response preparation.
A CAC may want to sponsor a special meeting on transportation's
role in the community, as was done in Pittsburgh. Additional assistance
may be required in some instances. For example, in Washington State
a CAC led by a facilitator helped plan a highway bypass on the Olympic
Material needs are minimal, but a quiet meeting room is
essential. Written materials may be needed at hand to supplement
or give depth to the notes mailed prior to the meeting. In many
cases, an agency needs to carefully explain its position or analysis,
requiring staff and materials at hand.
How is a CAC organized?
Ideally, a CAC has limits on its size to encourage discussion.
However, flexibility is needed. Rigid limits exclude people who
could provide valuable input; they also discourage future participation.
If an overall size limit is undesirable, a large CAC can be divided
into subgroups. However, this curtails interaction among interests.
Recognizing this, a CAC and the sponsoring agency should investigate
overcoming these limitations through other means. For example, conferences
can be used to expose CAC members to interaction with interests
not represented on the CAC.
A CAC usually has officers, with a chairperson or director,
an assistant director to chair meetings in the absence of the chairperson,
and a secretary to record minutes (this person is sometimes on an
agency staff). Elected officers may serve for a year or more.
CAC meetings are managed by the elected officers with assistance
from agency staff. Formal parliamentary procedures, if oriented
toward voting, are less useful than informal rules and consensus-building
techniques. Meetings are usually held on a regular basis.
Pre-meetings help plan the regular sessions and draft policy
goals. CAC officers and agency staff work together to bring substantive
issues before the larger group. Subcommittees are established to
explore details of issues, with meetings held between the regular
sessions of the CAC.
A typical CAC agenda covers the following items:
- Introductions, if attendees vary each time;
- Welcome to newcomers;
- Discussion of agenda, seeking potential changes;
- Discussion of items on agenda in order unless change is requested;
- Presentations of information as necessary for clarification;
- Determination of whether a consensus on each issue exists.
How is a CAC used with other techniques?
An established CAC is a forum for many public involvement techniques.
A CAC leader can use brainstorming to establish consensus on a project.
Facilitation by an outside specialist is used within a CAC to establish
or resolve a particular or pressing problem. (See Facilitation.)
A CAC uses the visioning technique to establish long-range policy
goals. (See Visioning.)
A CAC should be able to consider the special issues of people with
disabilities. (See People with
Disabilities.) Video techniques can illustrate specific points.
(See Video Techniques.)
What are the drawbacks?
A CAC can seem to be manipulated by an agency unless information
from governmental sources is fully shared. The CAC may feel it is
outclassed or overwhelmed by technical information if care is not
taken by agencies to explain essential facts or features. In such
cases, a CAC may become inactive.
A CAC is most useful on a project or regional scale. A statewide
CAC or one for a very large region can be unwieldy when a large
number of people are involved and travel is required of both staff
and participants. A CACs effectiveness depends on being able
to hear and decide on the issues in an efficient and fair manner.
Thus, effective leadership is essential.
A CAC does not encompass all points of view. By virtue of
being representative, it is never all-inclusive. A CACs voice
may be skewed if it does not represent all stakeholders and the
general public. It may be difficult to represent minority interests.
Opponents may refuse to consider each others ideas.
People who feel they are being controlled or patronized may withdraw
from full participation. Agency staff members who feel that the
process is leading nowhere may not respond appropriately to questions
For further information:
|Chatham CountySavannah, Georgia
|EW Gateway Coordinating Council, St. Louis, Missouri
|Metropolitan Transportation Commission, San Francisco Bay
|Phoenix, Arizona, Regional Transportation Authority
|Portland, Maine, Area Comprehensive Transportation Committee
|San Francisco County Transit Authority
|Southwest Pennsylvania Regional Planning Commission, Pittsburgh
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For more information about the TPCB program, contact Michelle
at FHWA (202-366-9206) or John Sprowls
at FTA (202-366-5362).