What Keeps Steering Committee Members Coming to Meetings? (Hint: F-words!)


What makes collective impact steering committee meetings a priority for leaders who juggle myriad commitments? In my opinion, F-words – but not the ones you’re thinking of!

At the end of the day, systems change is driven by people who choose to align their own personal work and their organization’s goals to the overall goals of a collective impact initiative. However, this requires sustained attendance of members to build relationships and make strategic decisions. To keep these members coming back, you first need to understand their motivations. We recommend starting the first meeting of a new steering committee meeting by having everyone answer the question: “What drives you personally to want to participate in this effort?”

Working on a collective impact effort to reduce childhood asthma, I found there were at least five factors that made meetings valuable to steering committee members:

Family: Some leaders come to the table because they have a personal relationship with the issue. One health clinic leader’s daughter had struggled for years with “colds” before being diagnosed with asthma. Her motivation stemmed from a desire to improve the situation for her family and others in similar situations.

  • Tip: Make space and encourage steering committee members to share their personal stories. Asking steering committee members in advance of meetings to come prepared to talk about their experiences can help draw people out.

Frustration: Other leaders come to the table because they are frustrated that their ongoing efforts to address the problem are stymied by siloes and the lack of coordination between stakeholders. In the asthma effort, one steering committee member had worked for years to improve identification and tracking of children with asthma in schools. She told the group a story of an asthmatic boy who transferred schools, but  the schools did not communicate about the child’s asthma so the new school nurses and administrators were not aware of the condition  His academic performance declined and he began to have behavioral issues, which our steering committee member suspected was related to his uncontrolled asthma.  The child was suspended, and while home alone died of asthma attack. She wondered whether vigilance and awareness of the child’s asthma might have changed such a horrible outcome.

  • Tip: The often long-term approach of collective impact projects can be frustrating for members who want results now. To show tangible progress early on, try to identify at least one strategy that the group can implement within the first six months.

Finances: We typically recommend against paying steering committee members to participate in meetings because it incentivizes participation for the wrong reasons. That said, some members will represent organizations that have a financial stake in the problem. In the case of childhood asthma, insurance companies have a financial interest in reducing unnecessary hospitalizations and emergency room visits caused by unmanaged asthma. Public schools have a financial incentive to improve asthma outcomes because their funding is based on daily attendance, and asthma is a leading cause of school absences. Employers have financial incentives to reduce childhood asthma because kids missing school means that parents miss work.

  • Tip: Encourage steering committees to talk openly about the financial consequences of the problem for various stakeholders. When available, share data on the financial burden of these social issues for stakeholders. View financial interests as an asset in solving the problem.

Fun: People also attend steering committee meetings because they are, well, fun. Games, role-plays, small group exercises, and interactive brainstorming sessions are productive as well as enjoyable. Friendships develop between steering committee members and they enjoy the opportunity to work with people outside of their traditional professional networks.

  • Tip: It’s important to create space at every meeting for steering committee members to get to know one another on a personal basis. Try planning a meal or happy hour in conjunction with a steering committee meeting.

Facilitation: Good facilitation at steering committee meetings can help ensure that each meeting is productive. This can keep people engaged no matter what motivation draws them to their first meeting.

  • Tip: Good steering committee facilitation starts with structuring meetings around defined goals. The group should feel that they accomplished something they couldn’t do without such a wide array of experiences in the room. Ending a meeting with clear next steps and homework can also help maintain momentum between meetings.

Collective impact works by having the right people in the room, and then keeping them there as they work on a problem together. Knowing what “f-word” is bringing each of your steering committee members to the table can provide helpful guidance on bringing steering committee members to the table and help keep those people coming back. These same factors are also important for working group members and are equally important to consider for those meetings.

What techniques do you use to make meetings valuable and enjoyable for steering committee members?


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