Should You Create that Committee?

Author: Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

Author: Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

*Note: This list isn't exhaustive. For example, there are often federal or state regulations that require committees to be created for various reasons. This serves as some considerations if you have the capacity to decide whether or not a committee is required. 


At various points in my career, I have been a part of committees of professional organizations and employers. In 2016 I spent time every day reflecting on the first 7 or so years in the field of behavior analysis, as well as areas of passion that I was considering getting back into (read more: Open Letter to My Undergraduate Adviser). I would spend anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 hours some days reflecting and analyzing past interactions of mine with the intent of planning for the next 1-3 years. I wasn't sure how to really "execute" some of my ideas, and at the end of 2015, I wasn't really sure what the hell I wanted to do with Behavior Analysis anymore. I knew that I loved it, but I wasn't sure if I was using my time the way that I would look back upon and say "That was exactly what I wanted to do!" Almost every project idea related to behavior analysis included a team or committee of a sort. Looking back on them I have some starting points for when they are useful, and when you can probably side-step them and move forward, saving both time and sanity (IMHO). 

Reasons to Consider Creating a Committee 

1. Stakeholder input is key, especially at various levels

When something is going to affect everyone (or close to), it's best to bring them all in for feedback and planning. You may have to be systematic at how you go about carrying that out, especially depending on the severity of the situation to discuss and the various stakeholders involved

Example: Reviewing or changing the mission of an organization, altering a service that can affect the outcomes experienced by participants, or altering the requirements for obtaining credentials or licensure in our field. 

2. There's an idea to pursue, but either the group or influential people are not sure how to begin executing

Sometimes you have a great idea and you're not sure where to start. There's a lot of brainstorming and game storming practices out there, so pick some and be ready to evaluate their utility. Typically this requires either identifying the skill deficits within the group or communicating more about each members' strengths and weaknesses in relation to the goal so that members can compliment each others' strengths and weaknesses (i.e., it's more about identifying how to leverage each others' skill sets). 

Example: Creating a one-tracked themed professional development event like our Next Gen Revolution Summit - we knew that we wanted to do something different, but it took a 45 minute meeting and 2 follow-up meetings in the past couple months to make it really clear just WHAT we wanted to do and how we were going to do it. 

3. You're unsure what resources are needed and available for the central theme that the committee is meeting about 

Sometimes you have a great idea and you're not sure where to start... but it's a little different. In this case, it's less about the lack of skills, and more about the lack of resources that are needed to make the idea come to life (e.g., money, time, raw materials). 

Example: Perhaps you'd like to create a committee on disseminating our beautiful science, but you're not quite sure what resources are available to the organization. This was one of the functions that the Association of Behavior Analysis International's 2nd Education Conference planning committee served me while I was working on the event with a crazy talented team.  

Reasons to Embed the Committee into Process (but forego the typical meetings)

1. Stakeholder input isn't required AND you have data regarding their position.

Stakeholder input is always important. If you have data on their position and you know the direction that you are going, then there's no need to meet and discuss their position and where you're going. Start moving forward!

Example: While working on a professional development course for special education teachers and paraprofessionals we pretty seamlessly collect and analyze data on the acquisition of our curricula objectives. When it comes time to sit down and review the data it's typically a 5-10 minute discussion and then we're ready to start working on our next iteration of the course or bring it to the next phase (e.g., scope out another module).

2. There's enough of an idea to begin pursuing, including ways in which you can access data to adjust as you progress

When you have the right team, the right skill sets, and the right resources to begin working, then all you're really lacking is the data that tells you where to adjust and make your changes. Sometimes business ideas never get off the ground because there is a perception that more is needed in those areas when really it's just time to test the market and see if your idea or product is selected. This may appear risky, but I firmly believe that great teams and companies get stuck in this committee mentality when they really just need to start working and responding to the data. 

Example: This website and our events are a great example of this in action. Melissa Engasser and I were talking about an upcoming trip that I was making to the east coast and asked if we should do our own type of event. She scoped it out the next day and papers were signed for a venue within the same work week. How? Everyone involved had vetted each other's skill set to some degree, we had the necessary resources, we had worked on similar projects on the past, and the time committments were given from all the key stakeholders. Now we're continuing to respond to the incoming data and adjusting and planning for the future. 

Again this isn't meant to be exhaustive, rather it's a few points and anecdotes from my career that I'm now more sensitive towards as I'm working on team projects. At the end of the day, it's an opinion piece related to the data from my personal perspective. I'm interested in learning more about your ideas and projects. Whether it's how to put on events like we are here at Next Gen, or how to get that new project off the ground, or professional development and consultation resources in these areas - it doesn't matter. I'm genuinely interested in exploring our science and working with like-minded people. Let's find some time to chat? 

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