Committees: A group that takes minutes but loses hours; a group of no more than three, two of whom should always be absent for a decision to be made; a cul-de-sac where ideas are lured and then quietly strangled...Given the bad press that committees and committee meetings receive, you might find yourself wondering, why anyone in their right mind would want to join one! But, despite the potential for frustration, committee work can provide opportunities for you to help understand what's going on within the department, shape future developments, and reflect/improve on existing practices.
But how do you get on a committee? Our DfH in-house survey last year showed that this was something that many staff were uncertain about (see Figure 1). This blog shines some light on the subject...
Figure 1: Results from DfH Staff Survey (Jan 2018).
What Committees are there in the DfH?
There are many committees within the DfH. Some provide a service role (e.g. our ethics committee 'REACH', Health & Safety Committee. Equality & Diversity). Others lead on decision making (i.e. Exec Committee; Research Committee; Department Learning & Teaching Quality Committee). Generally speaking, service committees (along with others such as those aligned with a research center, research theme etc.) feed into decision making committees. These, in turn, report into the Department Executive Committee.
Do you automatically become a member of a committee?
The following explanation is probably a little over simplistic, and may not hold true in every instance but nonetheless provides a general rule of thumb...
Committee membership often comes down to a persons role / responsibility within the department. For example, it makes sense for a senior lab technician to sit on the Health & Safety committee; Directors of Studies will automatically serve on the DLTQC; REF Lead, Research Impact Lead, Director of PGR will always serve on the Research Committee etc.
In addition to this, the discussions that take place within a committee's will nearly always benefit from having representatives from different 'pockets' across the department. This enables different perspectives and experiences to be be incorporated into discussions and and subsequent decisions that are made. For example, on the Equality & Diversity committee, in addition to having those in 'key roles' around the table (e.g. Head of Department; Director of Learning & Teaching; Faculty Athena SWAN champion, etc.), we also have representation from the Teaching Fellow job family, Technical staff, Research staff, Part-Time staff, and those who are early career. We are also looking to appoint UG and PG student representatives this year ... please alert your students!
So how do I get in on the action?!
A sure-fire way to become involved in committee work is to take on a formal role within the department. When a role becomes available, an email inviting expressions of interest is circulated around the department. But don't feel you need to sit day after day hoping for such a calling! If there's a role that you are particularly interested in - because you want to help shape the department, take on more responsibility, gain experience and work towards a promotion (or all of the above) - alert your line manager / head of department and raise this during your SDPR.
If you already have a formal role and it includes committee membership, you don't need to do anything other than accept the diary invite that will appear in your inbox!
For 'representatives', the route to the table is perhaps less uniform. An open call may be circulated (e.g. this was done recently to recruit an early career rep onto Exec), or the chair may approach you directly because they feel you have specific experience that could be of value, and / or perhaps because your presence would complement and balance the existing committee (plenty of examples of the latter with E&D, which for the purpose of keeping this blog short-ish, I'd be happy to talk about separately!).
And if all of the above fails, know that a number of committees (DLTQC, E&D) operate an open door policy. You are welcome to contact the Chair / Harriet to find out the dates of meetings and let them know that you're planning to come along.
What else do I need to know?
Being on a committee is more than claiming the hours on your WLM and then sending apologies for the rest of the year .... Or, sitting at the table but not engaging with the discussions taking place. Members can help a committee to function effectively by, for example: Turning up; Reading any circulated material ahead of time; Participating in discussions; Using their powers in the best interests of the department rather than for individual gain; Undertake work and special tasks as agreed to in meetings. There's more... but you get the idea.
How do I find out what's going on if I'm NOT on a committee?
Our in-house staff survey also indicated that there was still an issue with people feeling like they didn't know what was happening, or how decisions were being made. To help facilitate transparency, the E&D committee made a request to the Exec committee earlier this year that the minutes from all decision making committees be made available to staff.
This request was approved and minutes are now stored on the shared drive*: Health > Resources > Committee Minutes
Happy reading 🙂
If you have any further questions about DfH Committees, you can contact the appropriate Chair direct (see Harriet for current lists), or drop-in for lunch with Fiona and Polly - every Thursday, 12:00 in Claverton Rooms.
(*A summary of the Exec minutes due to the sensitive nature of some of the items being discussed).