Process 1: Steering Committees

Process 1: Steering Committees

Welcome back! And thanks to those who participated in our Facebook Poll. If you haven’t had the chance yet, feel free to join the conversation HERE.

Our poll revealed that Community Engagement/Steering Committee was one topic of interest for you. So hold onto your keyboards as we delve a bit deeper! Here we go…

Community-Based Planning is a phrase people use to describe a variety of project development strategies. It can mean:

  • “The community was informed of the project development process.”
  • “The community was involved to the extent that was feasible.”
  • Or even, “Community members had an opportunity to testify on what they wanted done to fix something.”

While all of these statements have something to do with the community and with planning, they do not describe a process that is DRIVEN by the community. But a community-driven process is exactly what community-based planning should be. Components of a community-based planning process include:

  • Steering committee
  • Community surveys
  • Community meetings
  • Focus group process
  • Key informant interviews

The last four components of the process listed above focus on first gathering information to be used in project development, and then documenting how information was gathered. Describing the process used to gather information is nearly as important as the information itself.

**Note: If the process does not involve community members, especially community members who will be “project beneficiaries”, then there is a substantial risk that the community will not see merit in the project.**

Engaging the project development process can be daunting. This is where the Steering Committee can provide multiple benefits.

Steering Committee Members: Steering Committee membership is comprised of people who represent the community at large, such as: community members, staff, representatives from potential partner organizations and community or organizational leadership. This includes those functional leaders within the community who may not hold an official leadership role but have community knowledge and community standing.

As project planning moves forward, there will be two Steering Committee memberships that will be further identified:

  • Project partners
  • Project beneficiaries

These two membership types will be identified as the project scope is defined and the following occurs:

  • The partner organizations that will assist in project implementation will be defined, and you will need to identify which internal partners (from your organization) and external partners (from outside your organization) need to be engaged in project planning.
  • The population that will ultimately benefit from the project will be identified.

Consequently, project partner and target population representation may be added to the Steering Committee later in the process, and as the project’s purpose becomes clear.

Steering Committee Functions: One function of the Steering Committee is to coordinate the planning and implementation of other community-based planning components - especially those community surveys, meetings, and focus groups mentioned above. And we will address each of these in future blog posts.

A second function of the Steering Committee is to relay information between their constituencies and the staff engaged in project planning and design during the Steering Committee Meetings. This allows Committee members to bring information from the community to the table and, in return, keep their constituencies informed about project design and development elements that are being drafted.

For example, a Steering Committee member who represents subsets of the community will convey information from their subset at Steering Committee meetings, share information and recommendations with other Committee members, and then take information back to the community on project design decisions.

Additionally, issues that are impacting a single subset of the overall community may be identified as the project priority.

Examples of community subsets that often become the focus of project planning are: community elders, local school students, or unemployed community members. The identified subset becomes “the community” that is the project focus; and representation from this beneficiary community should be added to the Steering Committee.

**Note: The population of an organization, the employees of a tribe or Native non-profit for example, also can be defined as “the community” in projects that focus on improving organizational capacity and working conditions.**

Now, apply what you’ve just learn in preparation for starting your own steering committee. To begin, draft your committee structure and procedures to help you navigate its launch.


  • Put together a selection strategy for developing steering committees:
    • Will you have different selection processes for each member type: Staff, Partners, Community Members, Functional Leaders, Youth, etc?
    • Steering committee representation may change as new project planning processes are initiated. Will there be some steering committee members (representatives from the general community or from governing bodies for example) who will be included on multiple steering committees?
  • Describe the role(s) that your steering committee members will play:
    • What orientation, if any, will you provide to steering committee members?
    • Are there responsibilities described above that you would not ask a steering committee to engage in?
    • Are there responsibilities that you would add?
  • Join our Facebook Group and tell us what your Steering Committee looks like! Share your thought process, the actions you are taking, and give feedback to others like you!
  • Don't forget to like and subscribe to our Facebook Page as well to stay up to date on news from ANA.