Archive for January 26th, 2012

I’ve mentioned before that I was able to become involved in local government last summer. After being part of a local government subcommittee for the past six months, including biweekly meetings, I have a number of thoughts on the experience so far. In addition to my initial surprise at how quickly local government can move (especially compared to the glacial pace I am used to for on-campus projects), I’ve also been surprised by how useless I am during meetings. Most of the other subcommittee members are stakeholders in various organizations that are working together on the project, making the suggestions I might have based on research less useful than those of people who have been dealing with these issues in the community for years.

Ironically, my uselessness is at its worst when the committee tries to involve me in the conversation. Because I represent a local college and my college has expressed interest in helping with the task in some form, members of my committee rightfully see me as a representative who should know what sorts of involvement the college has been discussing. Unfortunately, I don’t. The discussions about my college’s involvement have taken place between administrators and the person who sent the initial invitation to work on the committee. This person is not on my subcommittee and rarely communicates with me about the campus-level discussion, which causes me (and likely the other committee members) some frustration. The duplication of discussions from one meeting to the next is also a source of frustration, since our meetings have the potential to be half as long but equally productive.

Having persevered through six months of frustration, I have hopes that these patterns will change now that we are moving from the “planning” and phase of our project to the “starting work” phase. As a part of this transition there may be more room for academic research to support the experiences of the other committee members. I should also note that a colleague who has worked on a number of local government projects reports that my experiences on this committee have been abnormal. She reported that her previous experiences typically consisted of three or four people working on a much smaller project, compared to the fifteen people on my particular subcommittee. She’s also done some consulting for which she actually got paid, so I imagine that her opinions were valued a bit more highly in those circumstances. I wouldn’t turn down payment, but I would settle for feeling a bit more valuable.

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