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Advisory boards consist of a representative group of stakeholders that are appointed to provide comments and advice on projects and issues related to a broad topic area. Some of the Advisory Boards in Tompkins County include the Environmental Management Council, Public Information Advisory Board, and the Board of Health. Boards generally meet on a regular schedule over a period of time to develop a detailed knowledge of the project and issues and to share their relevant perspectives, ideas, concerns, and interests. Boards often work to identify areas of common ground and/or consensus recommendations. Board members are usually appointed to one- to four-year terms, depending on the by-laws of the specific advisory board.


  • Provides broad-based input into planning and decision-making from a range of stakeholder interests that are affected by a proposal or issue.
  • May work over time to generate in-depth knowledge and ownership of a project or issue in a way that less intensive efforts cannot achieve.
  • Allows for the in-depth and focused involvement and input of a wide range of stakeholders.
  • Allows for development of consensus (where achievable) and detailed recommendations for action on complex issues that affect the broader community.
  • Allows for in-depth understanding of project issues among stakeholders represented on the board.
  • Provides opportunities for exploring alternative strategies and building on commonalities and alliances.
  • Provides for a detailed analysis of project issues, timelines and deliverables and a focus on the outcomes.
  • Enables participants to gain an understanding of other perspectives leading toward common ground for recommendations.

Challenges to Consider

  • Convening must be done in such a way as to result in a fair and balanced group that is widely perceived to represent the community at large.
  • The range of interests must be broad enough to represent all those affected, and members must possess the relevant background and skills to assist in addressing the problem at hand.
  • Boards must be provided a meaningful role in the decision process and should not be viewed as a rubber stamp.
  • Participants must be willing to work together on a common challenge.
  • A clear mission, charter, and ground rules need to be agreed to by all members.
  • It is not always possible to achieve consensus.
  • Can be very time and labor intensive if the issue is significant.

Principles for Successful Planning

  • Conduct a thorough stakeholder analysis and convene the board such that all relevant community interests are fairly represented in its membership.
  • Select a strong chairperson who understands good process.
  • Set expectations to ensure that members continually communicate with their constituents to keep the larger community informed and engaged throughout the process.
  • Do not rush the process, it takes time for board members to build relationships and trust and become fully informed enough about the project in order to develop meaningful results.
  • Maintain regular contact between board activities and the broader community; seek opportunities for broader public interaction with the board.
  • Record decisions and keep a running summary of board deliberations, make sure all decisions are supported by a clear and detailed rationale to share with the broader public.


  • Facilitator
  • Administrative and logistical support
  • Technical project support to develop briefing papers and information


  • Regular meeting venues
  • Briefing books, presentations and materials

Planning Time

  • May take several months to identify, invite, and confirm members.
  • Well functioning advisory boards require a great deal of time and effort to prepare for each meeting.

Implementation Time

  • Advisory boards generally meet once per month for several hours.
  • It generally takes 12 to 18 months for most boards to address issues and develop recommendations; complex and controversial projects can take significantly longer.