Other ways to get involved in boards & commissions
There are many ways to communicate your opinions to a board or commission, even if you are not a member:
Learn about and monitor the process
Find out when and where meetings take place and what will be discussed. In most communities, this information should be posted publicly. Track progress over time on the issues you care about most.
Get to know members
If there are members who are likely to share your opinions, reach out to them and offer your support. You may get more context about the policies and issues from them, while the board member or commissioner may be able to cite your support during the decision-making process.
Speak at a meeting or submit written comments
"Health advocates could play a much larger role in influencing the process. It would be great to hear more input on the health impact of major developments, but also on smaller projects. Often, as commissioners we need to reach out to people, but it would be great to have a more ongoing relationship – phone calls are always great."
– Planning Commissioner
Giving public comments at a meeting or submitting letters to the board/commission and other relevant government officials can be a great way to raise visibility of health and equity during the policy process. These strategies are especially effective as part of a longer-term campaign that involves engaging and building coalitions with community-based organizations, residents, and board/commission members who share your values. If you are planning to speak at a meeting, be sure to rehearse your statement and stick to any applicable time limits. Think about who should deliver your message: for instance, if you come from a community-based organization, decide who will have the most credibility or impact.
Some groups have workgroups or subcommittees that do not require that you sit on the board/commission in order to participate. This can provide an opportunity for you to learn more about the group’s work, contribute your expertise, and build relationships with members and other community stakeholders.
Find other ways to voice your opinions
For highly contentious issues, you may want to expand your outreach: in addition to contacting the board or commission, you may also want to voice your perspectives to the overseeing agency or legislative group, elected officials, and local media outlets. Find allies and other organizations that share your views and work with them to engage residents to voice their opinions.
Track boards and commissions in your community and recruit community members for openings
Urban Habitat, a nonprofit in Oakland, Calif., runs an innovative Boards & Commissions Leadership Institute that is perhaps the most extensive program of its kind in the nation: it recruits, trains, and helps place low-income people and people of color in high-impact boards and commissions around the region with the goal of promoting equitable planning processes. A program of this depth and intensity may not be possible everywhere, but without too much effort a community-based group or a coalition of organizations could follow and build relationships with relevant agencies over time to help recruit new members.
Organize to start a new board or commission
If a new or pressing need arises that doesn’t fall neatly within the jurisdiction of current agencies, boards, or commissions, you might consider working with local government to assess the feasibility of starting a new advisory group. Some communities have started food policy councils or food access workgroups to create a multidisciplinary, interagency forum for new policies and programs aimed at improving community food systems. Similarly, many cities, counties, and states have started a youth commission or council to advise government officials on policies affecting young people. Getting new advisory bodies off the ground will involve recruiting champions both within local government and among the larger community.
Emerging policies and plans may also present new opportunities for public involvement: for instance, a neighborhood plan might include a provision to create a community advisory committee, or a local hiring ordinance might specify the creation of a task force to oversee implementation.