I work at a community Center-Social Services program with a local government organization. The purpose of our programs is to address the needs of individuals living within City limits who are faced with a temporary financial crisis. The needs are defined as emergency in nature, i.e., utility assistance, rental assistance and counseling services in relation other needs.
I am interested organizing a community task force to address those needs in order to achieve self-sufficiency. (for example, questions about planning, assessment, participation, publicity, program development, leadership, advocacy, or evaluation, etc).
What do I need to do to establish this task force and where do I begin.
Thank you, Katie, for writing to us at Ask an Advisor with your very important question. Through a task force such as the one you envision, you have the opportunity to make significant and lasting change in your community.
We do believe that planning a new task force like the one you have in mind will take some time and effort, and some careful advance thinking. This is very natural in any work of this kind. But we also think that taking the time to plan carefully before you begin will definitely pay off for you, and for the impact your task force will have in the longer run.
Here are some of the initial questions and issues you might address:
* What, specifically, do you want the task force to do? What are its goals? What should be its specific objectives and tasks? Where do you want to be a year from now -- and what, specifically do you then want to have accomplished?
* A related set of questions: What, realistically, can the task force do? What helpful services can and should the task force provide? Can it, for example, give direct financial aid? If not, should it be able to do so?
Your answers to the above questions, worked out as best you can in advance, will help you determine both the structure and the function of the task force, and help make your actual work more effective. .
* Who should be on the task force? Chances are you would want the members to be representative of the community and of the clients you serve. In our opinion, this would also include current consumers of these services.
So for example, who is already involved in emergency utility assistance, rental assistance, etc.? These are prospective candidates. So are key government and neighborhood leaders, perhaps as well as sympathetic bankers and other financial decision-makers.
You also want people who are doers, who are going to be actively involved, who will show up at meetings and do some work, not just sit on the sidelines. You probably already have a good sense of who those people are. Those are the people you want.
You might want to make a list of prospective members, and run it through one or more of your trusted colleagues. When you are satisfied, start making contacts.
* Before you ask people, you want to be clear on what will be involved for them. Again, what are the particular goals of this task force? And what will be involved for someone who decides to serve? For example, will face-to-face meetings take place? If so, how many, how often, when, and for how long? This means you yourself ought to have a good idea of at least the tentative answers in advance. If you make your expectations very clear up front, people will be more likely to know what they are getting into. Which means if they do join, they’ll be more likely to contribute and stick around.
* What other attractors can you offer as to why people should join? – for many candidates are likely to be busy, or to see themselves as busy, and they may not be eager to take on another task or responsibility. How might you convince them?
* Who should facilitate or lead the task force? Who handles the leadership or facilitation at meetings, and who does the staff work between meetings? Maybe it’s you, and that could be a very good thing. But in that case, you will need to be mentally prepared to do it, and have the available time to do it.
* How long is this task force expected to continue? Will it be a short-term group, or will it continue indefinitely? Prospective members will want to know this.
If you can think these questions through carefully before you begin, you will be off to a good start. We think it will also help you to talk to and get ideas from some of the colleagues in your own home office, and perhaps others in your planning efforts before you actually reach out, because they are going to know the particulars of your local conditions in ways we cannot at a distance. Be guided by what they say,
Finally, when you do get together, you want to establish a warm and welcoming climate right from the start. Arrange for a comfortable room, with reasonably high-quality refreshments. Convey the feeling that this task force is going to do some wonderful things. If you can create cohesion and build the right spirit from the get-go, that’s definitely a plus.
For further information, you might want to consult some relevant materials in the Tool Box, such as Chapter 18, Section 1, and Chapter 19, Section 1, on designing and implementing community interventions.
We hope some of these thoughts may be helpful to you. Thanks again for being in touch, and all very best wishes for a great task force in your community!