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Section 2. Creating and Gathering a Group to Guide Your Initiative

Example: Northeast Coalition Steering Committee

Harry Schwartz is a consultant to the steering committee for the Northeast Coalition, a coalition that has been started to improve and develop the Northeast neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas. Schwartz has been helping them organize the coalition and steering committee and undertake their first activities.

The steering committee came about following a report that suggested that the neighborhood should be represented by an umbrella group that would advocate for the needs of local citizens and groups. In the next few months, the steering committee will be transformed into a board.

"What we have right now is a very loose association," Schwartz says of the steering committee. "The committee is now made up of representatives of groups in the neighborhood...each member of the committee represents a different group. It's casual, informal, and loose. There's not even a chair, and things are decided without votes but a consensus."

When the coalition becomes legally incorporated, Schwartz says, "they will have to have a board, officers, and bylaws... Right now, it's just some people getting together every few weeks to discuss an issue, except they have a very specific agenda. It's worked, but it's been just informal without any officers or votes or things like that."

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation, one of the groups that released the abovementioned report, called a meeting to which all the groups that they could find in the neighborhood were invited. "About sixty people came, and we broke up into five subgroups. These are people that are already active representing groups. They all had some base in the community. The discussion revolved around what should priorities be for action in the northeast, and people took notes. We got a pretty good agenda for what people were concerned about. Many people didn't know each other, and we mixed them up so we would minimize friends. There were two people from the same group; they were at different tables. So we got a pretty good mix of people. Many of them didn?t know each other before that. And, then, after spending about an hour together, we asked each table to put forth two people for the steering committee, and that's how we got the committee."

Schwartz says the committee members have worked together well so far, and that everyone agreed the process was fair. "We got a very good mix of people from different groups. We've had subsequent general meetings, and people have felt that the committee has been very representative, fair, and inclusive and has talked about the major issues... No one has said, 'You didn't include me,' because the general meetings are open. So the process up to now has been well endorsed, and we hope to continue in that way."

General meetings of the Northeast Coalition steering committee are held every three months and are anyone who wants to come. "Generally, we've had about 55 or 60 people at each meeting probably representing twenty-five to thirty groups," Schwartz says. "There seems to be a lot of agreement as to what the priorities should be for action in the northeast," he adds. The steering committee is focusing on economic development, housing, and "what people generally refer to as communication, which mean a lot of things - finding out the availability of information on all the groups, groups working together, being able to help each other." The group also wants to focus on the needs of younger people, including jobs, school improvements, and safe after-school activities.

According to Schwartz, the following are qualities to look for in a steering committee member:

  • People who have experience in the neighborhood or area being covered, either as a resident or a businessperson or someone who works for an agency there
  • People who have had a leadership experience before in local groups
  • People who are committed to taking the steering committee as a serious responsibility
  • People who are familiar with local issues
  • People who are articulate
  • People who are able to work in a collaborative spirit
  • People with a sense of vision and imagination for the neighborhood or area
  • People who are mature and well-seasoned
  • People with a variety of different points of view - you don't want everybody representing the same types of interests