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Section 3. Developing Multisector Task Forces or Action Committees for the Initiative

Learn how to develop multisector task forces or action committees to focus on specific community issues and efficiently take action on that issue.


Creating a task force or an action committee can be an effective way for your initiative to address a specific problem. Such a body needs to be directed specifically toward acting on that problem, and to involve all of the different sectors of the community that are affecting it or affected by it. In this section, we'll discuss what task forces and action committees might look like, what they do, and how to put them together and use them to shape your initiative.

What is a multisector task force or action committee?

A task force or action committee (also sometimes called an ad hoc committee from the Latin meaning "for this purpose") is a group assembled to address a specific problem or accomplish a specific goal. That problem or goal can take at least two different forms:

  • It might be related to dealing with a specific community issue - affordable housing, child abuse, early detection and treatment of breast cancer.
  • It might stem from a need of the larger group. A coalition might need a smaller group to focus on advocacy, for instance, or to draft a set of bylaws.

A multisector task force or action committee is drawn from all sectors of the community affected by or involved in the problem or goal that is the group 's focus. In the Peterson Community example, for instance, the task force leaders tried to include representatives of every group they could think of that had anything to do with the problem of teen prescription drug abuse.

Task forces and action committees, as you might assume from their names, are action -oriented. Their specific purpose is to do something. Depending upon the issue they address, their initial goals may be very specific (find community shelter space for at least 15 homeless families; draft a timeline for a community economic development effort) or more general (address the problem of youth violence). In either case, however, their purpose is to come up with real results.

In general, these groups are not meant to be permanent. They either disband when their task is done, or they become another kind of group. As will be discussed in more detail later, a task force might spin off a new community intervention, for instance. While that venture would continue the work of the task force, it might not involve any of the first group's members, and would have a different purpose and structure.

A task force or action committee is usually part of a larger initiative - a community coalition of some sort, a local or other government committee, etc. It may be one of several such groups spawned by the initiative, each aimed at a different issue or goal. It may operate independently, or may have to gain approval from the larger group before taking any action.

The North Quabbin Community Coalition, in north central Massachusetts, regularly maintains several task forces working on specific community issues. Some former and current task forces include Information and Referral, Child Sexual Assault, Homelessness, and Youth-Community Relations.

Why would you form a multisector task force or action committee?

There are really two questions here, each of which we'll consider separately:

  • Why would you form a task force or action committee?
  • Why should a task force or action committee be a multisector group?

Why form a task force or action committee?

There are a number of reasons why you might want to form a task force or action committee, rather than addressing the issue at hand within the larger group.

  • Task forces or action committees can make it possible for their parent groups to zero in on the areas that need the most, or immediate, attention, while still addressing their other concerns.
  • A task force or action committee can focus in on the specific issue, rather than being pulled in a number of directions, as the larger group may be.
  • In general, a small group can operate more efficiently than a large one to get things done.
  • Task forces and action committees give people a chance to concentrate on their major areas of interest, and to contribute more effectively to the work of the larger group.
  • Task forces and action committees can pull in members who may not be interested in the larger group to work on just the particular issue they are interested in. The community thus benefits from their talents and expertise even though they aren't members of the larger group.

Why should a task force or action committee be multisector?

Including people from as many sectors of the community as possible is almost always both more ethical and more effective than excluding them. This is particularly true when assembling task forces or action committees that are aimed at accomplishing specific goals in a community.

Advantages of a multisector task force or action committee

  • Community action usually requires the support, and often the participation, of all stakeholders if it's to be successful.

"Stakeholders" is a term used throughout the Tool Box. It refers to those who are directly affected or have some other interest in a particular issue. The stakeholders in a discussion of discrimination in housing, for instance, include not only the members of minority groups that are discriminated against, but also anti-discrimination enforcement agencies, housing authorities, realtors and their employees, landlords, the police (who may get the first call on a discrimination complaint), legal service agencies, and even homeowners in a particular neighborhood (who may have strong feelings - and not necessarily much information - about including or excluding minorities, and what that will mean for their property values).

  • Involvement of all stakeholders in planning and carrying out any action means that they'll take ownership of those plans and actions. They'll be much more concerned about making sure that the action is successful because it's theirs, rather than something imposed on them by "experts" or some other authority.
  • Involvement of many sectors of the community brings with it the information and insights that those different sectors have into the issue. More information and insight lead to better planning and more chance of successful action.
  • The perspectives of various sectors on community history and personalities can help the group to a real understanding of the issue, including the vital small things that might be otherwise ignored. (Whether or not two individuals get along well may determine whether a given plan is workable, for example. Neighborhood people, who are familiar with the personalities involved, are more apt to know that sort of thing than, say, health professionals.)
  • Involving many sectors in the task force or action committee will generate community cooperation and support for the action taken.
  • Multisector participation benefits the larger initiative and the community as well, because it brings together individuals and groups who might not, under other circumstances, have much contact, or who might distrust one another. In the work of the task force or action committee, they have the opportunity to learn about one another, and develop mutual trust and respect.
  • Finally, it's simply fair and reasonable to involve people in decisions which affect their lives. Those decisions are likely to address the issue more realistically, and to take into account the legitimate needs of the groups affected, if those groups are involved in planning and implementing them.

Possible disadvantages of a multisector group

Although there are many compelling reasons for forming multisector groups, there are potential difficulties with them as well. Even if you understand the history and current situation of your community before you start to assemble such a group, there are still problems you may run into.

  • There may be enmity and distrust among segments of the community that are normally at odds, or who have little contact. Some of these may be obvious - racial or ethnic tensions, intergenerational conflict - but some may not, or may be one-sided. Low-income people may distrust members of more affluent groups, for instance, even if the latter have good intentions and are trying to be open and welcoming. Politicians who are genuinely concerned with solving the problem may nonetheless be objects of suspicion. Academics may scorn business people, or vice-versa. These areas of conflict have to be resolved if the group is to function well.
  • There may be deep-seated disagreement about how to handle the issue. Police may see the answer to a drug problem as more rigorous enforcement, while medical professionals see it as one of treatment, and human service providers as one of addressing the underlying causes - poverty, hopelessness, unemployment, child abuse, education, etc.

The simple answer in a situation like this would seem to be "all of the above." If you strengthen enforcement, mandate treatment, and address the underlying causes, you'll make some headway. While that is probably true, you should also consider here the availability of resources and loss of focus.

In order to address enforcement, treatment, and underlying causes all at once, you'll need money and personnel time from a number of different sources. In addition, if you try to focus on all three areas (and each is a tall order even by itself), you risk diluting and scattering your efforts to the point where you can't be effective at anything. Task forces or action committees usually are most successful when their goals are clear, well-defined, and well-focused.

All of that leaves your group with having to somehow reconcile different views of the world and of the issue at hand. It's not impossible, given good will on all hands...but it's not easy, either. It takes good leadership, something we'll look at later in this section.

  • Different individuals or groups may have very different levels of commitment to the work of the task force or action committee. This can lead to problems in a relatively small group where everyone depends on everyone else to carry out assignments.
  • There may be differences in levels of sophistication, education, and "group skills" among members of the group from different sectors of the community. In order to ensure that everyone's capacities are tapped, some folks may need support, encouragement, and mentoring or training in order to feel comfortable participating.

This situation can either be seen as a potential problem or as a potential advantage, because, while it obviously can act to the detriment of the group if not handled well, it also provides the opportunity to develop leadership from within the community.

When would you form a multisector task force or action committee?

Some issues can be addressed within the context of a larger initiative, or by simply finding more resources for existing organizations or services. When can a multisector task force or action committee best address an issue? Here are some possibilities:

  • When the initiative as a whole identifies a specific issue, within its larger mission, that needs to be attended to. This might, as described earlier, be a community problem, such as substance use, or it might be an internal need of the initiative - advocacy, recruitment of new members, etc. In either case, the issue is important for the initiative to address, but too specific for the whole group to work on.
  • When new information points out something in the community that can't be ignored.

The North Quabbin Community Coalition referred to earlier found, in the late 1980s, that one town in the region, with a population of just over 10,000, had the third highest number of child sexual assault cases for Massachusetts communities. It was clear that action needed to be taken as quickly as possible, and the Coalition immediately formed a Child Sexual Assault Task Force, which included the police, all the relevant human service and state child protective agencies, parents, the schools, the local hospital and community health center, the YMCA, and other interested parties.

  • When an existing task force or action committee realizes its work can't be completed without addressing another area related to its own focus.

A Child Sexual Assault Task Force like that above, for instance, may find that a huge percentage of child sexual assault cases are alcohol-related (as the North Quabbin Task Force in fact found). The initiative might then, at the Task Force's urging, form another task force to address alcohol abuse in the community.

  • When a difficult situation or critical action by an external entity makes attention to a particular issue suddenly more important. If the state cuts health funding for your community, for instance, your initiative might want to form an advocacy task force to mobilize a local effort to get it restored.
  • When a group within a larger initiative sees an issue that it particularly wants to concentrate on. If the driving force for the task force or action committee comes from many of its potential members, it is likely that they will be focused and hard-working, and that their efforts will be effective.

There can be a problem here if the issue is not one that particularly needs attention. The energy of those in the self-propelled task force or action committee is then diverted from more important concerns. Leaders of the larger group might try - diplomatically - to turn the task force in a more appropriate direction.

Who might be part of a multisector task force or action committee?

The short answer to who might join a multisector task force or action committee is just about anyone. Here are some considerations when you're recruiting:

Seek members who aren't part of the larger group that the task force or action committee is part of. The only criteria for membership are their interest in the issue, and their willingness to work on it. You can recruit friends and neighbors, program participants, politicians - anyone who can help.

Look for stakeholders and other interested parties. Stakeholders might include:

  • Those directly affected by the issue
  • Target populations
  • Those who work with those directly affected
  • Those responsible for the issue in the community. If the issue involves the law, for instance, as in the case of drug abuse, the police and court personnel would be appropriate task force members
  • Those affected indirectly or secondarily. Businesses are affected by low literacy rates in a community, for instance, because they can't find workers with the skills they need
  • Interested citizens may have no specific stake in the issue, but may see it as a community problem, and therefore something they should be concerned about

Look for people who can be helpful to the effort. These folks may not be stakeholders, but may be able to offer support and credibility, as well as resources.

Some possibilities:

  • Business leaders.
  • Clergy and other leaders of the faith community
  • Local or state officials
  • People who may hold no official position, but who have high standing in the community
  • People with access to money or other resources
  • People with access to power
  • People with access to the target population

Look to engage people from different sectors. Some examples of different community sectors include:

  • Youth
  • Older adults
  • Business community
  • Media
  • Schools
  • Youth-serving organizations
  • Law enforcement agencies
  • Religious or fraternal organizations
  • Civic and volunteer groups
  • Healthcare professionals
  • State, local, or tribal governmental agencies
  • Community organizations

Ultimately, a cross section of the community on your task force or action committee means more access to different sectors of the community, more credibility among those sectors, more and better information, and more chance of community support and eventual success.

How do you develop a multisector task force or action committee?

If you do decide that you need a task force or action committee to work on an issue for your initiative, what do you do next? In order to put a group together and get it working, there are a number of steps you should take. These steps are essentially the same as those a larger group might take in defining its goals and actions.

Define the relationship of your task force or action committee to the larger group

How are you going to operate within the context of the initiative? There is a broad range of options here, from complete independence to having to check back before taking any step at all.

Three common models:

  • The task force or action committee operates independently. In this situation, the larger group delegates authority for the issue in question to the task force that's working on it. It may come back to the initiative for help, support, or resources, or to report on its progress, but the decisions about how to proceed are its own.
  • The task force operates fairly independently, but reports back to the larger group on a regular basis. It doesn't need approval to do most things, but can 't commit the initiative to anything, or act in its name, without an official okay.
  • The task force needs permission to take any action steps at all. Operating this way, it would probably formulate a plan and get it approved by the larger group. Then, it would have to check with the larger group only if the plan changed.

Decide beforehand exactly what the task force can do on its own, what it needs approval for, and who can give that official okay. In the case of a coalition, for instance, permission might come from the coordinator, a steering committee, an executive board, or a vote of the whole membership.

Once a decision is made about how task forces will operate, that decision will usually hold for all future task forces and action committees of the initiative as well, unless there's a need for something different in a particular circumstance.

In general, the more independent the task force, the more effective it is likely to be, since there may be times when it needs to move quickly. But, at the same time, the more informed the larger group is, the more likely it is to be supportive and available for help when needed. One reasonable way to incorporate both independence and the involvement of the larger group is to create a mechanism for checking back with the group that still allows for speed when necessary. This might mean clearing action with one or two people, or with a small executive committee.

Find the right people to lead your task force or action committee

The person(s) you choose need(s) two characteristics:

  • Have, or be able to establish, credibility with all sectors of the population that you need to draw from. (This may mean that the person is an outsider, or a neutral party with no connection to any specific group; or maybe simply someone who's known throughout the community for fairness and integrity, or liked by everyone.)
  • Be a good facilitator, who can deal with conflict and keep group members on track and all headed in the same direction.

Given these attributes, some potential leaders might be:

  • The coalition or initiative coordinator
  • The person(s) most concerned with, or with the most credibility on the issue
  • The person(s) who can best articulate the task ahead and see the process for accomplishing it
  • A group representing several sectors of the community
  • The task force or action committee may be led collaboratively by all its members (you'll still need a facilitator, but that person may change from meeting to meeting)

Identify individuals or groups whose participation your task force can't do without

The questions to ask here are:

  • Who are the actual stakeholders in this issue?
  • Who are the policy makers, powerbrokers, and others whose permission, support, or membership is necessary to get anything done?
  • Who will actually carry out any changes or reforms that your task force succeeds in establishing?

Make an actual list, with both individual names and - if you can't identify an individual - names of groups or sectors of the community who need to be involved. Ask other members of the initiative, contacts in the community, and anyone else you know to help you identify specific people to contact wherever you can.

There are some people whose direct participation is crucial. But there are others who would be ideal as well, even though they may not be absolutely necessary to success. Remember the list above of people who can be helpful.

Recruit members for your task force or action committee

Use your list and your contacts to get in touch with people. Many may be people already involved with the initiative, but many may not. Where you have an individual listed as the best representative of a particular group or segment of the community, it might help to have second and third choices from that group as well. In addition, people who may not be able to become members themselves will have ideas about others who would be good additions to your task force. Don't hesitate to ask them for names.

The best method of recruiting people is always personally. An ideal is for the first contact to be from someone the person already knows, but a "cold call" - a personal visit or phone call made to someone you don't know - is still better than an e-mail or a letter.

Gather the group and define its purpose

The issue is already a given, but how are you going to approach it, and what are you going to do about it? Some task forces or action committees are convened to study an issue, others to affect it indirectly, still others to take immediate and direct action. Members need to decide what they're going to do. One model for achieving this assumes that the task force works together as a group to plan its course of action:

The model below assumes also that someone acts as facilitator to guide the group through the process. It is aimed at a group whose purpose is to address a community issue - youth violence, homelessness, etc. A task force or action committee that has a very specific purpose, such as drafting bylaws, won't need to go through this whole process.

  • Define the problem or issue clearly.
  • Envision the ideal solution - what do you want things to look like or be like when your work is done?
  • Start with the solution and work backward. What things need to happen to get from where you are now to the solution you've envisioned?
  • Map out benchmarks - achievements along the way - between where you are now and where you want to be.
  • Brainstorm or otherwise determine ways to reach each benchmark from the one before, and to reach your final goal.
  • Identify whether your plan means that other issues have to be addressed as well (not necessarily by this group), or whether other people must be included, and decide how to deal with those realities.
  • Identify the resources you'll need to get to each benchmark, and decide - realistically - how much you can obtain. Adjust your actual goals accordingly.
  • Draft a plan based on what you've come up with. It should include a timeline for when you expect to reach each benchmark, and when you expect to reach your final goal.

Always be aware that a plan like this is a guideline. Everything always takes longer than you expect or want it to. The purpose here is to give yourself and the initiative some idea of what you're doing and how long it might take. Not only your timeline, but your plan itself will change. If it's a good plan to begin with, its major elements may survive reality, but much will be different by the time you reach your goal. The flexibility to adjust to changes in circumstances and to things you didn't anticipate or know about should be part of any plan.

  • Present your plan to the larger group. Even if you have the latitude to act independently, it will help to hear what others think. It will also help both you and the initiative as a whole if everyone knows what's happening, especially if you need help from other task forces or members of the initiative.

At this point, you've actually developed your task force or action committee, and set it on its way. Your work has hardly begun, however. There are still a number of steps before you're ready to hang up your task force hat for good. We'll discuss them briefly.

Implement your plan

Take action to reach your benchmarks and your ultimate goal.

Evaluate and adjust your plan and your actions

As mentioned in the box above, no plan is perfect. That is why it is important to evaluate plans, programs, and processes regularly. These evaluations give you a chance to see what's working well, what needs to be changed, and what assumptions are in error or outdated. Most important, evaluation makes it possible to adjust and improve what you're doing.

Celebrate successes along the way

Celebrate reaching benchmarks with parties or formal ceremonies. Give awards to task force members, community volunteers, and anyone else who deserves them. Advertise your successes to your colleagues, and use the media to tell the community about them.

Celebration keeps people going, and reminds them why they're putting in all that time. It creates way stations so that the road to success doesn't seem all that long. It makes people feel good about themselves and what they're doing, and reminds the community that you're there.

Find a way to institutionalize whatever is necessary to continue to address the issue

Task forces and action committees usually disband once they've accomplished their purposes. But public health and community issues have a habit of never being "resolved." As long as you keep working at addressing them, you can keep things flowing smoothly. But once you turn your back, there are those issues again, just waiting for you to leave so they can surface.

There are a some ways that a task force or action committee can make sure that its issues continue to be addressed:

  • The task force's work may be spun off into a new program or agency

For example, the North Quabbin's Child Sexual Assault Task Force eventually spawned Valuing Our Children, an independent organization that conducts various programs for children and teens, offers parenting classes and other support services for parents, and runs family activities to encourage parents and their kids to have fun together.

  • The implementation of the task force's plans or goals may be taken over by an existing agency
  • The initiative as a whole may assume oversight of the task force's work, and institutionalize it in the community

Reaching your goal is only the first part of your task force's job. Only when the strategies for maintaining that goal have become institutionalized is your job done.

In Summary

Your initiative may need to develop multisector task forces or action committees to focus in on specific community issues or particular needs of the initiative itself. A task force or action committee is a group intended to take action; multisector refers to the group's membership, which is drawn from all sectors of the community, or all sectors that are concerned with the issue at hand.

Multisector task forces or action committees help a larger initiative focus in on specific issues, and do something about them. They can be more efficient than the larger group, and can let people concentrate on the issues that interest them. The fact that their membership is drawn from many segments of the community gives their work and that of the initiative credibility among various groups, gives those groups ownership of their plans and actions, gains their support, and leaves them feeling that they've been justifiably involved in dealing with issues that are important to them.

Multisector task forces and action committees are particularly useful when issues reach crisis proportions, or are heading in that direction; when new information identifies a hitherto unrecognized problem in the community; when an outside entity precipitates a crisis through its actions; or when a group sees a particular issue it wants to tackle. Membership, besides bridging cultural, class, ethnic, and other community boundaries, usually should include representatives of all stakeholders to the issue, people with access to policy making, and others in the community who are interested in and can be helpful to the effort.

The process of developing a multisector task force or action committee should include:

  • Defining the relationship of the task force and the larger initiative
  • Choosing good leadership
  • Listing potential members
  • Recruiting members
  • Convening the group and articulating its purpose

Once the groundwork is done, the work of the task force encompasses:

  • Implementing the action plan
  • Evaluating and adjusting the plan and the work
  • Celebrating successes at every step
  • Institutionalizing the work of the task force before it disbands

Only after the last step can the task force or action committee be considered finally successful.

Phil Rabinowitz

Online Resources

Children and Youth Task Force in Disasters: Guidelines for Development, by Administration for Children and Families, Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response, is a 2013 report with details on how to form a task force, focusing here on response to a major storm (Superstorm Sandy) that affected the Northeast United States in 2012. These guidelines are intended for emergency management, human services, and public health professionals to support a coordinated, integrated, and effective approach to children’s needs in emergency preparedness, response, and recovery.

Creating Political Action Committees (PACs) for Smokefree Air, by Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, is an example of creating a political action committee, along with a step-by-step process, as well as a development checklist. The PAC, as referred, would apply primarily at a national or state level, though the specific suggestions here generalize across many issues.

Forming a Corporate Political Action Committee, by Ronald M. Jacobs, Lawrence H. Norton, and Janice M. Ryan, provides an overview of PACs and summarizes the process and the steps through which a corporation can establish a connected PAC.

Multi-Cluster/Sector Initial Rapid Assessment (MIRA), by Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) 2012, is a 20-page manual “designed to identify strategic humanitarian priorities during the first weeks following an emergency,” together with an additional five annexes [appendices] providing supporting information. The emphasis here is on large-scale global responses.

The Multi-Sector Task Force: A National Response to Violence Against Children is a United Nations report focusing on violence against children in Tanzania but also illustrating how a multi-sector task force can be formed and how it can operate in practice.