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Comment: We are stronger when we listen and smarter when we share

by Diane Krone, chair, ACS Committee on Committees
November 9, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 37


Diane Krone.
Credit: Tom Krone
Diane Krone

Council-related committees have an important role in representing the perspective of the core membership of the American Chemical Society and contribute to governance decisions. Over the past few years, the Committee on Committees (ConC) has been reviewing the committee structure and the appointment process as it strives to fulfill its mission to ensure that ACS committees are inclusive, optimally organized, resourced, and engaged.

As part of our process of looking for opportunities to improve the committee system, ConC partnered with McKinley Advisors, a consulting group with knowledge of ACS and other organizations in the nonprofit space, to review current committee structures and functions and to provide actionable recommendations that support the following ideal future:

The portfolio of ACS committees and related governance processes reflects the current and anticipated needs of the society.

ACS committees effectively collaborate to advance the mission and vision of the society.

The membership, participation, and leadership of ACS committees sustainably reflect the society’s current and anticipated membership demographics.

ACS committees provide meaningful experiences to volunteers and value to their respective employers.

ACS committees provide meaningful contributions that advance the work of the ACS Board of Directors and Council.

The McKinley team has been working closely with the ConC steering committee, which consists of representatives from ConC, the Council Policy Committee, the board of directors, and ACS staff members.

The society benefits from the contributions made by our volunteers and committed members of governance committees.

We are stronger when we listen . . .

The society benefits from the contributions made by our volunteers and committed members of governance committees. We gathered pertinent data through qualitative interviews with committee members and followed the interviews with an electronic survey sent to council- related committee members, councilors, board members, and 10,000 randomized ACS members not involved in governance. This process led to the creation of three focus groups, which provided additional feedback and committee system-specific recommendations.

. . . and smarter when we are transparent

Of those interviewed and surveyed, most current committee members expressed that they are satisfied with and interested in the committee experience. They feel that committees make meaningful contributions to the ACS Board and Council and that they drive the work of the organization and provide valuable resources and engagement opportunities for members.

They also perceive ACS’s committee structure as complex and lacking transparency, leading to a lack of awareness of committee overlap. Roughly one-fourth feel that ACS has too many committees, indicating there may be opportunities to merge.

About half the committee members interviewed feel that committees do not reflect the diversity of ACS membership but that ACS is making strides in increasing the diverse representation on committees. New members, young members, and marginalized cohorts are particularly interested in ACS volunteer opportunities, including serving on a committee.

McKinley identified strategic opportunities to strengthen committees and made recommendations for ConC to carry out. These recommendations include the following items:

Perform regular audits to evaluate committees’ ongoing relevance and identify opportunities for creation, consolidation, and potential collaboration.

Provide volunteers with clear and detailed descriptions of each committee’s charge and their expectations for committee service.

Create opportunities for chairs and staff liaisons to meet and facilitate discussions that help identify collaboration opportunities.

Intentionally incorporate the values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect into the committee selection process, and use data to bring about more diverse representation.

Target recruitment efforts toward underrepresented groups, and strengthen and promote mentorship programs.

Share research findings and recommendations with other governance entities within ACS to enhance best practices and improve outcomes for all volunteer groups.

Next steps

The ConC steering committee established three working groups to review McKinley’s recommendations and develop a final list and proposed timeline for improving and restructuring council-related committees. One working group, along with McKinley and the ACS Webinars team, developed two town-hall-style webinars to inform committee members and councilors of the review process, findings, and recommendations. Another working group has been focusing on quick wins, such as making changes to the committee review process. A third working group is looking at proposed committee changes and actions, like creating committee clusters that align with ACS goals. The groups are also exploring offering microvolunteer opportunities, allowing more members to get involved.

New committees may be formed, and some will be renamed and revitalized. As ConC moves forward with committee realignment, we will connect with staff liaisons and committee members to better understand the committees’ purposes and positioning in regard to ACS’s mission.

ConC is committed both to recognizing the voices of our volunteers and dedicated members of governance committees and ensuring that our committees are following general governance best practices.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.



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