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Task groups

Encouraging cross-sector work on specific issues

Category: ActivitiesName: Sarah Young, Stakeholder Engagement Officer
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‘An achievement was pulling together people who otherwise work independently, increasing awareness. knowledge, experience, lesson-sharing between groups and across boundaries’

Why?

Not all policy is relevant to everybody.  People have particular expertise and feel more comfortable contributing to an area they are familiar with.  One of the goals of the Celtic Seas Project was to progress implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.  Handily, that piece of policy is broken down into 11 ‘Descriptors’. We asked our stakeholders to indicate which ones they were interested in working on. From that five task groups were set up: marine litter, invasive species, biodiversity, noise and food webs.  Because the subjects cut across all countries and all sectors the groups naturally had a good mix of members.

Step by Step

  1. Ask your stakeholders which particular pieces of policy they would like to work on together
  2. Set up an initial meeting with interested people and agree terms of reference for the group
  3. Identify people outside of the initial group who might want to be involved and invite them to join
  4. Create a secretariat and organise events that help the group develop their work plan
  5. Promote the work of your task groups to show what they are doing is valuable

Top Tips

Don’t be too prescriptive about what your task group does.  Trust in the members’ expertise and use your time and energy helping them work together productively. What our groups started talking about in the beginning was sometimes very different from what they produced at the end!

There are well documented stages groups go through before they become an effective and well-oiled machine (forming, storming, norming, and performing). Understanding the stages of team building will improve your facilitation.

Initially help the group get to know each other and articulate their expectations and opinions. There will often be a history of relationships, conflicts and alliances between group members, so you will need to establish your task group as a neutral space where everyone feels comfortable working together.

Regularly provide opportunities for the group to reflect on progress and check they are heading in a direction to avoid disillusionment and drop outs.

These kind of groups are often called ‘Task and Finish’ groups.  This makes it clear that people are being brought together to work on a specific, time-bound issue. Help your groups work out what is achievable and makes the best use of the skills in the room.

Having clear terms of reference for your task groups helps manage expectations.  We were not always clear enough about what the task groups were for and how they related to other organisations working on similar issues.  The group needs to be working on something relevant and niche else your members might spend their time in other forums.

Two of our 5 task groups met and after a while decided they were not going to be able to make progress.  We documented the discussions they had had so far and wrapped them up. The remaining groups went on to develop detailed funding proposals for future work.

Some members will become active contributor whilst others may only want to be involved every now and then, or just receive information on progress.  Allow people to participate flexibly and keep information flowing with all the members no matter how often they attend.

Why?

Time

The resourcing for task groups completely depends on the situation.  Our group’s sizes ranged from 5-20 people.  They met every 6 months or every quarter or every couple of months when the work got flowing.  Be prepared to put in quality time at the beginning setting up your task groups.

People

Each task group in the Celtic Seas Project had a Stakeholder Engagement Officer coordinating and facilitating the activities.  Having a consistent contact person adds a degree of stability and clarity for communications.

Resources

In terms of resources, each group started with £5,000 which was used to host the meetings, cover travel costs and could be used as ‘seed money’ to progress whatever initiative the group developed. All three of the active groups developed more detailed funding proposals for future work.