Tapping Into Others’ Expertise
Watershed associations work on a variety of projects to protect the health of their watershed. These projects may involve water quality monitoring, streambank restoration, assessing the health of the watershed as a whole, or working with municipalities on local environmental ordinances. As your organization takes on new projects, someone involved in the project should consider assembling and communicating with a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC).
A TAC is a group of outside advisors with relevant expertise that can help you throughout the entire process of a project. The role of the TAC is to provide outside, expert guidance and feedback on the scientific basis, methodology, and results of your project. Their participation will not only help you in the actual execution of your work, but will also lend credibility to your results.
As you organize your TAC, seek out people with areas of expertise related to your work. Depending on the project, ask individuals who work in fields such as groundwater, surface water, ecology, biology, chemistry, planning, and policy. Consider individuals with whom your organization has an existing and positive working relationship. The advantages to working with these individuals are that they are already familiar with your organization’s work and mission; their participation on the TAC will build upon their current relationship with the organization; and you are familiar with their professionalism, knowledge, and work product.
Forming a TAC requires convening a group of individuals with expertise related to your project. However, before you begin contacting people to join your TAC, identify the project goals. Identifying your goals will help in determining who should sit on your TAC. For example, if a project goal is to assess the health of a watershed and then implement strategies to improve its heath, include a scientist knowledgeable in monitoring (an assessment tool) and a municipal official on your TAC.
By establishing a working relationship with an official during the assessment phase of the project, you will have a contact and positive relationship to draw on during the implementation stage. This can prove to be extremely beneficial, since a municipal official can support the passage of ordinances to improve the watershed’s health. In addition, the involvement and support of this official shows the rest of the municipality that your organization provides solid, fact based information, thus giving credibility to your organization’s work.
Some helpful hints when assembling TAC members include:
- Clearly identify the scope, purpose, and timeframe of the project up front.
- As TAC members sign on, be clear about requests for review and associated deadlines. They will appreciate the clarity, and it will help keep you on schedule.
- Decide how your TAC will communicate. Will you hold meetings, or circulate documents and comments via e-mail?
- Communicate the time commitment that will be required from members.
- Establish the role of the TAC: Will it serve primarily as an advisory body, providing feedback and suggestions? Or will it have more of a coordinating role, providing oversight and direction?
With its cumulative expertise and varied perspectives, a TAC is an invaluable source of advice and feedback. Not only should you view the TAC as an advisory body, but recognize that it can be an unexpected and serendipitous resource on matters such as additional data and scientific methodologies.
An individual’s expertise is extremely important to consider when recruiting members for a TAC. However, when asking an individual to participate, also consider if s/he will be willing and able to devote the time required to review documents and attend meetings.
Recruit some TAC members from local, neighboring communities. These individuals may be able to offer local knowledge and insights to a project, and may also be more likely to attend meetings if they do not have to travel great distances.
Below is the contact information for several groups who may be willing to serve on a TAC for your organization. In addition to those listed below, consider other local organizations with whom you have a relationship, trust the quality of their work, or can provide specific expertise in the project area.
- New Jersey Geological Survey (NJGS) http://www.state.nj.us/dep/njgs
- New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) http://www.nj.gov/dep/
- Rutgers University New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station & Cooperative Extension http://njaes.rutgers.edu/
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2 http://www.epa.gov/Region2/
- U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) http://nj.usgs.gov/
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service http://www.nj.nrcs.usda.gov/