The first steps

Consumer representation is often complex. This resource aims to clarify the issues which can cause confusion at the start and, later on, in committee work.

Once you have been nominated to a committee it would be beneficial to spend some time talking to your nominating organisation and the Committee Secretariat to clarify any issues.

    Who do you represent?

    Consumer representatives provide a consumer perspective to balance the views of health professionals and other stakeholders. They do not speak for all consumers.

    Consumer representatives draw on the work of their consumer network, share information and are expected to keep them informed of their work. However, they usually do not have the authority to speak formally on behalf of their nominating organisation (e.g. In the case of CHF, only the Chair and CEO have this authority).

    If you have any doubts, clarify your position with your nominating consumer organisation.

    Your obligations

    It is important to understand the circumstances in which you were appointed before you can assess your obligations. You should clarify whether your appointment is:

    • in your own right, for example as a board member
    • as a consumer representative nominated by a consumer organisation.

    If you were nominated by a consumer organisation you may wish to ask them:

    • are you expected to carry forward the policies of the organisation?
    • what do they expect of you?
    • how will they keep you informed about their work and provide you with support?

    Expectations

    Consumer representatives may be expected to fill a number of roles and perform different tasks.

    Your nominating organisation will expect a number of things from you, the committee you are on may have expectations of you, and you will have expectations of yourself and of the committee.

    Expectations of the nominating organisation

    Often consumer organisations expect their consumer representatives to regularly report and to consult with them and others in the consumer movement. The organisation should inform you of your obligations to them.

    Consumer representatives do not usually make public statements on behalf of their nominating organisation or in relation to their committee work. Always be cautious if asked to make a public statement such as a media interview, speech or to write for a journal or other publication.

    The Committee's expectations

    Sometimes committee members have a limited understanding of the role of consumer representatives. Committee members may believe that the consumer representative represents minority groups, women or even the entire community. Consequently consumer representatives are placed in an unenviable situation where they are asked to speak on behalf of these groups.

    Consumer representatives must keep in mind that they are nominated by consumers to provide a consumer perspective. Try not to get into the position of speaking on behalf of other groups not represented on the committee. Your role will be to flag with the committee that the views and needs of these groups should be sought and included in the decision making process.

    Committees will expect consumer representatives to be committed to attending meetings. This includes:

    • attending all meetings where possible
    • preparing for the meeting including reading meeting papers
    • participating and contributing to the meeting

    Your expectations

    There are a number of things you should expect as a committee member. They include being:

    • treated as an equal member of the committee;
    • heard, listened to, and understood by the rest of the committee;
    • able to ask for clarification and more information, especially if jargon is used;
    • given all relevant information and an agenda for the meeting with enough time to read, understand and consult consumer groups and other consumers before the meeting. The information should be provided in a format that can be readily utilised by consumer representatives, taking into consideration any special requirements the consumer representative may have;
    • able to ensure that the committee procedures allow you to return to your support network and consult with consumers, including guidance and advice around confidentiality requirements;
    • entitled to disagree with the rest of the committee and have this recorded
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