Before you start
Preparation is the key to becoming an effective consumer representative. It is crucial to do some preliminary homework before you attend your first meeting.
Obtain information about the committee
Make sure you know as much as you can about the committee. Committees may vary in:
The same person may always chair meetings, or members may rotate this duty. Committees may have formal regulations which are governed by legislation or their operations can be informal or semi-formal.
Sometimes committee members are required to do work, and sometimes they advise or direct a Secretariat to do their work.
Even though committee titles are used loosely, they can give you a clue to the scope, purpose, authority and method of their operation.
All committees rely on meeting procedures to function effectively. These procedures are usually standard but can vary to some degree. You should find out the particular procedures used for your committee.
You should also find out:
In some cases, your nominating organisation can provide this information. Alternatively contact
the Secretariat of the committee or the committee Chair and ask them to provide the answers. Both
the committee Chair and the Secretariat will be able to provide assistance to you during the term
of committee work.
Your entitlements as a consumer representative
Consumer representatives are typically overworked and underpaid. Consumer organisations have lobbied to change this situation.
Your nominating organisation should have details of your entitlements. If not contact the committee Secretariat to find out their policy on payments and reimbursements before you commence on the committee. Typically consumer representatives are entitled to:
Plan and establish goals
In conjunction with your nominating organisation, establish any long-term goals you hope to achieve. By doing this, you will actively pursue the consumer agenda.
Try not to achieve too much too soon. If your committee is not used to having consumers represented, simply broadening the understanding of policy makers is probably an appropriate and realistic goal.
Long-term goals may also include resolving a difficult issue or problem, developing a new program, or formulating new legislation.
Remember that lasting change often comes in small incremental steps. Many consumer battles were won over years of patient lobbying and representation. Have a clear, long-term agenda which is realistic. Unrealistic goals will only lead to frustration.