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Join a Board or Commission

Purposes

  • Provide input and advice to your city, county, or state government about an area of policy through service on a formal, standing body

Ideal Outcomes

  • Substantive impact on policy decisions related to your advisory body’s charter

Auxiliary Benefits

  • Deeper understanding of your community and its values
  • Establishing relationships with government officials and elected representatives
  • Practical knowledge of how your government operates and the complex range of issues that inform decisions

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Identify which advisory body you would like to serve on.
    • Your government website is a great place to learn more about what advisory bodies exist and which have current openings.
    • If you are already engaged in volunteer or advocacy efforts, the people or organizations you work with may have ideas on which advisory bodies work on issues related to your interest.
  2. Research how the advisory body operates.
    • Read minutes and stream video (if available) from past meetings and try to attend one in person. This will give you an idea of what types of topics the body considers, which issues are current priorities, and how it manages discussions.
  3. Apply for or request to be nominated to the advisory body.
    • The selection process for advisory bodies varies. Common processes include nomination by an elected representative or open solicitations for applications. Your government website is the best starting point for information specific to the body you want to join.

Tip: Do not feel shy about asking your elected representative to nominate you for a position. They appreciate members of the community who want to make a difference

  1. Prepare for your interview.
    • Most jurisdictions will have an interview with elected officials as part of the selection process. It may be with the individual who represents your district or with the entire governing body at-large. To prepare, we suggest:.
      • Think about why you want to serve. Do you have specific issues you want to tackle or positions you want to advocate? Are you interested in being a more engaged citizen?
      • Consider how you would handle issues the body has recently tackled. Do you agree with what the body decided? Are there additional considerations you would have raised?
      • Research the views of your interviewers. Have they made public statements on issues relevant to the advisory body? If you are interviewing with a panel, consider requesting a coffee meeting with individual representatives beforehand to learn their views.
  2. Prepare to serve.
    • Familiarize yourself with the basics of parliamentary procedure. Most advisory bodies use procedures based on Robert’s Rules of Order.
    • Decide how you want to contribute to your advisory body. Taking a consistent approach in discussions can help you build credibility and also make you an attractive ally, since others know what you stand for.

Tip: Research Roger Pielke, Jr's "Honest Broker" which lays out a framework of roles for scientists participating in policy.

  1. Make a difference!
    • Treat your colleagues with respect and approach discussions with an open mind. Governments appoint advisory bodies to receive advice that reflects a broad range of community values. Scientific thinking and evidence are one of many inputs. You can have the most impact by building common-cause with members of your community who may prioritize other factors in decision-making.

Examples

Article - January 27, 2021
Physician and Computer Scientist Fights for Healthcare Access and Equity in her Community
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Varsha Chauhan is a physician and computer scientist. Her career trajectory has included leadership roles public health, health IT, and health systems administration. Most recently she was elected Board member of Eden Health District. ESAL interviewed Chauhan to learn more about how she has woven government and community engagement throughout her career.

Article - July 26, 2020
International Innovations Benefit Northern Virginia Communities
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Dale Medearis is a senior environmental planner at the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, spearheading their climate and international partnerships. He spoke with ESAL about how policy and technical innovations from abroad can benefit local communities.

Article - December 23, 2019
Joining an Advisory Board or Commission
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Our latest playbook guide aims to help you find an entry point into local policy engagement through service on an advisory board or commission. We walk you through how to overcome some of the common barriers, including identifying an advisory board and preparing for your interview and service.

Article - September 22, 2019
Mechanical Engineer Helps Launch a Regional Science Center
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Monya Lane is the CEO of the Livermore Science & Society Center, a nonprofit dedicated to connecting people with science and technology. The group is in the planning phases of a science center to serve the students, families, and their communities of the California Tri-Valley area.

Article - September 21, 2019
Swimming Against the Current: Innovation in Water Technology and Policy
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On September 12, ESAL hosted a roundtable discussion on local water policy in Oakland, California. The event featured a panel of San Francisco Bay Area leaders who contribute to innovation in water-related technologies and policy decision making.

Article - April 28, 2019
Local Commission Provides Gateway to Politics for Biologist
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After completing a Ph.D. and post-doctoral fellowship in molecular biology, Mike Fisher moved to Red Bank, a vibrant town of 12,000 residents along the Jersey Shore. There, he joined the local environmental commission, leading to later efforts on a congressional campaign and his current job at the Federation of American Scientists, a science and technology nonprofit organization in D.C.

Article - April 14, 2019
New York Academy of Sciences: NY Scientist’s Varied Career Leads Back to the Big Apple and Climate Challenges
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Jennifer Costley is the director of physical science, sustainability, and engineering at the New York Academy of Sciences. The Academy recently hosted a summit on climate change and adaptation planning to discuss the findings from the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC). Costley spoke to ESAL about the collaboration between the Academy and the NPCC on their milestone anniversary.

Article - February 24, 2019
Audrey Lee Reflects on the Arc of Her Career in Energy Policy
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Audrey Lee, a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, has helped translate energy policy at the highest levels of US government, advised the president of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and served on the BART Environmental Justice Commission. At Sunrun, she continues to work closely with policymakers, bringing residential energy solutions like solar and batteries to market to meet environmental and policy goals.

Article - January 28, 2019
Addressing Climate Change through City Government
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Alex Luce, a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering, volunteers his expertise on Berkeley’s Energy Commission. The Commission is focused on helping the city achieve its climate and energy goals.

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Last Updated: Jun 23, 2022
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