Setting up an Advisory Group
Here are some hints and tips to help you through the process of effectively establishing an advisory group.
Establish the group as early as possible
- Relationships with members of the group are based on trust, and often need to be built up over time.
- Often an advisory group is a pre-requisite to gaining funding – the group needs to be genuine and not a ‘token’ list of names established for the purpose of the application form.
- Consider whether members of the group should have input into the funding application. This may help getting ‘buy-in’ from the group that the research is going to meet everyone’s needs and expectations.
- Not all of the individuals (or even organisations) who have a role in putting together the application will necessarily have a role on the advisory group after funding is granted. This should be discussed from the outset, so that there are no un-met expectations.
Understand the composition and roles of the group
- Where possible include a diverse range of people within the group (e.g. practical, business, policy, science).
- Consider involving an independent facilitator (ideally a person who understands the science area) who can act as a neutral voice.
- What are the roles of the individuals within the group?
- What is the role of the group as a whole? Are they providing advice and feedback to the researchers, and if so, how will this be captured and communicated? Do the group members have an active role within the project?
Find the right people to be involved
Ensure that the individuals involved in your group:
- Have a diverse range of expertise, experience and skills
- Have credibility within their respective industry and trust within the advisory group
- Can act as advocates
- Can meet the commitments you are seeking
- Can communicate well, listen and provide unbiased, constructive advice
- Can handle confidential information
- Are enthusiastic and share common goals
Establish a clear Terms of Reference from the beginning
Document and agree to the Terms of Reference that will guide the direction and operation of the advisory group. A good Terms of Reference document will:
- Set out the expectations of the group
- Set out the benefit of belonging to individuals
- Outline the role of the group
- Outline the commitments
- Outline the costs that will/will not be covered and the resources available to participants.
Ensure that everyone understands who is driving the group and whether the role of the group is governance/ oversight or actual management of the work programme.
Understand the ‘what’s in it for me?’ factor
- There needs to be a clear understanding of how everyone benefits from their involvement – especially for those who are volunteering their time and/ or resources
- For example, do they get early access to results or additional information?
- Make sure everyone understands how the cost of the advisory group will be covered.
- For some groups the costs (time, travel etc.) are covered by the projects; others expect the members to cover costs themselves. Make sure you account for additional costs such as administration time, group communications, venue, catering etc.
- The logistics of getting groups together can be difficult – set clear and realistic expectations from the start.
- A group that is geographically diverse may be constrained in the number of face to face meetings. Other groups will suffer if some of the members are over-committed. Consider alternative forms of communication (e.g. Linked In or other social networks; conference calls; email; Skype or Zoom; webinar etc.).
- In the event group members are to be paid fees for their involvement, the arrangements around this should be documented in a contract.