This guest post comes from Jeff Weld, senior policy adviser and assistant director in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He is leading a session, titled “Using State-Level Advisory Councils as Policy Drivers,” at the 2018 National Forum on Education Policy.
Frankly, it is difficult to imagine an instance where an advisory council is not a good idea. Whether starting a small business, innovating in a classroom, organizing a community clean-up, deciding how to spend a lottery windfall, building a playground, creating a college major or launching a rocket, the advantages of wise eyes watching over the shoulder are plentiful.
To invite community members of know-how to oversee and comment on operations exponentially expands the network. Resources — human and financial — deepen. Communications expand. Responsibilities can be distributed. The pool of ideas diversifies, and test-driving them with a council minimizes risk. Advisory councils are, to anyone who seeks to start or grow an enterprise, the sunshine on process: They illuminate the landscape, infuse energy and bake out contaminants.
Take, for example, the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council. When former Gov. Terry Branstad decided in 2011 that STEM education could be a significant positive influence on the future of the state’s economy, his first act was to establish the advisory council by executive order. The wise eyes he assembled spanned the spectrum of community know-how, from teachers to technicians, CEOs to civic leaders, college presidents to robotics coaches and politicians to programmers.
Steered since its beginning by Gov. Kim Reynolds (then lieutenant governor) alongside a business co-chair (presently Roger Hargens, president and CEO of Accumold), the council has made great strides in its seven-year existence. Private sector representatives have provided an ultimate metric of employability — toward which the council strives — while contributing time, talents and sometimes money. Higher education representatives drive postsecondary readiness agendas and solutions. K-12 leaders incubate partnerships and innovate reforms to STEM teaching and learning. Government officials craft helpful policies around crediting and credentialing. Together, they are the sunshine on processes that drive Iowa’s gains on 18 overarching metrics documented annually by external evaluators. The council illuminates the future economic landscape, infuses energy into a 12-program suite of solutions to the challenge and bakes out contaminants like discord or competing forces that can arise from miscommunication — or none at all.
The synergy enabled by a diverse, nonpartisan, and cross-pollinating advisory council is a change accelerator. In seven years, Iowa has impacted a significant proportion of the state’s K-12 students and re-shaped schooling pre-K through college. Partnerships between the education and employer sectors have sprung up across the state. Classes and courses from toddler-to-tassel are aligning with workplace needs. Wraparound systems of educator professional development, curricular reform, credentialing updates, recognition models and community outreach are transforming the concept of schooling.
Coupled with a compelling statewide messaging campaign, the hearts and minds of citizens are won over to the STEM imperative. It is an easy message to rally around. Participants in the state’s STEM programs outperform their peers in mathematics, science and reading. And they express greater interest in STEM study, as well as a desire to stay and live and work in their home state upon completing those studies. These results provide an essential feedback loop to an evermore motivated advisory council, driven by and for results.
Whatever the topic of the day — whether it be social, educational or economic, and whether it be local, regional or statewide — the establishment and purposeful utilization of an advisory council is always a good idea. It brings sunshine to any process.