Do Advisory Committees work?

Towards the end of 2017, a survey was distributed to members of Cobourg’s advisory committees asking questions about satisfaction with their contribution.  The results are now in and the only apparent actions are that members will get more training, their role will be more clearly defined and they will get a “user guide/manual”.  Yet a significant number of committee members felt they were not making much difference.  See the link below to download the full questionnaire complete with “long answers” – text responses that give an insight into the thinking of committee members.  It’s likely that some committees work better than others but the survey lumped all responses together. At the risk of highlighting the comments of negative individuals, I have summarized the more critical survey results.

There are 63 citizens on advisory committees – of these, 27 completed the survey.

Of the 15 questions asked, I have highlighted just five.

Question asked: How much of an impact do you feel your volunteer work and experience as a local advisory committee and board member has had?
The largest group (46%) felt they had had a “moderate impact”.
Some respondents supported Town staff or made positive comments but others said: I too often have felt that I have been rubber-stamping pre-made decisions.

Question asked: Are you receiving adequate feedback on your local board’s and advisory committee’s recommendations from the Town?
Although 70% said they were getting adequate feedback, several commented that no feedback has been received, unless requested.

Time spent
Question asked: In a typical month, how many hours do you spend as a member on a Town of Cobourg local board or advisory committee?
The answers ranged from 1-2 hours to 32-40 hours.  From the answers, I calculated an average of 5.8 hours and a median of 3.5 hours.  A few put in long hours; others just go to meetings.

Two separate questions were asked on most satisfying and “most dissatisfying aspect of your volunteer experience”  Most were positive  – a few were negative:

  • The “advisory” nature of the committee makes it difficult and/or confusing when trying to determine how we can make a real difference in the community.
  • The Town ‘talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk’. We advise but I don’t sense that the Town/Council really understands and supports its advisory committee.
  • Feeling as if we are just listening to reports of work done by staff – no, or at least, very few pro-active agenda items.
  • Rarely asked to participate or give views.
  • The committee as a whole is somewhat conservative. There is not a lot of “thinking outside the box.”

Since the overall comments were positive, the negative comments are in danger of being ignored.  But in business, quality control programs target zero defects so they focus on the negatives – surely that’s worth doing here.

There are 12 committees:

Community and Civic Awards Advisory Committee
Cobourg Economic Development Advisory Committee
Cobourg Downtown Business Improvement Area Board
Cobourg Accessibility Advisory Committee
Cobourg Police Services Board (no independent citizens)
Cobourg Planning and Sustainability Advisory Committee
Cobourg Heritage Advisory Committee
Cobourg Public Library Board
Cobourg Environmental Active Transportation Advisory Committee
Cobourg Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee
Committee of Adjustment & Property Standards Committee
Downtown Coalition Advisory Committee

A list of current members is here.


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6 years ago

How about we Fallow in the foot steps of some other Progressive ? Proactive Communities
Eliminate Red Tape and Committees , May be even a Department or 2 .
when we look at the Failing Economic Development Dept. and the $$$ that have been
thrown in that direction over the yrs. Vs. the productivity or R O I to the Tax Payers .

May be bring in a couple of Corporate Efficiency Groups similar to Production Line experts Industry and Private sector Co.use
to stream line and Trim out some of the dead wood you know Bring things up to Speed
around here for the Share Holders ( Tax Payers )
PS: I am still trying to figure out what a Stake Holder is in this Town
its certainly no the people it directly affects !

Deborah OConnor
6 years ago

I’m sure Town staff would love to see these pesky advisory groups disbanded. They have enough ducking and diving to do to keep Council members compliant. A great deal of staff effort no doubt goes into keeping committee members in the dark and dodging whatever decisions they do make. Getting rid of them altogether would make it much easier to control the vision of Cobourg that they alone cherish.

6 years ago

Perhaps we should form an advisory committee to look at the effectiveness of advisory committees…but lets only meet Monday – Friday between the hours of 9-5 when people who are regularly employed can’t make it.

Wally Keeler
6 years ago

The committee as a whole is somewhat conservative. There is not a lot of “thinking outside the box.”

I can believe this. Very few people in any circumstance think outside the box about anything. They are largely unimaginative.

Reply to  Wally Keeler
6 years ago


6 years ago

The mere fact that only 42% of the committee members returned their survey must tell you something…a question worth further investigation.

Reply to  cornbread
6 years ago

Beat me to the same comment cornbread, 42% participation rate should be enough for dismissal, as John said, “A few put in long hours; others just go to meetings.” Those who go to meetings should stay at home and watch tv.