Steering committee meetings are characterized by a high degree of interaction because they entail exchange of information, discussions, negotiations and decision-making.
One of the tasks of moderation is that steering committee meetings are conducted in the spirit of collegiality, cooperation and professionalism. At the same time, in some cases, steering committee meetings become an arena for power games between conflicting interests or rivalry between steering committee members and/or the institutions they represent. Moreover, often a SC brings together institutions which organisationally are hierarchically related to one another but are on an equal footing within the project. The clash of these two different “logics”-- the vertical one of the organisational context and the horizontal one of the project context -- can be one source of tension.
Owing to this complexity, a skillful moderation (see “moderation script”, see “welcoming”) often plays an even more important role for the efficiency of the SC than in other working contexts. On one end of the spectrum, if the interaction in the SC is dominated by hierarchy or by the persons with the most influence, decisions will be taken quickly, but there is the risk that a partnership spirit would not be developed and SC members would not feel committed. On the other end of the spectrum, if members discuss intensively but without someone helping to focus the exchange and ensure that important issues are addressed and decisions are made, then there is a risk of inefficiency and even frustration, in case of conflicting points of view. Therefore, it is essential to find the right balance, which in turn depends on the overall context (project experience of the SC members, maturity of the team, project phase, topics, etc.).
The choice of a moderator depends on the context and the culture. If an external moderator is preferred, it is essential that he or she be officially endorsed by the political partners, not only in a written form, but also personally in the first SC session. Moreover, it is advisable that before starting, the moderator explain how he or she understands his or her role and intends to implement it. In that context, defining a few working and communication rules and visualizing them might be helpful. If one of the SC members moderates the SC meeting, it is advisable to stay alert and diplomatically help to support the communication process, whenever necessary. Rotating moderation by different members of the committee is a good way to strengthen participation and ownership.
Steering committee meetings and workshops have a lot in common when it comes to moderation and technology (for instance, aspects regarding breaks and directly addressing participants). Therefore, it is recommended to consult also the workshop format for additional useful tips.
Information and tips which more specifically apply to SC meetings, in general, and to a virtual mode in particular, are presented below.
Every steering committee session should have an agenda which should be sent to the SC members in advance. If the steering committee has agreed on Terms of Reference for its work and decision-making, some agenda points might be already pre-defined there (e.g. “update on progress” or “overview of next steps”. Whenever possible, it is helpful that SC members agree on the main agenda topics already at the prior session as well as review the agenda jointly at the beginning of the meeting to give the opportunity of adding important last-minute topics.
Where applicable, the discussion points to be taken up by the SC should be included in the agenda. The draft agenda should be approved by the political partners in advance (especially when it comes to sensitive issues) in order to avoid conflicts during the meeting.
The updates of the project implementation which will be presented at the meeting are to be prepared in close cooperation with the project partners.
It is advisable that technical discussions take place among technical experts prior to SC sessions, for example, in the context of technical committees. In case technical questions cannot be solved at this level and need the intervention of the steering committee, then the specific technical question can be listed in the agenda, so that the SC members can prepare. Another possibility to clarify technical issues would be to virtually connect the technical expert(s) during a time slot of the steering committee meeting.
In case of frictions or conflicts between SC members, it is also advisable, whenever appropriate, to create space for or encourage bilateral clarification prior to the SC meeting.
Whenever particular topics have to be addressed (e.g. midterm or final self-evaluation, development of concrete solutions for a given problem, exchange and working out aspects like a shared vision or how to ensure the sustainability of activities and results), breakout sessions offer the possibility of closer cooperation in small groups, in which more reserved members also have a chance to speak.