Health equity leaders face formidable challenges in their work to mitigate historical health inequities and narrow disparities across vast systems and populations. In leading these critical efforts, these professionals — across federal, state, plan, system, or community roles — may face many additional challenges, including limited resources, small teams, and competing organizational priorities. One way to address these barriers, and foster positive change, is to invite the voices and perspectives of expert advisors into the process.
Technical health equity advisory committees can include individuals with relevant professional expertise, people with lived experience with publicly financed care and services such as Medicaid, housing, SNAP/TANF, hospital, and disability benefits, and/or those who are part of marginalized groups. Technical advisory committees differ from member advisory groups, sometimes called community advisory committees or boards, that are solely composed of individuals who receive services from a specific institution, such as from a state, health care or community-based organization, or health plan. Technical advisory committees can support health equity work by clarifying initiative or project goals, informing activities, and empowering leaders and their teams to consider different approaches. While the nomenclature may vary depending on the type of health care organization and stated purpose, similar structures have been established at various levels of the sector, including the federal and plan levels.
A recent Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS) project focused on how health equity leaders — at state agencies, health plans, health systems, and community-based organizations — navigate adverse environments. To inform the project, CHCS recruited a technical advisory committee of five individuals with diverse expertise.* Committee members provided valuable information and knowledge to help challenge and focus project members regarding strategies to advance health equity.
Based on evaluation results from this group, as well as CHCS’ experience with other advisory committees, this blog post highlights key recommendations for developing and running an effective technical advisory committee to support health equity goals. These strategies are relevant to technical advisory committees at various levels of health equity work: from identifying project-specific health equity goals to developing broad, cross-sector initiatives supporting a long-term health equity vision.
1. Ensure a diversity of professional and personal committee member experience.
When assembling a technical advisory committee, it is important to consider the diversity and intersection of perspectives that experts may bring to the group. A diverse committee includes people with marginalized identities (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability status), representation across areas like health care, government and policymaking, and community engagement, as well as geographic diversity, and a range of professional and personal lived experiences.
It is also important to consider how members’ specific expertise can inform the project. For example, the Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network’s Health Equity Advisory Team is composed of individuals with regional and national experience in addressing health inequities in the nation’s health care system, especially as they relate to alternative payment models. The technical advisory committee that guided the CHCS project included individuals with direct knowledge and experience in advancing health equity in adverse and challenging environments.
Advisory committee members benefit from a diverse peer group by building their networks and engaging in high quality interactions with peers. One advisory committee member in CHCS’ recent project stated: “Getting to hear from others who I don’t often partner with, and who also do this work, has been a great experience.”
2. Stay accountable to committee members.
It is important to establish transparency and a space for committee members to convene and express their feelings and ideas freely. Strategies to create a positive experience include:
- Clarify committee goals, members’ specific roles, and expected time commitment. For example, advisory committee members can support background literature reviews, assist with recommendations for additional partners, review written deliverables, and share communications products with their professional networks. Often, advisory committee members have many personal and professional commitments. It is important to be clear about their time commitment (months, hours, and frequency of meetings) so they can plan accordingly and fully engage in activities. Be specific in your asks to advisory committee members and draw on their strengths.
- Develop a clear feedback loop. It is important to show committee members how their guidance informed both specific project work and broader, external health equity efforts. Share results with members regularly, and follow up on longer-term outcomes.
- Consider the flow of meetings. Provide time at the beginnning and at the end of meetings to get grounded, build relationships between committee members, and engage in robust conversations during meetings. Icebreakers, check-ins, reflections, meditation, and Q&As are great ways to support this.
3. Create benefits to motivate and support participation.
Serving on a technical advisory committee can be rewarding, but it can be challenging on top of other professional obligations and personal commitments. Honorariums and other forms of compensation, thank-you notes, verbal and public recognition of participation, and offers of references to other organizations can serve as positive gestures to recognize the support and participation from advisory committee members. Health care organizations can use evaluation and reflection opportunities, like surveys, to help identify what members want from their participation, and adapt processes and approaches accordingly.
Effective technical advisory committees can help health equity leaders in a variety of sectors expand their knowledge and build skills to advance health equity goals and initiatives. A successful advisory committee has diverse representation, provides a safe space to offer contributions, and creates opportunities to provide feedback. It is important for health equity leaders to find ways to show appreciation for the committee members’ participation and ensure that members benefit from their involvement.
Technical advisory committees are a promising strategy to help health care organizations gain new perspectives from a diverse group of individuals, build capacity, and advance health equity goals and initiatives in a supportive and collaborative way.
*The advisory committee included Jamil Rivers, founder of the Chrysalis Initiative; Ignatius Bau, independent health equity consultant; Desiree Collins-Bradley, Patient Engagement Network Lead, ATW Health Solutions; Monica Baskin, PhD, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Professor, and Associate Director, University of Pittsburgh; and Anisha Gandhi, PhD, Director of Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiatives, Bureau of HIV, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. CHCS is grateful for their contributions, time, and commitment to this project.