How to write a constitution or terms of reference

Further information

  • Preparing and running a meeting
  • Samples

A well thought-out, precisely written constitution is an essential foundation for an effective committee.

Rule 1 of the Rules for the Operation of Committees requires that "Committees are to have a constitution that clearly describes the purpose and operation of the committee including membership, Chair, function, decision-making and communication lines, quorum and conduct of meetings."

Rule 4 states that "Meetings should only commence with the appropriate quorum."

Note that "constitution" is the usual term used by standing (permanent) committees at the University for the document which sets out their functions, membership and all other key information about how they will operate. "Terms of reference" are usually used to set out the functions, membership and other key information about limited-term groups such as working parties.

This rule covers the bare essentials for the constitution (or terms of reference) of any committee, whether in the Senate/Academic Board/ School structure, or in the form of a Working Party, Project Team, or ad hoc committee. There are, however, other elements which you might want to include in a constitution, or terms of reference, depending on the particular committee.

Let's look first at a range of possible elements of a formal constitution for a committee, including the essentials listed in:

We'll then move on to look at terms of reference and how they might differ from the formal constitutions of standing committees.