How to review committee performance

Further information

  • Preparing and running a meeting
  • Samples

A review of performance can be very helpful in enabling a committee to be constructively critical of its own operations, and thereby to enhance its effectiveness.

Rule 3 requires that "Committees should establish a review regime addressing the frequency and nature of the review process and the allocation of responsibility for conducting and acting on the review."

This document is addressed primarily to chairs and executive officers who are responsible for the review of their committees' performance.

How do you go about reviewing your committee's performance and acting on the outcomes of the Review?

  1. Monitoring performance
  2. When to review
  3. Using a survey document
  4. Contents of a survey document
  5. Looking at existing examples of survey documents
  6. Getting expert advice on the survey document
  7. Checking the draft with the committee
  8. Determining whether the survey will be anonymous
  9. Administering the survey
  10. Analysing and reporting on the outcomes of the survey
  11. Submitting the report to the committee
  12. Acting on the outcomes of the survey
  13. Modifying the survey document in the light of experience

Monitoring performance

This document focuses on formal review of committees at intervals, but remember that monitoring can be a conscious activity at every meeting by the chair, the executive officer and members. The Chair can encourage members from the outset to feel free to make comments or suggestions for improvements in the committee's operations at any time. Such comments should preferably be in writing to the chair and/or executive officer or be made in face-to face discussions.

When to review

What does "review regime" mean in Rule 3? In the absence of any contrary advice, it's safe to assume that a review should be carried out annually. A review is normally carried out in the later part of the year.

In some circumstances, a chair or committee might choose to have a review out of the normal pattern - for example if ongoing monitoring suggested that all was not well. 

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Using a survey document

You'll probably find that the simplest way to conduct a review is to produce a performance review survey document which all members of the committee complete and return by a set date.

While there are certainly other ways of undertaking a review (interviews of members, discussions at meetings and the like) a good survey document is comprehensive and cost-effective, and gives all members the chance to make their views known.

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Contents of a survey document

Survey documents normally comprise a number of specific statements with which respondents indicate their level of agreement or disagreement.

For example: Agenda papers have been well organised and easy to follow - (strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree)

The kinds of information which a survey document would usually cover include:

The list above is not exhaustive and you may wish to add to it. In thinking about what you want to ask, you might find it useful to re-read the University's Rules for the Operation of CommitteesPrinciples for the Operation of Committees and the University Committee Members' Code of Conduct. You might consider including a statement in the survey document such as "The operation of the committee complies closely with the requirements set out in the University's Principles for the Operation of Committees".

You'll probably want to allow space in the survey document for members to make any additional comments or suggestions they have, or to elaborate on or explain responses already made. Make sure that you leave sufficient space to encourage this kind of comment.

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Looking at existing examples of survey documents

The Senate and Academic Council have used performance survey documents for several years now. You may find it useful to look at these as a stimulus for ideas about your own committee.

If your committee has an equivalent in other universities, you might also consider contacting your opposite numbers (or a select few) to request copies of any survey document they use.

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Getting expert advice on the survey document

Once you've got a draft of your proposed survey document, seek advice from the University's Institutional Research Unit for advice on its layout. The Unit's staff are expert in the design of surveys and may be able to help you improve your draft and avoid common pitfalls. They are usually closely involved in the design of surveys for use by Senate/Academic Board and their committees.

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Checking the draft with the committee

Have the draft considered by the committee before you finalise it. The easiest way to do this is to include it as an item on an agenda, with a brief introduction explaining its background (with reference to Rule 3) and purpose. This gives members the opportunity to participate in its design, make additional suggestions and help you clarify anything which isn't clear.

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Determining whether the survey will be anonymous

When you discuss the draft with the committee, check with them at the same time the issue of whether or not it will be anonymous.

It's certainly more useful if the survey isn't anonymous- this gives the opportunity to follow up with individual members about specific problems they've raised and is therefore more likely to result in a clear understanding of any real problems with the committee.

If members are concerned about confidentiality, responses can be marked "Confidential" and access to them confined to the Executive Officer.

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Administering the survey

Ideally every member of the committee team should complete the survey so that its outcomes reflect the full range of views. However, practices vary from committee to committee.

Don't leave the survey so late in the year that members will find it hard to make the time to complete it (examination marking, Christmas leave and the like). Give respondents reasonable time to complete and return it, and be prepared to allow a little extra time to remind those who have not returned it by the closing date. (The more surveys returned the more meaningful the outcomes.)

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Analysing and reporting on the outcomes of the survey

Once you've received the responses to your survey you'll need to analyse them, write up a brief report and present it to the committee at the earliest opportunity.

For more formal committees in the University structure (Senate/Academic Board and their committees, the preparation of the report is undertaken by the Institutional Research Unit).

The simplest way to report on the responses to the survey statements is to reprint them with the relevant numbers inserted in the appropriate slots.

For example: Statement: Agenda papers have been well organised and easy to follow.

Strongly agree
Strongly disagree
No response

For example: Statement: All members of X committee have made useful contributions to its work during the year. For additional comments/suggestion, it's tidiest to report these in a special section against the particular statements in the survey.

Some members have been almost silent.
Some members have made a very limited contribution.

If a significant overall pattern emerges in the responses (for example, a significant number of members are dissatisfied with the committee's documentation) or if there's significant satisfaction or discontent with particular aspects of the committee's performance (such as all members are satisfied that the atmosphere of meetings has been conducive to open and productive discussion) you should draw attention to these in your report in an introductory summary. What is "significant" in terms of numbers of responses will of course differ from committee to committee depending on membership.

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Submitting the report to the committee

The completed Report on the survey should be included in the next possible agenda. If your survey clearly points to some problems with the committee's operations, the Chair and Executive Officer should discuss how these can be addressed and make appropriate suggestions in the agenda item for discussion by the committee.

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Acting on the outcomes of the survey

The Chair and Executive Officer should consider the Report before it goes to the committee, and ideally, the Chair should suggest within the agenda item appropriate means of addressing any problems.

If the Report identifies serious problems, you may wish to seek advice on how to approach the task of resolving them. You could, for example, consider talking confidentially to an experienced chair whose views you respect, or to the University Secretary.

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Modifying the survey document in the light of experience

After each experience of using your survey document, consider whether your recent experience in its use suggests that modification would improve it. You might, for example, have received a number of comments on an issue which isn't canvassed in the existing statements. Do you need to add another statement to address this? Or you might have found that respondents made written comments against some statements -such as "Not sure what this is getting at". If so, look again at those statements to see if they can be clarified.

Update your survey document as necessary to take account of any relevant changes since the last survey was done.

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