What's a Committee To Do?

When I first served on an Institute committee, it was as a member of the specifications subcommittee. At that time, the Technical Committee (TechCom) comprised the chairs of its subcommittees. The specifications subcommittee met four times each year to work on SpecGUIDEs and SpecText, and chapter technical committees wrote the SpecGUIDEs that we reviewed. A short time later, CSI's involvement in both SpecGUIDEs and SpecText was terminated. Obviously, this had a significant impact on technical committees at all levels.

TechCom was reorganized, divested of its subcommittees, and given revised charges. No longer in the business of producing documents, the committee's focus shifted to monitoring the industry and task teams, developing a schedule for regular review of CSI documents, and advising the Executive Committee of recommended activities.

After years of contribution to SpecGUIDEs - a major technical activity for many chapters - the termination of those documents left a lot of technical chairs wondering what to do next. The older editions of Administrative References didn't offer much help, as other committees already did most of the suggested activities. Many chapters have standing education, certification, and programs committees, all of them quite capable of ensuring the presence of content that is "technical" in the CSI sense. About all that remained was the writing of technical articles for newsletters. Oddly enough, newsletter editors will tell you that no one seems interested in writing much of anything.

As TechCom began its review of existing documents, participation by chapter technical committees became more difficult. The intensity of work at Institute committee meetings is amazing, and impossible to replicate in daily life, when jobs, families, and other commitments take priority. Even so, TechCom has sought volunteers for its "corresponding member" list, people who are called on to review and comment on various documents and ideas when immediate input is not critical.

In the past year, TechCom has once again tried to find a way to revitalize chapter technical committees. In my opinion, expressed in previous columns, chapters have only to look close to home to find something to do; they do not need to wait for someone else to tell them what to do.

Most of CSI's main documents began as individual attempts to solve a problem or improve communication. The Institute Board of Directors did not say, "We need a way to organize a section, a way to organize words on a page, and a book of rules on how to write specifications!" Instead, local solutions were developed, passed around, and eventually blessed and published as CSI documents.

Unless we have solved all the problems of communication and coordination of construction documents, there is still work to be done, and our own members are already doing much of it. I suspect there are, in each chapter, people who have found better ways to do the things they do every day. And I believe that many of these solutions would be quickly put to use by others in our industry.

TechCom, in an effort to rekindle the spirit that drove the growth of our organization, has assembled a list of ideas and challenges for technical committees at the chapter and region levels. This list has been sent to all region technical chairs and to all Institute Directors; their comments will be reviewed by TechCom as they are received. Next month we will take a look at some of the ideas, but for now I will leave you with these thoughts:

  • Most of CSI's documents deal with organizing information for printed material, a response to the needs that existed when those documents were created.

  • Today, or in the very near future, the challenge will be to organize and use electronic databases of information about entire facilities.

Will we meet today's needs as well as our founders met those of thirty or more years ago? Or are we going to let someone else take over as the leader in construction document coordination?

2003 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, FCSI, CCS, CCCA

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Material from CSI Chapter newsletters used with permission.