Train for the Roles You Play on Your Committee

For Task Group Chairs and Technical Contacts
Cicely Enright

Are you new to being a task group chair or technical contact? There’s ASTM training for that, and the next scheduled session and the accompanying slides can be found in the member training section of the website.

Here’s an overview (you’ll gain more detailed information from the training and have the opportunity to ask questions) and a few tips for these roles.

As task group chair or technical contact, you’re leading the work on new standards or revisions and reapprovals. In 2016, that work resulted in 180 new standards, nearly 2,000 revised standards, and a total of almost 3,000 standards actions. A task group can vary in size from a few to 60 people, depending on the complexity of the work and interest in it; the optimum size may be about a dozen.

Depending on the job, you might have one task group leader and a few technical contacts. (A technical contact is the main author of the standard or section of the standard. The technical contact also works with corporate communications on related media inquiries and/or publicity.) If a standard has significant multiple revisions underway, a separate technical contact for each work item may be advisable, with one  task group chair being responsible for the overall standard.

However you share the responsibility, ASTM International provides the tools to support it.
A central tool is the collaboration area. Constructed for ASTM members’ use and needs, collaboration areas can be started when a work item is first registered or at a later time if you decide that a collaboration area would be a useful tool to develop the document. You can upload drafts (and keep the outdated ones) and related files and submit comments in a collaboration area. You can access collaboration areas by logging into MyASTM, going to the MyCommittees page, and looking under the MyTools bar for the Collaboration Area link. Helpful hint: Be sure to save important files in a personal file as collaboration areas are closed once the work item is approved.

To register the work item (document tracking number) — which could be a new standard, or a revision— go to the My Tools section, under Ballots and Work Items, and select Submit/Edit. Follow that choice with clicking, “I need to register a Work Item for a Revision or New Standard” and then opt for a proposed new ASTM International standard or revision(s) to an existing ASTM International standard. A series of screens walks you through the rest of the process.

Now that you have a work item and a collaboration area, you’re ready to meet, and a virtual meeting may be helpful. To do so, go to the MyCommittees page, then the My Tools bar. There you can arrange for a WebEx meeting, which allows you to look at and revise a document during your discussion.

An agenda and any other document prep will help make your meeting more effective. It’s best to:

  • Start on time;
  • Review the agenda and revise as necessary before approving;
  • Be sure attendees know how to log in and use virtual meeting tools;
  • Recognize those who wish to speak; and
  • Maintain order.

Part of your agenda would include any ballot results that need to be reviewed and acted on, and any action items from the previous meeting.

After the meeting, your task group report, which will be reviewed at the subcommittee meeting and go in the subcommittee minutes, should have project status and a projected timeline with milestones; recommendations on items for ballot; recommendations for disposition of negative votes; any requests for the Interlaboratory Study team; and other business that should be part of the report. Helpful hint: Think of this from the perspective that members can’t attend every meeting they have an interest in, so you are providing a brief overview of your work and actions.

Suppose now that your task group has collaborated and produced a draft ready for balloting. Now you can go to Ballots/Work Items (again under the My Tools bar in the MyCommittees area, and then Submit/Edit and finally choose “I need to submit an item to ballot.”) You can enter the information about the ballot item and upload the document. During an open ballot, the technical contact will be notified about negative votes and comments so that both the technical contact and the subcommittee chairman can view, print, and download negatives/comments. (For more about negative votes, consider attending the training session focused on the topic).

A Few Tips
Communications, as you probably know, are key (and a phone call to the voter may be more useful than an email).

Divide the work on a standard in a way that suits the work. If a standard is complex and naturally can be divided into two or three or more projects/work items, that may be the best approach.

Schedule meetings according to how much technical work you plan or need to do at a meeting. If a lot needs to be accomplished, a task group meeting specifically focused on a standard, or part of a standard, may be more effective than having time within a subcommittee meeting.

When the work item is being readied for ballot, prepare a rationale to accompany it: “The building code has changed so the standard needs to change,” or “this part of the standard involves technology that has evolved to become like x instead of w.” Often the more committee members understand the rationale the better they will understand the actual technical changes being proposed and that may help to reduce negative votes.
Remember that the full standard will not be attached to a ballot if the standard is being balloted for reapproval. If needed, members should  request a copy of the full standard to review before voting.

Make use of ASTM tools, including:
Standard templates;
The Form and Style Manual;
Regulations for ASTM Technical Committees;
Interlaboratory Study Program team; and
Editorial assistance pre-ballot: contact Kathleen Peters,
(tel +1.610.832.9650.

And finally, your staff manager is here to help. Contact them with any questions along the way.

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