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Committee room, designed 1901, in Halifax Town Hall

A committee (or "commission") is a body of one or more persons that is subordinate to a deliberative assembly. Usually, the assembly sends matters into a committee as a way to explore them more fully than would be possible if the assembly itself were considering them. Committees may have different functions and the type of work that each committee does would depend on the type of organization and its needs.


A deliberative assembly may form a committee (or "commission") consisting of one or more persons to assist with the work of the assembly.[1] For larger organizations, much work is done in committees.[2] Committees can be a way to formally draw together people of relevant expertise from different parts of an organization who otherwise would not have a good way to share information and coordinate actions. They may have the advantage of widening viewpoints and sharing out responsibilities. They can also be appointed with experts to recommend actions in matters that require specialized knowledge or technical judgment.


Committees can serve several different functions:

  • Governance: In organizations considered too large for all the members to participate in decisions affecting the organization as a whole, a smaller body, such as a board of directors, is given the power to make decisions, spend money, or take actions. A governance committee is formed as a separate committee to review the performance of the board and board policy as well as nominate candidates for the board.[3]

  • Coordination and administration: A large body may have smaller committees with more specialized functions. Examples are an audit committee, an elections committee, a finance committee, a fundraising committee, and a program committee. Large conventions or academic conferences are usually organized by a coordinating committee drawn from the membership of the organization.

  • Research and recommendations: Committees may be formed to do research and make recommendations on a potential or planned project or change. For example, an organization considering a major capital investment might create a temporary working committee of several people to review options and make recommendations to upper management or the board of directors.
  • Discipline: A committee on discipline may be used to handle disciplinary procedures on members of the organization.[4]

As a tactic for indecision

As a means of public relations by sending sensitive, inconvenient, or irrelevant matters to committees, organizations may bypass, stall, or disacknowledge matters without declaring a formal policy of inaction or indifference. However, this could be considered a dilatory tactic.[5]

Power and authority

Generally, committees are required to report to their parent body. Committees do not usually have the power to act independently unless the body that created it gives it such power.[2]


When a committee is formed, a chairman (or "chair" or "chairperson") is designated for the committee.[6] Sometimes a vice-chairman (or similar name) is also appointed.[7] It is common for the committee chairman to organize its meetings. Sometimes these meetings are held through videoconferencing or other means if committee members are not able to attend in person, as may be the case if they are in different parts of the country or the world.

The chairman is responsible for running meetings. Duties include keeping the discussion on the appropriate subject, recognizing members to speak, and confirming what the committee has decided (through voting or by unanimous consent). Using Roberts Rules of Order, committees may follow informal procedures (such as not requiring motions if it's clear what is being discussed).[8] The level of formality depends on the size and type of committee, in which sometimes larger committees considering crucial issues may require more formal processes.

Minutes are a record of the decisions at meetings. They can be taken by a person designated as the secretary. For most organizations, committees are not required to keep formal minutes.[8] However, some bodies require that committees take minutes, especially if the committees are public ones subject to open meeting laws.

Committees may meet on a regular basis, such as weekly or more often, or meetings may be called irregularly as the need arises. The frequency of the meetings depend on the work of the committee and the needs of the parent body.

When the committee completes its work, it provides the results in a report to its parent body. The report may include the methods used, the facts uncovered, the conclusions reached, and any recommendations.[9] If the committee is not ready to report, it may provide a partial report or the assembly may discharge the committee of the matter so that the assembly can handle it. Also, if members of the committee are not performing their duties, they may be removed or replaced by the appointing power.[10] Whether the committee continues to exist after presenting its report depends on the type of committee. Generally, committees established by the bylaws or the organization's rules continue to exist, while committees formed for a particular purpose go out of existence after the final report.

Executive committee

Organizations with a large board of directors (such as international labor unions, large corporations with thousands of stock holders or national and international organizations) may have a smaller body of the board, called an executive committee, handle its business. The executive committee may function more like a board than an actual committee.[11][12] In any case, an executive committee can only be established through a specific provision in the charter or bylaws of the entity (i.e. a board cannot appoint an executive committee without authorization to do so).[11] Members of the executive committee may be elected by the overall franchised membership or by the board, depending on the rules of the organization. However formed, an executive committee only has such powers and authority that the governing documents of the organization give it. In some cases, it may be empowered to act on behalf of the board or organization, while in others, it may only be able to make recommendations.[11]

Conference committee

Governments at the national level may have a conference committee. A conference committee in a bicameral legislature is responsible for creating a compromise version of a particular bill when each house has passed a different version.

A conference committee in the United States Congress is a temporary panel of negotiators from the House of Representatives and the Senate. Unless one chamber decides to accept the other's original bill, the compromise version must pass both chambers after leaving the conference committee. The committee is usually composed of the senior members of the standing committees that originally considered the legislation in each chamber.

Other countries that use conference committees include France, Germany, Japan, and Switzerland.[13] In Canada, conference committees have been unused since 1947.[14]

Different use of term

In organizations, the term "conference committee" may have a different meaning. This meaning may be associated with the conferences, or conventions, that the organization puts together. The committees that are responsible for organizing such events may be called "conference committees".

Standing committee

A standing committee is a subunit of a political or deliberative body established in a permanent fashion to aid the parent assembly in accomplishing its duties. A standing committee is granted its scope and powers over a particular area of business by the governing documents.[15] Standing committees meet on a regular or irregular basis depending on their function, and retain any power or oversight originally given them until subsequent official actions of the governing body (through changes to law or by-laws) disbands the committee.


Most governmental legislative committees are standing committees. The phrase is used in the legislatures of the following countries:

Under the laws of the United States of America, a standing committee is a Congressional committee permanently authorized by United States House of Representatives and United States Senate rules. The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 greatly reduced the number of committees, and set up the legislative committee structure still in use today, as modified by authorized changes via the orderly mechanism of rules changes.

Examples in organizations

Examples of standing committees in organizations are an audit committee, an elections committee, a finance committee, a fundraising committee, a governance committee, and a program committee. Typically, the standing committees perform their work throughout the year and present their reports at an annual meeting of the organization.[16] These committees continue to exist after presenting their reports, although the membership in the committees may change.

Nominating committee

Some organizations use a nominating committee to nominate candidates for office or the board of the organization.[17] Sometimes a governance committee takes the role of a nominating committee. Depending on the organization, this committee may be empowered to actively seek out candidates or may only have the power to receive nominations from members and verify that the candidates are eligible.

Steering committee

A steering committee is a committee that provides guidance, direction and control to a project within an organization.[18] The term is derived from the steering mechanism that changes the steering angle of a vehicle's wheels.

Project steering committees are frequently used for guiding and monitoring IT projects in large organizations, as part of project governance. The functions of the committee might include building a business case for the project, planning, providing assistance and guidance, monitoring the progress, controlling the project scope and resolving conflicts.

As with other committees, the specific duties and role of the steering committee vary among organizations.

Special committee

A special committee (or working, select, or ad hoc committee) is established to accomplish a particular task or to oversee a specific area in need of control or oversight.[19] Many are research or coordination committees in type or purpose, and are temporary. Some are a sub-group of a larger society with a particular area of interest which are organized to meet and discuss matters pertaining to their interests. For example, a group of astronomers might be organized to discuss how to get the larger society to address near earth objects. A subgroup of engineers and scientists of a large project's development team could be organized to solve some particular issue with offsetting considerations and trade-offs. Once the committee makes its final report to its parent body, the special committee ceases to exist.[19]


A committee that is a subset of a larger committee is called a subcommittee. Committees that have a large workload may form subcommittees to further divide the work. Subcommittees report to the parent committee and not to the general assembly.[8][20]

Committee of the whole

When the entire assembly meets as a committee to discuss or debate, this is called a "committee of the whole". This is not an actual committee but a procedural device that is more commonly used in legislative bodies.

See also


  1. Robert, Henry M.; et al. (2011). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press. p. 489. ISBN 978-0-306-82020-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Robert 2011, p. 490
  3. Walker, Dick; Bauser, John (April 2012). "So You Need (to Improve) a Governance Committee?". GuideStar. Retrieved 2015-12-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Robert 2011, p. 669
  5. Robert 2011, p. 172
  6. Robert 2011, p. 175
  7. Robert 2011, p. 176
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Robert III, Henry M.; et al. (2011). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised In Brief (2nd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-306-82019-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Robert III 2011, p. 164
  10. Robert 2011, p. 177
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Robert 2011, p. 485
  12. Robert III 2011, p. 157
  13. Tsebelis, George; Money, Jeannette (1997). Bicameralism. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. pp. 178–179. ISBN 9780521589727.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Hays, Hon. Dan (Autumn 2008). "Reviving Conference Committees". Canadian Parliamentary Review. Retrieved 2015-12-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Robert 2011, p. 491
  16. Robert 2011, p. 502
  17. Robert 2011, p. 433
  18. Mcleod (2008). Management Information Systems (10 ed.). Pearson Education. p. 201. ISBN 978-81-317-1949-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. 19.0 19.1 Robert 2011, p. 492
  20. Robert 2011, p. 497