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Functions of an Oversight Committee

An alternative to fact-finding is to have qualified experts evaluate the content of the research available or oversee it while in progress. In this way, one side's factual information can be checked and verified, with possible impacts for the other side taken into account. This is the purpose of an oversight committee.

Oversight committees are frequently used in technically complex and politically charged conflicts. They are made up of experts in appropriate fields and act as a means of verifying research. An oversight committee attempts to ensure that the research on hand has three central qualities: that it is thorough -- meaning that the science and research methods are solid, that it is complete -- all relevant considerations and alternatives have been taken into account, and that it is objective -- that conflicts of interest and bias are minimized.

Utilizing an oversight committee has several advantages. It is generally much more cost-effective compared with forming and implementing a new fact-finding body. Since the oversight committee is a separate entity, access to corporate knowledge or otherwise classified information can be controlled. In addition, because experts are involved, uninformed bias is kept to a minimum. The oversight committee can also operate as a mediating body between the active organization and the public. In this role, the committee can help the public understand technically complex issues by publishing reports that communicate the facts in ways the public can understand.

The existence of an oversight committee can have an impact on the quality and fairness of fact-finding even before the committee gains access to the relevant information. When research is done in the knowledge that an outside entity will be reviewing the research methods and findings, there is an increased sense of accountability. Government or corporate research entities must ensure the standard of their work is acceptable because, in the long run, it will be more costly and time-consuming if they are forced to go back and correct mistakes when an oversight committee detects errors or deceptions.

However, oversight committees must seek to avoid what Guy Burgess has called "analysis paralysis," the tendency to want to analyze something forever, in an effort to eliminate all uncertainty before making a decision. Since uncertainty is unavoidable in many scientific inquiries, it is important that oversight committees recognize when the best available research strategies are used and accept the results from that research as the best obtainable at the time. This allows decisions to be made and actions taken in a timely manner.

The Tennessee Council for Career and Technical Education provides:

Oversight of Program Needs; Coordination of Process Improvement; Leadership for Visionary Ideas; Research and Development; Information and Referral; Dissemination of Information; and Technical Assistance