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December 28, 2020

Life science steering committee structure and execution

A steering committee without a strategy won’t help projects stay on track – shift this important activity to virtual format for maximum effectiveness.
steering committee structure

Important projects and initiatives don’t stay on track on their own – they require skilled oversight to ensure activities stay on task, on budget, and on time. Research bears this out: fewer than 3% of companies successfully complete 100% of their projects, and the average company exceeds its project budget by 27%.

All projects benefit from oversight, but highly complex projects, or those that take place over a long period of time, need capable hands on the steering wheel to keep things moving in the right direction.

So, what is a steering committee and what role does it play in life sciences? Within the life science industry, there are a number of applications for steering committees, including publication development, clinical trial management, and many other critical tasks.

Who sits on a steering committee and how the committee conducts business will vary, but here’s a quick guide on the typical steering committee structure and one best practice that’s bound to improve how steering committees work and carry out their activities.

What is the composition of a steering committee?

An effective steering committee that is overseeing a large project often requires interaction across several departments or organizations to manage progress towards meeting benchmarks, project deliverables, and project goals. It’s the committee’s job to ensure all points of view are heard and to manage conflicts that might arise.

The specific structure of steering committees will differ among organizations and projects, but for the most part, each has similar membership compositions. Typical steering committee roles might include a chairperson or co-chairs, board members, senior executives, and subject matter experts, among others. In the life science industry, steering committees might include principal investigators, external key stakeholders like payers or patient advocates, and other invited observers.

What are some examples of life science steering committee structures?

The project will usually dictate who should be on a steering committee and how to run a steering committee meeting. Let’s consider some typical life science industry examples.

Publication Steering Committee

In the case of a publication steering committee, for example, the committee exists to plan and oversee the development of publications and presentations from a study.

The committee might be initiated by a sponsoring company, or be a subgroup of a trial steering committee. Generally, these groups work best with a smaller number of participants, and the overall goal is to create transparency and share data through shared collaboration between the project sponsor and external experts.

Clinical Trial Steering Committee

A clinical trial steering committee is tasked with monitoring and supervising the progress of the story toward its objectives, and regularly reviewing relevant information from other sources, including other studies. These steering committees are also best conducted with limited membership, and typically include an independent steering committee chairperson, principal or chief investigators, lay observers, statisticians, and the trial manager.

Physician Steering Committee

Occasionally a commercial or marketing team might establish an HCP steering committee to serve as an expert panel on short notice, for example, if new data becomes available and the life science company wants to act quickly to incorporate it into their messaging. In this case, the committee might consist of HCPs as well as observers from outside agencies.

What is the best way to conduct a steering committee meeting?

Steering committees typically meet monthly or quarterly, and in cases where committee membership is limited to a small number of vital project team members, it’s important that everyone attend whenever possible. But there are challenges involved in how to run a steering committee, particularly in today’s globally connected world.

Committees that have members located in distant locations – across many time zones, speaking many languages, with different work and family commitments – may find it challenging to convene members in person. Even video conferencing can be difficult given the differences in time zones and the difficulty of people communicating without one common language.

So how should life science steering committees conduct important meetings that need to be frequent and optimized for attendance and participation? Using a virtual environment meets the needs of most steering committee best practices and increases the chance of full, active participation, regardless of where steering committee members are located and how busy their schedules are.

Asynchronous virtual discussions are ideal for steering committees that need to touch base frequently, require full participation, have members located all over the world, or who have a larger cohort of members. Whereas scheduling a video conference can be logistically impossible, asynchronous meetings don’t require anyone to be available at one given time.

How can committees have a more effective process?

Steering committees on the Within3 platform, for example, offer 24/7 access from any connected device. Members can log in whenever it is most convenient for them and review documents, slide decks, pre-recorded videos, and other resources in addition to answering questions or engaging in discussion with fellow committee members. Regarding publication steering committees, Within3 also offers document co-authoring and annotation, so each member can edit and comment in real time.

By increasing the participation rate in steering committee meetings, groups increase the likelihood of completing projects on time and within budget. And one of the most important aspects of a steering committee – ensuring that all opinions are represented and that each stakeholder, including the steering committee chair, senior stakeholders, and other project team members are heard – is much more straightforward in an asynchronous environment where everyone has equal time to contribute thoughtfully.

To learn about using asynchronous virtual engagement to improve steering committee outcomes, read our customer success story.

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