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Diana Baker Freeman Image
Diana Baker Freeman
Sr. Manager, Modern Governance Advocacy & Iniatives

Mastering communication with your local government council members

June 21, 2024
0 min read
Mastering communication with your local government council members

One council member never reads emails. A second member responds only by email. A third prefers to receive texts, and a fourth would rather talk in person or on the phone.

Board clerks perform the essential role of a conduit, ensuring that key information flows to their organization or governmental body and to the public. Perhaps most importantly, they are the linchpin for ensuring that board or council members are informed and engaged. This responsibility requires them to understand how to effectively connect with council or board members who have vastly different personalities, communication styles and preferences.

Communication between the clerk and council members is key to high-quality and efficient governance. Good communication ensures that the board or council members understand priorities, goals and deadlines, helping them contribute effectively to board discussions. Ultimately, it builds trust and knowledge among board members, elevating their decision-making processes.

As the example above shows, clerk communication to council members can be challenging. It takes planning, persistence and a hefty dose of patience and empathy.

Barriers to good communication between clerks and council members

Clerks distribute large volumes of information necessary for board work, including meeting reminders, agendas, minutes, reports and correspondence. When board or council members are elected, they are flooded with information about their new role. Communication and information from the clerk must break through the noise that surrounds both new and veteran board members.

Information overload for council members is one challenge that clerks face. Another is finding a way to organize complex information so board members can see which items are a higher priority than others. Information organization also helps board members understand upcoming deadlines and the consequences being out of compliance with state and federal mandates and legal requirements.

If the clerk is not clearly communicating information by, for example, using incorrect grammar or ambiguous writing, they risk sowing misunderstanding among council members. This lack of clarity results in repetitive discussions and unproductive meetings.

Too much one-way communication – clerk to council members – can also lessen the impact of what the clerks are trying to impart. If board members have no way to ask clarifying questions, request more or different information or give feedback on how they receive information, they can become confused and eventually disengaged.

Another risk for disengagement comes when board members are not comfortable or proficient using communication via technology tools such as board management software. While technology has revolutionized how we communicate, not every council or board member will automatically embrace the latest tool. Without personalized training created with their strengths and weaknesses in mind, board or council members may stop using the tools or never pick up them.

Tips for improving communications between clerks and council members

Fortunately, these barriers are not insurmountable. Creating and using clear communication systems is a work in progress for most clerks and council members. Even the best systems of communication can get better through thoughtful planning. Here are some tips to improve those systems, ensuring that all council members have access to the information they need to govern effectively.

  • Get to know your council members: Understanding how your board members prefer to communicate and what methods they will respond to best creates the foundation for good communication. It also builds trust between the clerk and council members.
  • Set expectations: If board members receive communications on regular dates and intervals, they will begin to expect and even look for the information. A consistent communication rhythm keeps members engaged and informed.
  • Be clear, concise and direct: Work on correct grammar and style to eliminate ambiguity in communications. Online writing tools can assist. Also, you can ask a colleague to proofread and make sure the meaning of the communication is clear.
  • Gather feedback to avoid one-way communications: Create a way to collect feedback from the board about the effectiveness of board communications. Invite informal discussions or comments and include more formal assessments in board evaluations.
  • Recognition and appreciation: Use your board software’s communications channels to celebrate achievements, recognize wins and to spotlight individual and group efforts. This will build trust and communication among board members as well as with the clerk.

Technology tools help clerks meet communication goals

As mentioned earlier, technology tools like board management software can ease the clerk’s job of communicating to board and council members. However, for it to be affective, board members must be trained so that they can take advantage of all the communications features the tools offer.

Board software like Diligent Community offers a centralized location where all communications, documents and updates can be shared and accessed by board members. This eliminates the need for multiple emails and ensures everyone has the latest information they need. Information can also be scheduled for release at regular intervals, providing consistent communications.

Board management software allows clerks to create, distribute and manage meeting agendas using customized workflows. This ensures that council members can access agendas, preparatory documents and meeting minutes from any device.

Workrooms can be created to efficiently structure and share the work of the committees, with secure permissions to protect sensitive data.

Board management platforms like Diligent Community can enhance clerk-board communications by providing a centralized, user-friendly platform for communication and collaboration. Stay attuned to board members who may be resistant to using the new technology or who need additional training or support.

By providing regular updates, using online platform tools, preparing comprehensive agendas, fostering two-way dialogue and maintaining a centralized place for documents and other data, clerks can ensure that their communication to board members is clear, efficient and productive.

Leveraging a board management solution like Diligent Community provides a centralized, secure and user-friendly platform for all communication needs. By integrating these practices and tools, clerks can help their boards and councils operate smoothly and make well-informed decisions. That, in turn, will lead to more effective governance.

Diligent Community is a cloud-based software solution that is specifically designed for publicly elected boards. It is a powerful tool that can help clerks be efficient and effective. Request a demo today.

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