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

Ease council member onboarding with technology

December 28, 2023
0 min read
council member onboarding with technology

Depending on your municipality, new council members can face vastly different experiences after their swearing-in ceremonies.

Take two onboarding examples that were recently covered in the media: Nashville and Chicago. The different coverages offer some insight into what can go right — and wrong — in city council orientations.

The Nashville Scene reported on the Metro Council’s multiday mixer for new members, led by the vice mayor, who explained, “We’re focusing specifically on procedure and encouraging new members to ask as many questions as possible. We will go over sunshine laws and spend a big chunk of time on land use and zoning, which is a large part of what district council members will be working on during their term.”

Meanwhile, nonprofit Block Club Chicago took a more critical view of local government transition, noting that, “Alderpeople, starting with rookies, haven’t consistently received guidelines for setting up their offices, connecting with constituents or serving as legislators.”

When it comes to onboarding new council members, city staff and tenured leaders want to make a positive first impression. By enhancing the onboarding experience using modern technology — and particularly a feature-rich, modern board management solution — city leaders can organize the city council onboarding, set expectations and help new council members feel comfortable in their roles.

Challenges in onboarding local government council members

Both incoming council members and existing leaders and administrators face challenges during transition. To start, most council members have other commitments — full-time jobs, family responsibilities, community volunteerism — and learning the nuances of city leadership presents a steep learning curve to effective governance.

Moreover, one-size-fits-all onboarding isn’t appropriate, as every town or city’s needs are different and can change from year to year. As noted in the Nashville example, the council will be focusing on zoning issues, which can be significant for an evolving metropolis. Other factors at varying levels of importance can include public safety, social services and infrastructure. These different concerns can (and should) influence the material presented for onboarding.

Existing dynamics can create either a welcoming or stressful environment for a new council member. A contentious election, or differing political alignments or cultural values, can significantly influence the welcome a new member gets from their peers. As a result, new council members may need to rely more on the city clerk’s office and other staff as they work on teambuilding.

With the COVID era’s focus on digital communication and asynchronous work schedules, council members must adopt modern communications strategies quickly to be accessible to citizens. While election-campaign communications offered relevant experience, council members must shift quickly to service- and outcome-oriented, two-way communications to keep constituents happy.

And, overall, the council needs to focus on continuity of governance. While new elections may signal a change in citizen priorities and a desire for a fresh outlook, many existing and ongoing efforts require immediate teamwork on existing projects and priorities.

Board management software’s unique benefits

For council members and city staff looking to mitigate these challenges, adopting a board management platform is one effective strategy. Consider some of the qualities offered by modern board management software like Diligent Community in the context of onboarding.

A central location for materials. Because council members have other commitments and yet must get up to speed quickly, empowering them to work independently and asynchronously is a must for effective teams. Orientation resources can be collected and presented electronically through the board management portal for easy findability. With access to these materials available anytime and anywhere on different devices, council members can be better prepared for upcoming meetings.

Simplified digital tools for communication. Council service creates a lot of complexity for members and staff. The shift in recent years to virtual meetings and electronic means of communication have built near-endless streams of messages every stakeholder must manage. By using a single platform to receive meeting updates, agenda packets and notifications, city leaders can find messages and documents easily while managing all communications in one place.

High-level security for risk reduction. Security is key to well-run cities today, as cyber risk continues to be a pressing problem for local governments. Using a secure platform ensures that any sensitive council information — from employee data to vendor information — stays safe.

Tips for onboarding new council members with board management software

By establishing a board management platform as the central location for council activity, all council members can be more confident in their service. Here are a few ideas for making the most of the platform, particularly for new members.

Develop a customizable digital orientation kit. Your municipality likely already has materials related to policies, processes, applicable rules and more. By making this data easily acccessible on their own devices, council members can get up to speed quickly on the most efficient schedule.

Offer statuses and backgrounds on existing issues. Day One of council service can feel like you've just walked into the middle of a conversation and must quickly catch up. New council members need to understand current budgets, the implications of changing demographics, ongoing legal actions — the list is endless. Keeping up-to-date materials on ongoing issues benefits not only new council members who need to catch up, but also existing teams who need to understand what happened since the last meeting. High-quality board management software will offer easy, fast searching for past documents.

Put virtual or hybrid meetings in one place. Virtual and hybrid meetings have their own best practices, as well as their own challenges. To simplify the meeting process, offer virtual or hybrid meetings on a single platform that is integrated with the rest of the board work — in other words, the board management platform. Designed for purpose, an integrated meeting feature allows council members and others to build familiarity and expertise around the camera.

Establish consistent tools for communication. Robust and immediate communication with citizens has never been more achievable for local government leaders. By linking council meeting agendas with supporting materials and publishing them to your public transparency website, councils can acknowledge the expectations of citizens to understand exactly how the council reflects local priorities.

The next steps for successful onboarding

Board management software can play a key role in helping to bring new council members up to speed on the issues their local government faces, and better equip them to serve.

We at Diligent understand the demands placed on local governments, as well as why so many choose to serve. We’ve designed Diligent Community as a next-generation governance solution — the right tool not only to onboard new city council members, but also ensure the entire governance process is as smooth as it can be. Diligent Community is a cloud-based public board management software offering secure servers and 256-bit encryption, the strongest level of encryption currently available.


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