Education & Government
Jennifer Rose Hale Image
Jennifer Rose Hale
Former Client Partner, Texas Association of School Boards

Engaging your publicly elected board: Strategies for tech-savvy governance

May 17, 2024
0 min read
Engaging your publicly elected board: Strategies for tech-savvy governance

Even the most prepared school board and city council member can find surprises in their role — some good, and a few that make the role more challenging. Right now, for example, in meetings of every type of community, elected officials face a steep learning curve around technology impacts (particularly around generative AI and cyber threats) that will affect administration, citizens and a generation of students.

What does your board or council need to begin having conversations around these complicated issues?

Tackling these topics is always going to be more successful when the board is fully engaged, but this can be a state easier said than achieved. After all, not every government representative at this level is engaged with the work. And the fallout of disengaged and ill-prepared leaders is a district or city whose decisions may not reflect the best interests of their stakeholders.

What you'll learn

  • Challenges of engaging board and council members
  • Role of technology in board engagement
  • How board development can help engage your board or council members
  • How to overcome obstacles in technology adoption and development
  • Actionable steps to using technology for engagement

So how can a city or school district ensure its board or council is fully engaged and ready to discuss critical issues that impact their community? Let’s look at the challenges these reps face, and how technology and effective development can help get the board on board.

Challenges in staying engaged with board and council service

It often falls on an administrator, secretary or clerk to support board or council engagement and productivity, and it can be a difficult job. Here are a few of the challenges these individuals face:

  • Time constraints. Like all of us, board and council members have limited time to devote to any particular task — especially when jobs, families and other community responsibilities need attention.
  • Lack of resources. The cobbler’s children may go without shoes, and it can be a difficult sell to devote budget dollars or staff time to line items that seemingly only benefit the board. Solutions must be flexible enough to benefit multiple stakeholders.
  • Lack of obvious results or progress. Board or council members can become dispirited when they feel they are putting in the time but not seeing the outcomes of their work.
  • Difficulty getting information. Legacy systems for storage and communication can make finding answers hard, especially for new members (often the people who need answers the most).
  • Overwhelming information or lack of clear prioritization. Conversely, boards can find themselves with copious amounts of data, reports and more in no clear order or hierarchy and can struggle to understand what they’re working with.

In our earlier example, board and council members may be encountering a new technology for the first time and could face a lengthy path. This goes from understanding the basics to considering the technology's potential and risk and finally, developing reasonable, realistic policies. Their engagement levels will have a significant impact on every stage, from learning to decision-making.

Many of these issues can be addressed by smart strategies around technology use and member development.

The role of technology in board engagement

Technology — and in particular, a high-quality board management tool — can be the difference in creating and supporting an engaged and productive board. Consider these ways that board management software can facilitate:

Onboarding and training

Every stage of learning can benefit from smart technology use for training. By storing onboarding and training materials in a board management solution, new members can access at their leisure and drive their own learning.

Secure communication and information sharing

The ability to view key information to prepare for meetings is necessary for board and council members. Unfortunately, that can also be at odds with the need to keep sensitive information secure. By using a tool with robust built-in communications features and proven security, governance leaders can be confident that the right people are getting the right information at the right time while trustees feel supported in their role.

Increased productivity

The quickest way to burnout comes when an individual feels their time is not being used effectively. Using technology solutions with multidevice functionality and support allows board and council members to work flexibly and efficiently.

Improved voting processes

With better communication and more efficiency around board and council service, leaders can focus their attention on decision-making and voting. A board management solution with in-meeting, live digital voting helps expedite and elevate the process, increasing engagement among participants.

Supportive culture

Last, by giving the board’s members the right tools to contribute successfully and feel engaged with the decision-making process, you build a healthier culture across the group, even more important during times of significant political and cultural conflict.

The role of development in board engagement

A holistic and ongoing approach to board development has a profound impact in enhancing the skills, knowledge and engagement of board members. Treating training as a one-and-done effort is a common mistake, which is why the concept of 'everboarding' — offering initial and ongoing training throughout the trustee's lifecycle — is taking hold.

Consider some of the continuing education areas that can be supported by strong development efforts:

  • Responsible governance models
  • Community leadership and interaction
  • Superintendent and board member relations
  • Ethics and civility
  • Conducting effective board meetings
  • Cyber risk and data security
  • Managing policy lifecycle, and more

Everboarding continues the strong start of quality onboarding training, keeps trustees engaged and will create efficiencies that will continue to benefit the local government for years to come.

“The best board is an engaged board — a board that comes to meetings ready to think critically and apply sophisticated thought processes to sophisticated problems. The only way for a board member to think at a higher level is to have already read and understood the material through their board management software. Expect the best from the board and create opportunities for them to rise to the occasion.” - Diana Baker Freeman, Senior Manager, Modern Governance Advocacy & Initiatives, Diligent

Addressing obstacles in implementing technology solutions and board development initiatives

Change can be difficult to implement, even when all signs point to a positive outcome. Sometimes people are suspicious or fearful of change for a number of reasons, from genuine concern about budget constraints to fear of feeling like a fish out of water when learning a new tool.

Your board or council is regularly addressing change within its community, and many of the same strategies for winning over city residents or school stakeholders during bond elections, for example, can be deployed internally when encouraging board members and staff to adopt and use a board management platform, including these:

  • Identify champions early
  • Involve stakeholders at every level
  • Promote the benefits for each audience
  • Share information regularly and encourage two-way conversation
  • Provide comprehensive training

Actionable steps to using technology to increase engagement

Finding the right board management software that is designed for purpose is your first step to supporting board and council member engagement. Look for a partner with proven experience working with boards and councils and a full-featured platform hosted on secure servers with 256-bit encryption — like Diligent Community.

Once you’ve identified your solution partner, you can proceed to these steps:

  • Set clear expectations. Clearly communicate the roles, responsibilities and expectations of board members. This helps them understand their purpose and motivates them to actively participate. Part of setting the expectation will be that you all use your board management solution to access documents and communicate securely.
  • Foster a positive and inclusive environment. Create a supportive and inclusive atmosphere where all members feel valued and respected. Encourage open dialogue and diverse perspectives.
  • Provide ongoing training and professional development opportunities. Offer training sessions, workshops and highlight useful conferences to enhance board members' skills and knowledge. Whether for onboarding or continuing education, your training materials should be accessible to leaders and staff when they need them.
  • Recognize and celebrate achievements. Acknowledge and appreciate the contributions and achievements of board members. This could be done through public recognition, awards or appreciation events.
  • Make background documents and progress reports available to your trustees. These should be easy to find with a searchable document repository.
  • Support committee work with secure online workrooms and streaming meetings.

It’s important to engage publicly elected board members for effective governance in education and local government. Technology and board development are two crucial tools for achieving higher levels of engagement and productivity.

We at Diligent understand the difference an engaged board can make in improving the quality of local education and residential life. Diligent Community is designed with the tools your district or city needs to support your leaders as they serve their community.


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