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

Experts tell us why technology matters in community transparency

April 11, 2024
0 min read
Experts tell us why technology matters in community transparency

Trust can be difficult to earn and, unfortunately, easy to lose. This is one of the first lessons that public leaders and staff learn as they assume their roles. Building and maintaining trust become a significant part of every effort they undertake.

Today, trust goes hand-in-hand with transparency for city councils and school and community college districts. The International City/County Management Association clarifies that trust is not only sharing the results of government action, but also the process that led to decisions.

In years past, efforts to share these processes, statuses and more could be extremely time- and resource-consuming for all parties, and community stakeholders weren’t always able to access information or know where to find it. Technology has helped change this, by enabling public leaders to share information easily in the multiple ways stakeholders look for it.

We asked experts how public entities can support greater transparency and about the results of their efforts. Unsurprisingly, technology plays a key role in their answers.

Expert thoughts on using technology to support transparency

Keep stakeholders in the loop

“Once you publish (on the public website), everybody knows and we have people subscribing; sometimes we have other stakeholders who want to know when the next council meeting will take place. The stakeholders are now in the loop. We are the only municipality that has this technology, and it creates visibility. Anyone can go online and check the agenda and when the next meeting is.” Ian Dudla, Chief Administration Officer, Municipality of Resolute Bay, Nunavut, Canada

It can be surprising how quickly boards and councils can build an audience of stakeholders once materials and subscription invitations are published in a consistent place. As Dudla notes, ensuring the visibility of these materials can set a city or school district apart from others — particularly important when looking to attract residents and businesses to a community.

Reap the benefits of board management software

“I was talking to a school district and they were having some issues with transparency and with their community. After they implemented the (board management software) solution, and they started going to meetings, I saw, just from talking to the administrative team, the impact it had on their community.” James Page, Chief Information Officer, New York State School Boards Association

Board management software is specially designed to meet the needs of school boards, city councils and other local government entities. Diligent Community, for example, has features that boost community trust and transparency, such as searchable document repositories, automated notifications and extensive video capabilities that allow stakeholders to participate on their own schedules and from their own devices.

Establish a single source of truth

“Board management software is a powerful tool for publicly elected boards to help them achieve community transparency and comply with open meetings requirements. By livestreaming and recording meetings and ensuring agendas and minutes meet accessibility requirements; providing the ability to search meeting agendas, minutes and policy documents online; and enabling constituents to easily subscribe to meeting notifications and updates, boards can build trust with the public and improve transparency. A single source of truth helps reduce the burden of public requests for information and supports positive public engagement.” Nonie Dalton, Vice President of Product Management, Diligent

In our list of practical ways to build community trust, establishing a single source of truth ranks high. All stakeholders are sifting through constant messaging through email, mail, text, social media and traditional media, and they need to know where to find the most recent, accurate information about local government activities. Establishing a single location also saves time for those responsible for publishing and updating materials.

Make policy deliberations visible

“By using technology, policy transparency has become even easier than ever, which also helps promote inclusivity and trust. For example, school boards can now prioritize transparency and accountability, ensuring policies are in the best interests of students and community. When you have an effective, streamlined process for managing and adopting policies, it becomes straightforward to show your community stakeholders what decisions have been made and when. Time spent dealing with Freedom of Information Act requests also drops significantly.” Sarah Gutierrez, Policy Implementation Manager, Diligent

When your community has access to every step in the policy process, everyone benefits:

  • The school district, city or county gains the new ideas and solutions that can come from stakeholders
  • Citizens, parents and other community members have the assurance that their voices are heard in decisions that affect them or those they care about
  • Your board or council saves time answering questions or defending decisions after the fact, including, as Gutierrez notes, formal requests for information

A modern board governance tool like Diligent Community makes the policy process straightforward, with versioning, automated workflows and notifications and simplified voting and publishing.

Harness the power of video

“Since we started using Diligent Community, engagement and trust within the local community have improved significantly, which aligns with the district’s commitment to transparency. If community members are unable to attend meetings in person, they can access the livestream from home on any device, or watch the recorded meeting at their convenience and follow along with the time-stamped minutes. This allows community members to see the board function as a well-oiled machine. No one thinks we’ve buried something deep into the pages, and we’ve received positive feedback publicly and privately.” Andre Pecina, Administrator of Communications, Strategy and Outreach, Visalia Unified School District, California

“With technology, all of the voting record is right there. Everyone in the audience can see what the board is looking at. They have that visual of what is going on. I’ve definitely gotten fewer requests for a copy of the minutes from this date or that date. It’s all there and it’s connected to the video as well. Having the video right there, right next to the minutes has been awesome.” Jessica Markham, Town Clerk, Town of Carbondale, Colorado

Video is a powerful tool to build trust with constituents and other stakeholders. Parents, citizens, business owners and others all have demands on their time that can make meeting attendance difficult. By enabling livestreaming and offering recordings of meetings, boards and councils can ensure every interested party has the ability to see what goes into local government decision-making.

And it matters. Government bodies in Orange County, California, are being graded on their video accessibility by a partnership between local media and university journalism students. Councilmember Shari Horne of Laguna Woods, a city that recently earned an A in the review, said of moving to meeting livestreaming, “We think this may improve our residents’ ability to be involved. We want that.”

Expect increased engagement

“We have been able to increase the accessibility of information and increase the amount of engagement from all of our stakeholders. [Diligent Community] allows us to very clearly open the doors to how we are making decisions. We have a single pane of glass for families and community members to follow along and engage during board meetings.” Dr. R.J. Gravel, Deputy Superintendent of Glenbrook High School District 225, Illinois

Among other valid reasons why increased engagement benefits everyone, a paper from the Institute for Local Government includes this one: “More community buy-in and support, with less contentiousness.” This is one of many reasons why boards and councils should prioritize engagement, but in this era of heightened political and cultural conflict, it is a particularly important one to effective community service.

The benefits of transparency for boards and councils

Adopting a high-quality board management tool is one element of fostering transparency and accountability, cornerstones of healthy governance. We previously the importance of public transparency and its benefits, which include:

  • Increased citizen and community engagement. For schools, increased community engagement can mean improved student achievement, attendance and retention. For municipalities, maintaining a two-way conversation built on trust can lead to the best ideas and solutions.
  • Civic and school pride. When residents and others can feel trust in their elected and appointed representatives and feel that they are part of the process, they can have a newfound appreciation for their schools, cities and counties.
  • Drawing potential residents and businesses. Potential new residents and business leaders visit municipal and school district websites to inform their decisions about where to relocate. A site with updated information about governance activities, policies and strategic planning and goals can go a long way in swaying potential transplants to your community.

Andrea Messina, Chief Executive Officer, Florida School Boards Association, put it simply: “Focus on transparency for the community. Transparency builds trust.”

“Focus on transparency for the community. Transparency builds trust.” Andrea Messina, Chief Executive Officer, Florida School Boards Association

At Diligent, we build solutions to support greater government transparency. Diligent Community is designed with the features boards and councils need to provide effective leadership supported by technology. Let us know how we can help you.

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