Education & Government
Kathleen Vail Image
Kathleen Vail
Former Editor-in-Chief, National School Boards Association

Contentious board vote coming up? Technology can help

November 27, 2023
0 min read
a publicly elected female board member speaks into a microphone to discuss a contentious vote

Many of the decisions you make as a publicly elected board member are straightforward and noncontroversial. However, some issues that come before you are complex and multifaceted. They can spark widespread disagreement from community members, special interest groups, parents and other constituents. Depending on the issue, people may react with anger or fear — never the best conditions for a reasoned discussion based on the facts.

Information, communication and transparency are the keys to successful decision-making for publicly elected boards, especially when voting on contentious issues that can divide the community and even board members themselves. Technology in the form of board management software can support board members around these three as they work to make the best decisions under difficult or high-pressure circumstances.

How technology can support the board

Working out the best solutions can be difficult under public and media scrutiny, and especially so when community members are polarized by ideological beliefs and strongly disagree on the best path forward. Disagreement among board members with differing or opposing ideological views can add to that pressure.

Board management software can help relieve the pressure in several different ways to promote better information, communication and transparency.

1. Information

All board decisions require quality and reliable information. Potentially contentious decisions are complex by nature, and may require more detailed information and analysis. Armed with all the facts, you can be sure you're considering every possible position and outcome before your vote.

Board management software provides a centralized platform where board members can access all relevant documents, reports and data related to an issue. Those documents could include budget and funding estimates, anticipated tax implications, student test scores, and demographic growth projections.

With easy digital access to these documents, board members have ample time to look over information and re-read items as necessary, which can help them to better understand complex issues. This leads to more informed board members who are all on the same page, and can potentially prevent miscommunication and tension within the board.

Hearing from your constituents is a big part of information-gathering. Their perspectives on the potential impact of your decision will form the basis for your vote. You can use surveys and polls, public forums, and include public speaking time at meetings. Their statements, ideas, and opinions should be recorded and considered as you prepare for the vote.

Some board software includes features for public engagement, such as allowing citizens to submit requests to speak at upcoming meetings. Use your public website and social media channels to share links to surveys or polls that make it easy to gather input.

After the vote, the board will be in a better position to justify its decision by making the data and information available to the public through a trusted source, such as their website. Providing the community with transparency into the information that was made available to the board, the input from the public, and the discussions that took place around the decision helps to build trust in those decisions. It also shows that all points are being considered when decisions are made.

2. Communication

Communication with your constituents is more than just providing them with information — it should always be a two-way street.

Making sure you get input from all your constituents is essential. Not everyone can attend and speak at public hearings. Your board no doubt represents diverse communities with varying interests and opinions, as well as different incomes, educational backgrounds and language skills.

Balancing the needs and desires of these constituencies can be challenging. However, finding ways to hear from people from different backgrounds will help you make decisions that are good for the entire community, not just those who have the resources to make themselves heard.

Public engagement doesn’t begin and end with public meetings. Board management software can help you meet constituents where they are by making multiple communication channels available. For example, you can:

  • Offer opportunities to subscribe to email and newsletters
  • Post key news updates on your public website
  • Allow the public to sign up for notifications about meetings
  • Manage requests to speak
  • Provide livestreams of public meetings

All of these actions can help you engage on a deeper level with your constituents.

When soliciting feedback and opinions, make it clear that the board must consider all aspects and perspectives. Let people know the thinking process of the board, including the short-term and long-term consequences of a decision. Help them understand you are dealing with limited budgets and resources. If you’re asking community members to wait for school renovations or a new library while another building project gets priority, set a timeline to discuss when and how their project will be addressed.

If your decision was based in part on compliance with state or federal regulations or standards, let your stakeholders know that, as well.

3. Transparency

Make information available and easy to access for stakeholders and community members, so they can see what information your board based its vote on and the sources of the data. If there are limited resources, let the public see the current budget numbers and the projected income from local taxes, as well as from state and federal funding.

Once you’ve gotten feedback and information from the public, maintain the two-way communication channels you’ve built. This open communication also will create and maintain trust that will help you through the next contentious vote (you know it’s coming!).

Allow the public to have access to as much information as possible. Include information about board and the governing process. Many people don’t understand how publicly elected boards work, nor the rules and regulations they must follow. Informed constituents will better understand your decisions, even if they don’t agree.

Board management software can help you promote transparency by making meeting materials and minutes accessible to the public. It also can provide a central place for public access to information that you control and monitor. Livestreaming your public meetings also helps with transparency and community engagement.

Empowering board members

As boards discuss and decide on crucial issues, disagreements and disruptions inevitably arise. But tools are available to help. Board management software enhances the efficiency and transparency within public education and local government boards. It empowers board members to make well-informed decisions on contentious items while also informing the public in a more organized and efficient manner, so you can be better prepared for the next issue coming up.

The right software can support boards as they consider a contentious issue. Software like Diligent Community can support boards as they debate and vote on issues. The document library allows board members and staff to quickly pull up past information, if needed. Board members can access information anytime, anywhere and on any device. Reports from committees, staff, consultants, or other key stakeholders can be distributed to board members. Communication to the public and your school community through your public transparency website is quick and streamlined, allowing you to keep them up to date with a single source of truth.

Find out how Diligent Community can support your public board as you make decisions for your community and constituents.


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