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

6 smart ways to use technology to support training for local government council members

May 31, 2024
0 min read
ways to use technology to support training for local government council members

Public trust in government has been declining especially in the post-pandemic years according to American City and County. The organization reports that overall confidence in local government has seen an eight-point drop in the last three years, saying, “These figures reveal a concerning reality — trust in government is plummeting, and it is no longer a distant concern but a palpable issue that is preventing local government leaders from acting decisively around policy making, budgeting and strategic planning.”

This growing lack of trust places even more pressure on local government officials. As we highlight in our infographic, citizens are demanding more from their local governments, from more accountability and transparency to more efficiency with public resources.

Anyone who serves on or works closely with a local government board understands the demands that are placed on these elected officials. For many, it is a first public office, and new trustees face significant issues based on a sharp learning curve:

  • Lack of preparation to make decisions on complex local government issues
  • Conflicts that have taken a fresh hold in our current climate, including partisan politics and fervent community discourse that spill over into board meetings and make governance more complex
  • Staying on top of new rules, guidelines and legislation for their state

As Chris Mackenzie former Executive Director of League of California Cities once pointed out "Investing in the leadership skills of your city’s elected officials and staff builds their ability to communicate with constituents and serve them more effectively. In turn, well-informed leaders can build your community’s trust in local government."

A fundamental step in helping board and council members begin to regain that trust is to ensure they are supported and trained to deliver on their mission. New trustees and those who support them can struggle to find the right resources, but like with many other things, we can turn to technology to provide solutions.

6 roles technology can play in training local government council members

As older members retire or lose their seats, younger generations step in who have an increasing level of comfort with using devices, apps and other digital tools to meet their needs. A growing population is getting more adept at navigating cross-platform services, from television and laptop to tablet to phone.

The Local Government Academy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization serving Pennsylvania and promoting excellence in local government, offers education and training programs to local government officials. These programs are designed to develop local leaders, educate public officials, public employees and citizens and build collaborations and partnerships.

It is in both trustees’ and the communities’ best interests to find technology that helps support the board’s training needs. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why.

1. Onboarding new members

Beginning with day one of board service, leaders need to fully understand the scope and limitations of their role. Management versus oversight of management, in particular, is a concept that is critical for new council members to understand immediately. (Read further thoughts on management versus oversight of management and the role of technology on our blog.)

2. Meeting training requirements

State guidelines vary on required training for local government board members, but often include lessons on ethics, open meetings and other legal factors. For example, in Texas, elected officials, including city council members, must get training on the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Public Information Act within 90 days of taking office. California requires certain local officials, including city council members, complete ethics training on topics like conflicts of interest, government transparency and ethical decision-making. This must occur every two years.

3. Cyber risk vigilance

Local governments are a growing target for bad actors drawn to potential weaknesses. Lack of investment in IT leaves local governments without the dedicated resources to fight viruses, hackers, phishing and especially ransomware. Ensuring new council members both understand the threat and are individually doing their part (not using personal email for board business, for example) is an urgent need.

4. Rule and legislation changes

Recent headlines reveal changing rules and laws for local government board service. These tend to focus on ethics, transparency, governance and operations. For example, Illinois passed a law mandating training for local government officials in the areas of cybersecurity and data protection. North Carolina requires elected local government leaders attend an ethics and lobbying education presentation within six months of assuming their positions and every two years thereafter.

5. Successful service outcomes

When local government leaders are take advantage of development and training opportunities, the benefits can include greater efficiency, better decision-making, improved financial management and increased public trust and engagement. This is especially valuable given the recent declining public trust in government.

6. Building community and creating a positive board culture

Transparency and civility are the linchpins of a healthy local government in challenging times. Board members who can communicate clearly with each other and efficiently and transparently with the community are going to be the most effective in — and thus the most satisfied with — their roles. Communication standards steeped in civility can go a long way towards building a positive board culture and reestablishing trust within the community. That means that elected board members should accept and practice these standards in their communications with one another, stakeholders and the community at large.

The right tools for support and training for local government leaders

Board development is key to successful board service and for rebuilding public trust. Training in the critical areas of legal and compliance, ethics, financial oversight and communications, can help government leaders better understand their roles, respond to public concerns and ultimately serve their communities well.

Local governments can use their board management solutions to organize information around training requirements and materials and ensure each board member has access to the best resources for support. Software such as Diligent Community serve as a single source of truth for boards and a gateway to development.

Using technology can help board training be more efficient and effective. Curious to learn more? Explore Diligent Community today.


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