Written by Joshua Hurni
Continuing the conversation, we started with Go Beyond the Vote, we are launching a series of blog posts on boards and commissions.
This series will cover several topics including:
- Attracting and recruiting the right applicants for your boards and commissions.
- On-boarding new members, including training, so they can be successful in their positions.
- Managing member attendance and making their decisions transparent and available for the public.
- Off-boarding and retaining records once a member's term is complete.
While these topics may seem a little in the weeds, it’s essential to dive into the details because recruiting and on-boarding new members is always more time consuming than creating a high-quality experience for the serving members, who will often volunteer to serve on additional committees.
With this in mind, we will now turn to the topic of recruitment.
It is always a challenge to find and recruit a representative group of well-informed public members willing to serve on committees because people are busy and are often unaware of the process and impact they can have by serving on a committee.
At a most basic level, if the quorum isn’t met, a board or commission cannot conduct business. If the committee members do not represent the whole community or are unknowledgeable, you run the risk of alienating community members or losing the ability to tap into essential perspectives and skills. Therefore, it is critical to get the right constituents in the boards or commissions, but it has its challenges.
There are two challenges towards attracting the right applicants:
1. Lack of consolidated information regarding all boards and committees
In this day and age, everyone is used to getting tasks done quickly and efficiently. When people apply for jobs, they can find all the company information in the same place and submit their application and resume with a button click. When applying for boards and commissions, sometimes things aren’t as straightforward.
It‘s easy to get lost looking around on city and county websites, searching for agendas and minutes, and doing more research on current committee members and vacancies. Most constituents don’t have the time to do further research. This extra work may turn off potential board and committee members from even thinking about applying.
Furthermore, for most cities and counties, it takes considerable effort to keep all this information together. From attendance to voting history, there’s a lot to keep track of regarding boards and committees. We have often heard from city officials that they keep records of this information on numerous spreadsheets through manual-based processes.
Committee member profile showcasing their name, bio, email, committees, start and end date.
Centralizing your boards and commissions information, in addition to the rest of your public meeting information, can result in potential applicants who have a more comprehensive understanding of your city or county. The centralization of information also takes the stress off local government officials who are depending on spreadsheets to do the job.
Our Committee Management portal provides a complete picture of all the committees, all in one centrally located place. Besides having the application connected to the meeting agenda, video, and minutes, our system provides a place for fully biographical details on the committee member. It also automatically shows any upcoming vacancies, and it shows who has historically served on the board.
Both are important because it allows potential applicants to see the backgrounds of current and former committee members, which can impact their perspectives. It also helps potential applicants decide if their experience will add a new perspective to the committee.
Finally, if the agency uses our Meeting Management solution, we can automatically display attendance and voting history, which provides a clear picture of how a member has impacted a committee and what kind of impact a potential applicant could have on the board.
For example, our system makes it easy to see committee members voting history and discover if they always voted with the majority. The potential applicant would then know that replacing this member could allow them to redirect the vote and take the committee in a new direction. Plus, the information on Committee Management portal is consistent with the rest of your public meeting information. This makes it easy for people who are already interested in what is taking place in a meeting to apply directly from the same spot.
2. Time-consuming and confusing application process
The application process can be challenging because part of the application can be paper based. In many jurisdictions, the only way to apply to a meeting is through a paper application; this means that candidates must download the online application, print it, complete it with a pen, and then mail it in.
Each of these tasks makes it more difficult for a person who is interested in a committee to begin the process of completing the application. It takes away opportunities for people who do not have access to a printer to apply for vacancies.
In addition to the difficulty of mailing in a paper application, some applications are simply out of date and hard to follow.
Of course, you only want people to apply who are committed to the position; however, at the early stage of an application, if candidates are on the fence, it can leave them feeling that connecting with the government is too difficult or that your jurisdiction is out of date and not interested in connecting with a wide range of community members who can provide important perspectives.
Easy to fill online application for boards and commissions.
The application process should be easy and accessible to all constituents. PrimeGov’s applications are 100% online, giving all constituents with internet access the opportunity to apply.
Our applications are also custom-built, which means the application can match your branding and have a place for online signatures or shaded areas for internal use only.
In other words, you do not need to change your paper application to fit in the software; the system will match your current process.
This can be helpful because some members of the community are less tech-savvy and having an online application that matches your paper will make it easier for them to move online.
Furthermore, for those who are more comfortable working online, our custom applications allow you to capture the information in a clean and enticing fashion. This then presents your organization to the general public as one that is easy to work with and more inviting for people to apply. Because it is an online application, you receive all the benefits of routing the application through the nomination process without having to transition the information from a paper application.
Another hidden challenge: Lack of Time
The United States consistently ranks highest in the number of hours worked for industrialized nations. Considering that many homes are two-income households, caring for children and older adults, and the numerous other responsibilities, it's not surprising that many Americans report being "time-poor."
The lack of time has a significant impact on democracy because a fundamental feature of democracy is that government is "by the people for the people." As a result of the disconnection people have from their government, a survey by the University of Chicago reveals that most Americans think the government needs substantial reform.
It's imperative for cities and counties to make it easier for their constituents to view and apply for committees by accommodating constituents with limited time. PrimeGov's end-to-end committee management solution enables cities to optimize and automate the application process.
The City of Phoenix has about 66 boards and commissions, with some boards having up to 12 vacancies. It can be both challenging and overwhelming to recruit potential members when there are so many positions to fill. Eliminating paper-based applications and implementing a centralized location for boards and commissions information opens more opportunities for potential applicants.
With PrimeGov's Committee Manager solution, all of that is possible, and more. This solution not only makes the constituent's life easier, but it also makes the clerk's job easier – from recruiting diverse and well-informed committee members to providing a complete and historical picture of current boards and committees to potential applicants.