Transparent: adj., a. having the property of transmitting light without appreciable scattering so that bodies lying beyond are seen clearly; b. fine or sheer enough to be seen through; c. free from pretense or deceit; d. characterized by visibility or accessibility of information, especially concerning business practices.
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Is your municipal board transparent? Before you spend money on a flashy PR campaign, consider how much openness and visibility you could gain from a source you may have overlooked. Board management software can boost your board’s transparency in seven essential ways:
How many times have you logged on to a computer today? When was the last time your best friend sauntered by a public building to study the municipal postings on the bulletin board? You may have posted agendas and minutes as required by open-meeting laws, but are you reaching your constituents where they live? Board management software includes a public-facing website that puts your meeting agendas in the line of sight of 21st-century constituents. The digital venue also reaches homebound and handicapped citizens inadvertently excluded by traditional communication channels.
A board portal’s public-facing website is not like all the others … Google Docs and many other sites can post municipal business online for all to see, but that strength is also their weakness. Hackers find such sites laughably penetrable because they are. To beat them at their own game, the recipe is one part location, one part encryption.
Location. Most sites store your data on “the cloud.” You may as well send cybercriminals an engraved invitation to manipulate your data or render it inoperable until you pay a hefty ransom. Top-flight board management software stores your posted business on a cloud-based, but fully private, server. It’s like doubling the number of moats around the castle.
Encryption. The more encryption, the better. It, too, shields your data with more walls that hackers must get through. Some public-facing websites, though, are entirely unencrypted. Others may use that word, but they offer only 128-bit encryption, which is not as difficult to get through. Only full 256-bit encryption gives your information the formidable shield that it needs.
In sensitive cases, boards may need to see medical information, criminal histories and financial documents. The public can never, ever see that information – not even once. Less detailed public information must be widely available to meet open-meeting and open-record requirements. Keeping the right version of documents before the right audiences is imperative.
Board management software with role-based authorizations ensures no accidental seepage between these public and private documents. Each person logging on to the portal is assigned the status of “executive,” “administration” or “public” in the system. Those roles change only when you manually enter to change them when there’s board turnover or a new hire.When the public audience clicks on a document to view it, they see a scrubbed version without confidential details. When board members (“executives”) click on the same document, they see a fully descriptive version. Automating the process prevents human error.
The key word is “volunteer.” It’s one thing if a suspicious citizen must plant tape recorders or request permission to bring a video recorder to a public meeting. They assume the heroic role of responsible citizen. The board may seem to have something to hide.
Board portal software flips the script. The best software allows you to post video seamlessly alongside meeting minutes. The board actually initiates its own exposure. Any suspicion that you have something to hide vanishes into thin air.
From the Pentagon Papers to Erin Brockovich, the US loves “gotcha” journalism. Open-record laws make governmental information easier to find, and many states now require digitization of yesterday’s paper piles.
What if a public-sector municipality actually exceeded these requirements to demonstrate that it welcomes scrutiny? It can. Good board management software lets you put your public records in a fully searchable archive of voluminous public records.
Online surveys, opinion polls, suggestion boxes and “flash” events keep the channels of communication open every day of the year. Positive input gains momentum. Negative input has a sounding board outside the public meetings, where complainants might otherwise strive to derail an entire meeting.
Your sharpest tool in the quest for transparency may be hiding in plain sight. Board portal software opens up remarkable new possibilities for friendly, proactive citizen engagement.