Concord's ‘Effective Governance Workshop’ prepares volunteers for town service

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Mass Innovations, From The Beacon, January 2018
 
The town of Concord’s operations rely on about 250 volunteers who serve on the town’s various boards and committees, so the town has developed a half-day program designed to train those volunteers to serve in local government and possibly encourage others to serve, too.
 
The town held its most recent “Effective Governance Workshop” on Sept. 23 and had about 80 attendees who received overviews of meeting procedures and effective meeting management, as well as laws covering open meetings, public records, ethics and conflicts of interest. They also received tips on how to deal with difficult issues with the public.
 
Concord Select Board member Alice Kaufman said that the workshop idea arose out of an 11-member Town Governance Study Committee appointed by the board in 2013 to broadly review the community’s governing structure. The committee had recommended that the town reflect on how it communicates with and educates the citizenry to better participate in government.
 
“It’s a lot of people [who volunteer on boards and committees],” Kaufman said. “Many of them want to participate in government, have some expertise in their area, but have never done it before and certainly don’t know all the nuances of municipal finance and processes. We thought it was an opportunity to provide them with the expertise to be even better.”
 
The first workshop, held in 2015 and attended by about 100 people, featured sessions on dealing with community conflict, preparing articles for Town Meeting, the process for getting legal advice and more. The town took the feedback from that workshop and skipped 2016 with the idea of revamping and rebuilding the workshop that eventually ran this past September.
 
“The feedback was pretty strong,” Kaufman said. “People loved the fact they finally had some grounding in how government works, as opposed to just this small committee they may be in.”
 
Workshop presenters include current and former town officials, who lend their expertise on a variety of issues, with the offerings expanding as the issues facing cities and towns evolve. For instance, a section in the most recent workshop focused on how to manage emails and social media as a member of a town board or committee.
 
Along with the workshop, the town developed a manual provided to all board and committee volunteers, and the workshop was recorded and runs on the town’s local access channel, with closed captioning, for those who could not attend the Saturday session.
 
Kaufman said she hopes the workshop will empower board and committee members, while encouraging others who may have expertise in town to step forward and serve their community.
 
“There’s a lot of talent in town — and a lot of people are extremely busy,  commuting to Boston for work,” she said. “It can be really hard if you’re thinking about coming home and instead of seeing your family, volunteering for the town. … I’m struck by the talent that chooses to participate and donate their time.”
 
For more information, contact Concord Town Clerk Kaari Mai Tari at (978) 318-3080 or ktari@concordma.gov.