How Paperless Meeting Software Improves Governance for Public Boards

Lena Eisenstein

Paperless meetings are an idea whose time has come. They streamline meetings so that they feel more like a visit to an Apple store and less like a trip to the DMV. That considerable advantage, however, is actually the least of its benefits ' especially for public boards. The same software that facilitates paperless meetings also improves the quality of public board governance.

1. Security

Board portal software makes paperless meetings possible. It also makes them far more secure, at a time that cybercriminals increasingly barrage public targets ' often corrupting files, stealing confidential information or gathering contacts to target in countless attacks on individuals. Such hacking criminals typically demand a hefty ransom to restore operations or surrender information gleaned from the system's hard drive. If only to protect the materials that are already stored online, vulnerable public entities need the high level of safeguards that board portal software provides.

Every public board navigates between the Scylla of public access requirements and the Charybdis of board material sensitivity. Even one mishap is one too many. Betting against human error is not precise enough for such an important job: Say an assistant cuts and pastes an email addressee list into a new email. It could be that her source email was sent not just to the board, but to all the board members plus two collaborators on a specific project that is now finished. Those two collaborators could see sensitive board information.

Board portal software eliminates that risk, as it can keep public and private lists permanently segregated. Stakeholders' names are initially entered according to the stakeholder's role in the organization ' e.g., board member, administrator or member of the public. Confidential board materials can be marked for 'board'; they can then be accessed on the organization's website only by board members. With some tweaking, a scrubbed version of the same documents can be viewed by anyone in the 'public' role.

Because it provides a private, cloud-based server, board portal software also keeps all the data stored there out of the reach of hackers. Absent such a server, commonplace storage practices leave data exposed, enticing hackers who search for the least-protected sites to break into. File-sharing sites such as Google Drive store data on 'the (public) cloud,' which is no match for even a rookie cybercriminal. A cloud-based, private server, though, deters even the best cybercriminals, who know they would need to invest a lot of time to try to break into the server, with a low probability of success. They quickly move on to soft targets.

Full robust data encryption adds even more protection to the public board's data. Software encrypts data at different levels, offering no encryption, 128-bit encryption or 256-bit encryption ' the hardest to penetrate. The best brands of board portal software provide the full 256-bit

encryption that is needed ' not just on meeting materials but on all information stored on the site.

Full encryption and private server storage augment the security advantage that all digital records enjoy. With hard copies lying around, any of them can easily fall into the wrong hands. A board member may leave copies on an airplane or in a caf?'. There's no way to track their proliferation. As a result, simple digitization alone already reduces risk. (Frequent travelers on the board will also thank you, as hauling around voluminous paper board packets keeps their chiropractors in business.)

2. Transparency

Open-meeting and open-records laws place a unique demand of transparency on public boards. Meeting agendas and minutes must be accessible to the public, and records must be easy to access. Board portal software lets any public board meet and even exceed the legal standards for transparency.

Open-meeting laws require agendas and minutes from public meetings to be publicly posted. Originally, that meant tacking up paper copies at the entrance to Town Hall or the local library. While that method still satisfies the letter of the law in most states, posting agendas and minutes on a public-facing website significantly increases the audience who sees them. Board portal software hosts the public-facing website with maximum security.

Most Americans spend many hours a day online, whereas they might spend minutes a month (at most) strolling by public buildings. With digitization of agendas and meetings, local governments have found an increase in participation, especially by young adults ' who spend the most time online. A public-facing website puts meeting information on the most highly trafficked 'street corner' in town. But that's only the beginning.

High-quality board portal software also allows the board to post video footage seamlessly alongside text-based minutes. Constituents who cannot attend the meeting (e.g., many disabled persons) can experience it more viscerally with such video coverage. Because all of the readings mentioned in the agenda can also be stored online, non-board members won't miss out on preparations for the meeting, and non-attenders can follow along, as meeting handouts can be posted online.

The same software also drastically increases the transparency of public records, turning the tables on the time-worn cat-and-mouse saga wherein governments hide information and probing investigators requisition it. Now, the public entity itself can volunteer all of its maps, policies, spreadsheets, minutes and any other public records. Not only is it much easier to find such materials online than it was to find binders in dusty basements, but digitized records can be stored in a

fully searchable archive. Any curious citizen can type in a keyword and a mega-search function cuts across files and file types to find every usage of that term in all of the records.

3. ADA Compliance

Public boards are required by law to make all materials fully compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations. We've seen that digitized meeting records, posted videos and searchable public records open the door to many who cannot access public information through traditional channels. Public entities' online materials themselves face rigorous standards for ADA compliance; they must accommodate multiple sensory, mechanical, linguistic and cognitive conditions.

Yet again, the best board portal software makes it a breeze to meet this governance objective. Diligent, the company behind BoardDocs software, has executives on Capitol Hill in meetings with the Department of Justice as it drafts the next generation of policies. Some software brands claim to satisfy ADA requirement, but actually do not do so. The manufacturer may not even know they are lying; the requirements evolve over time and require much more than many consumers know: Providing a Braille translation or an audio recording of a text barely scratches the surface.

Public boards struggling to meet the highest governance standards get an assist where they may least expect it: The board portal software that facilitates paperless meetings has features that let them kill many birds with one stone. As the move to paperless meetings also saves trees and eliminates the hassle and expense of paper board packets and records, it is no surprise that smart public boards are making paperless meeting software a top priority in their quest for top-rate governance practices.

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Lena Eisenstein
Lena Eisenstein is a former Manager at Diligent. Her expertise in mission-driven organizations, including nonprofits, school boards and local governments, centers on how technology and modern governance best practices empower leaders at these organizations to serve their communities with efficiency and purpose.