Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Andrea Stairs-Davenport, PhD
Anita Stewart McCafferty, EdD
Glenn Cummings, EdD
Locally Elected Officials (LEOs) face a steep learning curve when assimilating to their new roles on municipal councils. Their skills and experience prior to being elected often do not align with the skills required, such as municipal budgeting, navigating intricate government processes, and handling a broad range of constituent feedback. While some training is available through organizations such as the National League of Cities and state Municipal Associations, typically, the newly elected official only receives a brief orientation before they must vote on council business.
In the private sector, onboarding is a proven process for assimilating new leaders, reducing the learning curve, and minimizing mistakes. Companies like L’Oréal lead the way with programs that ensure talent retention and help new members become effective in their role. Onboarding is now appearing in the lexicon of nonprofit boards and in local government. Yet, there is still a tremendous gap in the depth and breadth of onboarding provided to locally elected officials and a gap in the research that documents this process.
I address the gap by examining the onboarding perceptions and experiences of city councilors in Eastwood*, a mid-sized city in the northeast United States. Through a review of the literature, I created an onboarding best-practices elements framework to analyze the onboarding program in Eastwood.
The findings reveal that a comprehensive onboarding program is not in place for the Eastwood Council. However, effective elements of onboarding did include: preparation for the role, relationship building, managing information and communication, and navigating roles, power, and process. Based on their experience, I developed a model for onboarding at the local council level.
I recommended the following policy changes: 1) the City of Eastwood should develop a customized onboarding program for its council; 2) the City of Eastwood should continue to invest in and improve technology that supports the council. Finally, the City of Eastwood should collaborate with similar organizations to develop a training program for locally elected officials. While the findings are uniquely relevant to the Eastwood Council, other local governments can draw on the findings and conclusions to guide their own inquiry and identify improvements for their councils.
*Eastwood is a pseudonym
Gilbert, Casey T., "Learning the Ropes: A case study of the onboarding process for newly elected city councilors" (2020). Muskie School Dissertations. 7.