Guide for Members of Public Boards and Commissions: Chapter 2

Educate yourself about the role of your board (and your role as a board member).

Table of Contents

Understand your Board’s Role with Respect to the Public Organization

Some boards provide direct oversight to ensure that the public organization operates effectively and in accordance with its mandate, while others work in an advisory capacity to help guide a public organization toward particular goals and outcomes. The board’s role is usually set out in a statute, local ordinance or other enabling document.

You should understand the board’s role and responsibilities in order to guide the public organization toward the realization of its mission, goals and objectives.


  • What is the scope of the board's authority, and what is the source of that authority?
  • What matters typically come before the board?
  • Based on the board's role with respect to the organization, are there other matters that should be brought before the board?
Public boards should meet regularly to facilitate open, vigorous and in-depth discussions in compliance with the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, which is outlined later in this guide.

Understand How the Board Operates

Find out how often the board meets, how the agenda is established and the procedures that govern the meetings. As a starting point, read the meeting minutes from at least the past four board meetings.

Your board may find it helpful to adopt a set of written operating procedures, including for the conduct of meetings, term limits and leadership appointments, if they are not already in place.


  • How often does the board meet? Is the board required to meet on a specific schedule and, if yes, what is that schedule?
  • Who sets the agenda for the meetings? Can board members submit topics for the agenda?
  • Does your board follow written procedures for meetings, such as Robert's Rules of Order?
  • How does the board vote? Are all votes conducted in the same manner?

Learn How the Members are Selected

Take steps to learn how the chairperson and other officers are selected, if there are limits for serving as an officer and whether your board may establish committees. Request lists of all current board members and committees.


  • How are officers selected?
  • Does the board have committees and if so, how are members selected to serve on them?
  • Are there term limits for officers, board members or committee members?

Additional Resources

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Last updated: January 26, 2024
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