Catherine Geanuracos
July 20, 2021

Ethical Design for Government: What we learned from 2020 about our CityGrows values

Because CityGrows is a remote-first staff, our group retreats are incredibly important for team-building and strategic planning. Our team has had one in-person retreat each year starting in 2017 when our staff and one of our advisors met up in Ojai, CA. The following year we descended on Palm Desert, CA for some desert hiking and planning. And in 2019 we convened in Erie PA for CelebrateErie and a visit to Niagara Falls. Despite our many conversations as a team in 2020 we never scheduled a formal retreat. It was definitely time to come together to check in and plan for the next phase of CityGrows.

As a values-driven company committed to ethical design for government technology, regular check-ins on our core values are essential to our company's success. During this year's retreat we checked in on our last values discussion. Happily all of the values that we surfaced in our 2019 retreat are still important for us. We regularly reference them in our decision-making. Here's the list (and feel free to read about these in more detail here in our 2019 read-out):

  • Accountability
  • Collaboration
  • Dependability
  • Empowerment
  • Pragmatism
  • Transparency

When we decided on these values in 2019 we were mostly concerned with how we interact with our government customers and with the public. What we realized this year was that these values are also the way we aim to show up for each other as a team. While we identified a few ways where we could do better at demonstrating these values we're pleased that they held us as guiding principles during a tough year.

When we thought about what we learned in 2020 we realized we wanted to add two additional values to our list: Resilience and Inclusion.

Resilience: It's part of what we supported for our government customers in 2020. Large governments like the City of LA used CityGrows to quickly transition internal HR processes from paper forms to distributed digital teamwork. Small governments brought business licensing, building permits, and parking permits into the digital world for the first time - fast. We're proud that we helped governments be resilient and responsive when they needed to set up sidewalk dining permits in under a week, especially when resources to do so weren't in anybody's technology budget. I'm also proud to share that our team was resilient in ways we never knew we'd need them to be, pivoting to support new features and new customers.

Inclusion: CityGrows has always prioritized equity and our 2019 values list included "Empowerment" because of our intent to bring excellent technical capacity to any and all communities and governments. Non-technical people can build their own workflows independently on CityGrows, bringing innovation-focused tools to all levels of staff. Our low-cost subscriptions allow any size or type of government to access our software. Looking back on 2020 we realized Inclusion is a better and more comprehensive representation of our aims. While online services are not always accessible to every person (not all individuals or families have smartphones or data connections, and some older community members struggle with technology) we believe that on balance digital services increase access and equity, fostering inclusion. Whether ensuring that our software complies with accessibility guidelines for disabled users, providing remote access to service requests 24/7, or working towards better support for multiple languages, we're continually striving to make our software and our team as inclusive and equitable as possible. Tech isn't the most inclusive sector of our economy and we take our responsibility seriously to raise the bar for govtech, startup, and software companies.

As we move into 2021 with a growing team and more governments coming on board all the time, we know that our success rests on being an ethically-designed and values-driven company.

Catherine Geanuracos

Catherine is the CEO and a Co-Founder of CityGrows. She's dedicated to supporting local governments and helping them improve outcomes for their residents and staff members. She is a former VP of the City of Los Angeles Innovation and Performance Commission and co-founder of LA's Code for America Brigade Hack for LA. She's based in Los Angeles.

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