Catherine Geanuracos
August 25, 2019

Ethical Design for Government: Our CityGrows Values

While some folks at much bigger corporations are just coming around to the idea that there's more to their businesses than their quarterly earnings, a values-based approach has been baked into CityGrows from the start.

  • We published our core values and thought a lot about how they guided our decisions.
  • We've written and spoken about how values can improve procurement and operations.
  • We try to predict the impact of our work on the communities we work with (not just on our bottom line).

At our recent team retreat, we realized that our values-based approach can be expressed as Ethical Design for Government. As a company purpose-built to serve governments and their constituents, we believe we have a special responsibility to carefully build an ethical business. Our values guide us in our mission is to transform and improve the way government works.

All govtech companies should acknowledge they share the same complex set of responsibilities. We're not just accountable to our investors - we're accountable to each of the communities we serve, and to the broader public good. Because we chose to start a business focused on government, we have to hold ourselves to higher standards than  entertainment or business-focused companies.

There's been a movement building in product and interaction design to focus on ethics and values- acknowledging that if we aren't guided by a core set of values, we're more likely to have unintended and negative consequences arise from our work. We believe this ethical design approach applies not just to our product (the CityGrows technology platform) but also to our business model, and to how we treat our team members, our government customers, and the constituents they serve.

Most people working in government are there because they want to serve their communities, and as partners to people inside of government, it's essential that government technology companies have the same goals. That means that we may make some decisions that prioritize stability, sustainability, and customer (community) accountability over shorter-term gains, because we reference our values when making decisions. These are the characteristics and values we try to embody, with a brief description of each:

Accountability - We're accountable for the service and value we provide to our government customers and more broadly to the constituents they serve. We started CityGrows because we wanted more accessible and efficient government. Companies like ours and government itself functions better when we're all accountable. Our team functions well because we're accountable to each other. We build tools that prioritize internal and external accountability. And we think that pricing our platform fairly is part of being accountable to the public good.

Collaboration - The CityGrows platform lets local governments connect digitally with their constituents, and we couldn't have created CityGrows without incorporating the wisdom of people who work in government. We are constantly incorporating feedback from our government users and constituents. Collaboration and interoperability with other cloud-based SaaS (software as a service) tools for government is important, and we like creating partnerships with other like-minded companies and investors. We have high standards on how we interact with our customers and community members.

Dependability - People should be able to rely on governments, and since we're one way that constituents interface with their local institutions, we have to be dependable. We also strive to be as reliable as possible for our government users. It's our responsibility to do as much testing and anticipate the impact of the new features we're launching all the time. We also know that governments are particularly concerned with security, and we're constantly working to be as secure as possible and to expand the types of data we support.

Empowerment - We're lucky to live in a time where non-technical people can do great things with technology. We built CityGrows to help non-technical government employees be able to design and manage their own digital workflows. We are constantly striving to make our technology easier to use and accessible to all. Our goal is that our software should be usable by anyone, regardless of disabilty, loation, size or type of government, or language. We also price our software so that it's easy to buy - priced below most governments' procurement limits and pricing scales by size of government. We want any government, no matter how big or how small, to be able to use CityGrows.

Pragmatism - While we're very ambitious, we're also focused on tech and implementation that is practical now. We want to provide immediate value that's useful for governments' day to day operations immediately. While we're excited about how future-forward tech like blockchain could improve government, we're more interested in starting to apply AI to forms. We are realists about technology - while what we can do is amazing, tech isn't magic and can't solve every problem. Sometimes the best option is to change how a question is worded, rather than add a new feature. And we are data driven, but also realize the need for qualitative, human input.

Transparency - We're biased towards being as open as possible. We build technical features that encourage governments to make open data about their workflows available to their communities, and we're transparent about our own strengths, weaknesses, and perspectives. And it probably goes without saying, but we strive to always be honest about our work and our product's capabilities.

We're lucky that the governments we work with also strive to live up to their values, and we want to continue to work with individuals and governments that are mission-driven, just like our team here at CityGrows. We'd love your feedback on any of these values - get in touch via Intercom chat or at info@citygro.ws.

Catherine Geanuracos

CEO and Co-Founder of CityGrows. Dedicated to transforming government technology and helping local governments provide better service and do more with less. Former VP of City of Los Angeles Innovation and Performance Commission, co-founder of LA's Code for America Brigade Hack for LA.

@geanuracos on twitter

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