Introducing Conversations on Romulus

Easily Collaborate on Casework Across Departments

Today we are releasing Conversations on Romulus. Conversations allow you to collaborate on a request with as many people as you need to serve your constituents.

Romulus Conversations

Everything in One Place

Starting today, you will see a “Conversations” tab on every request. If there is a constituent attached to that request and they have an email address on file, we will automatically generate a new conversation with them.

See every conversation, all in one place.

See every conversation, all in one place.

You’re not limited to one conversation. You can create as many as you need, with as many people as necessary (whether inside or outside your office), to help you get the job done. Simply click the envelope action item in the top right to start a new conversation.

Collaborate with anyone, no account needed

Easily start a new conversation with just an email address.

Easily start a new conversation with just an email address.

Collaborators on Romulus work seamlessly with just an email address. New collaborators will receive an email message with a summary of the request, so they have the context they need to take action.

Your messages goes straight to their inbox. When they reply to a message, their response will show up directly in Romulus so you can track the entire conversation in one place.

Conversations help teams collaborate to solve constituent issues. We’re excited to expand the range of services provided by Romulus and look forward to hearing from our customers about how we can continue to provide the best CRM for local governments!


Cities and the Innovation Economy

In preparation for the Governing’s California Leadership Forum, ELGL has sent out a survey to gather community insight on the Innovation Economy. As a software startup which works directly with local governments, we are intimately connected with the Innovation Economy.

We are also believers of transparency—it is one of the five core values in our company—so we thought we should publicly respond to their survey on what cities can do to promote innovation. You should absolutely contribute your voice by taking the survey.

Should local government devote resources to encouraging the development of the Innovation Economy?


Provide examples of deliberate policies that cities can pursue to support innovation.

1) Modernize purchasing processes for city departments.

Everyone wants to live and work around people who share their values. If you want to attract innovators, your city needs to engage and embrace them in its day-to-day activities.

If the city itself is stuck in the past, how could they possibly empathize with the practices and challenges of innovative businesses?

It is easiest to empathize with those you work closely with. No innovative company wants the hassle of antiquated RFPs, bureaucratic decision making (there should be one clear leader with the final decision), or expensive and drawn out contract processes. Make it easy for companies to help and they’ll jump at the opportunity.

We have talked about innovation and accountability in purchasing before both on this blog and elsewhere, so read those for more details.

Suffice to say that without embracing technology and advocating for innovation from within, innovative companies will be skeptical of cities’ calls for them to build nearby.

2) Define what you’re city is looking for.

What exactly do you mean by “the Innovation Economy”? It sounds like it would be hard to find anyone who is anti-innovation, but obviously some cities are more open to it than others.

Defining your values and making them public sends a strong signal for what’s important to you. Do you want companies that create jobs? Ones that improve government services? Healthcare? Biotech? Software startups?

Innovation can happen anywhere. We build Romulus in Redwood City because we know that the Bay Area has a strong focus on product innovation (and software in particular.) If we wanted to innovate in the financial industry or for federal government lobbying, we would probably go to New York City or Washington, D.C. respectively.

So define precisely the types of companies you are looking for. Yes, this means you will be ruling people out, but that is a good thing. You would much rather be the city for a certain field than mediocre at everything.

3) Sponsor Regulation-free periods to spur experimentation

Companies like AirBnB and Uber are controversial, especially with local governments, because they ignored many regulations that would have made their businesses impossible. Ignoring the law is not good, but we also wouldn’t like a world without Uber or AirBnB.

The truth is, AirBnB and Uber could both have been implemented by local governments. They provide access to flexible incomes and valuable city-wide public services. They should also be regulated, but starting with regulation and asking companies to innovate within those confines is impossible. You cannot create Uber under a medallion system.

Instead, run trial programs to test innovative ideas without regulating them first. See what the problems are, learn from them, and then build the regulatory framework for the successful ideas. Remember that innovation literally means something different from the status quo today. Asking companies to build tomorrow’s economies under today’s regulations is a catch–22.

What the biggest challenges facing cities that want to compete in the Innovation Economy?

1) Mismatched Values.

Innovation is a risk. You’re trying something new understanding that it may fail. Governments are about stability, so naturally have different motivations and means of operation than innovative companies. Learning to live together takes empathy and understanding.

If you’re asking businesses to take risks, you need to show them that you are a partner and not an antagonist. If they have to tackle an unknown venture and constantly worry that the government is going to be hounding them, it is too much. Companies are drawn to San Francisco and Austin as much by the culture as anything else. It’s one less risk, one less battle they have to fight. That can make all the difference.

2) Unclear goals and differentiators.

Why should innovative businesses come to your city? Sure, San Francisco or Austin are large cities, but take a look at Chattanooga or Kansas City. They made gigabit internet a priority—with public cheerleading for Google Fiber in Kansas City’s case and by building it themselves in Chattanooga—and are drawing interest from companies who need the bandwidth.

What are your goals? What unique value does your city provide? It isn’t enough just to want innovative companies. They need a compelling reason to choose you. As a wise friend once said, “if you want to be loved, you have to be lovable.”

Any final thoughts on the New Innovation Economy? What’s your call to action for cities?

Set out clear goals and values for yourself, then make them public. Once you do so, it will become clear to everyone where innovation fits in and how you stand out. Innovative businesses are not looking for you to be perfect, they just want to know that you understand who they are and making an effort to help them succeed.


Innovation Profile: Sam Taylor on Transparency, Accountability, and Actions Much Louder Than Words

Sam Taylor, Deputy City Manager of Morro Bay

Sam Taylor, Deputy City Manager of Morro Bay

How did you get started in local government?

I spent almost a decade as a journalist. My passion was watchdog reporting on government and politics.

One day, I was writing a story about how the mayor and council of Ferndale, Washington had violated the Open Public Meetings Act. A few days later the mayor called me and said, “You keep writing these stories about us getting it wrong, why don’t you help us come fix it?”

They had an opening for city clerk, I thought that from there I could enhance their overall city communications—to be an internal champion for open and accountable governance.

The chance to take action and be a part of the solution was too good to pass up.

It’s easy for them to say that they wanted to change, but how receptive were they once you were hired?

From day one, I realized the mayor meant what he had said.

I challenged the team to be more transparent and the entire staff was incredibly open to change. I’m really proud of the communications systems we built to inform the public. We made a tangible difference helping the community understanding the impact of their government.

What holds governments back from being more transparent and open in the first place?

First off, the vast majority of local governments strive to be transparent and accountable.

Even in some of the most open municipalities, though, there are times where the public could be better engaged. One of the largest challenges is that municipal employees are often so passionate about what they do. They are often experts in their fields so it can be hard to take input from a less-informed public.

It’s not nefarious; we’re all human. We’re proud of the work we do and we want it done well. But public sector employees can become so focused on the day-to-day work that they lose sight of the larger goal: facilitating of the public process as a whole. That requires engagement from both sides.

How do we channel that passion while still including the public voice?

I’d like to issue a challenge: Let’s work harder to inform community members about the things we’re doing on their behalf, so that we can all have an educated and inspiring community conversation. We’re here to serve, not control. We should be facilitating dialogue.

This is not a black and white issue, of course. Often times we hold early informational meetings or seek feedback quickly in the public process, and few people show up. This leaves staff to devise policy or projects and only after the impacts are more fleshed out do we get people to speak up.

How can governments get the community involved earlier?

Try to make sure it’s clear to community members early on in the process what the topic means for them. How will it impact them? Why does the issue matter to the whole community? What happens if they don’t participate? If we can make it clear why the topic matters, we can work to get them engaged early. Take the topic to them and find novel ways to increase public engagement.


Innovation Profile: Julie Underwood of Emerging Local Government Leaders

Julie Underwood, Assistant City Manager of Daly City

Julie Underwood, Assistant City Manager of Daly City

We’re always always on the lookout for organizations who share our passion for modern local government. The first time we came across Emerging Local Government Leaders, we knew it was a match made in #LocalGov heaven.

To find out more, we spoke with Julie Underwood, Assistant City Manager of Daly City, about her involvement with ELGL and its work engaging the next generation of public servants.

How did you first get involved with Local Government?

I started out in Rockville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC as an intern in the City Manager’s office; then I was promoted to Assistant to the City Manager. From there, I was appointed Assistant City Manager in Shoreline, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. I achieved a personal career goal when I was unanimously appointed City Manager for Shoreline in 2011. I served in that role for just under three years before moving to the Bay Area in 2013.

The first time I was introduced to ELGL was when they asked me to participate in their “nifty-fifty” profile just after I was appointed City Manager. I had a chance to become much more involved with ELGL after I moved to the Bay Area.

What is the mission of ELGL?

It’s not uncommon to see professional administrators take themselves very seriously. Of course, ELGL is serious about work, but it can still be fun, which is why you see us use a lot of Parks and Rec references, gifs, and memes. We want to capture the new generation coming into local government, and we recognize future leaders expect a different kind of workplace, and community.   

ELGL was founded by a husband/wife team — Kirsten & Kent Wyatt out of Portland — who met in the Masters of Public Administration program at UNC. They recognized it wasn’t easy for the the younger generation to connect and get their foot in the door in local government. Kirsten and Kent are not ones to say,”Well, here’s the problem as I see it, you should go do something about it.” They’re more like, “Here’s the problem, here’s what I think will fix it, want to help me fix it?” Two themes across our organization are: collaboration and action.

We have six chapters across the country that are entirely volunteer driven. We believe membership, trainings, social events, and conferences should be accessible and affordable. We love social media, which is another tool we use to make ourselves accessible.

How do you connect with members?

We’ve seen that the Millennial generation is very comfortable connecting online and remotely, so ELGL has focused on building an online community. Lots of Millennials are on social media, which resonates much more with them than just traditional conferences or networking.

We have an organic, collective problem-solving approach. We want to discuss what’s messed up in local government. We combine that with positive energy around what we can do about it. Anyone can complain, we want to take action and make a difference.

Do you do in-person events as well or only online?

We do it all! In fact, our annual conference is going on right now (October 22 & 23) in Portland.

We really want events to be accessible to everyone, which is why we do a lot of our engagement online. For in-person events, we don’t think you should have to pay $100s for a week-long conference.

Next year, around this time, we’ll be doing our first-ever pop-up conference in the Bay Area (the other five chapters will be doing their pop-up conferences in their areas on the exact same day). Stay tuned for more!

What resources do you provide to your members?

Beyond the community, we are helping the next generation build a full toolkit of skills. We provide networking and webinars; however, we don’t want to duplicate what is already provided by other organizations. For example, the Municipal Management Association of Northern California (MMANC) does lots of skill-building workshops, which is awesome. So we don’t need to focus there; we’ll focus on building and strengthening our digital community.

We are a group that embraces technology like you can’t imagine. Of course, every technology tool is not the answer, but we have to be constantly learning and evaluating new tools. The timeframe for innovation isn’t 5-10 years, it’s 12 months or even shorter. A real skill is an ability to adapt, and to adapt quickly, in a shorter, more compressed timeframe.

We also care about changing the way government functions and engages with its workforce. Millennials aren’t necessarily okay with the traditional 8-5 workday. Obviously, some positions need to be available during traditional business hours, but in other positions, we need to be open with a workforce that wants to access work anywhere anytime.

Lastly, we have a number of partnerships with private sector agencies. We don’t subscribe to a traditional sponsorship model. Companies, organizations, cities and counties that have a like-minded approach become organizational members. This allows them to get involved like everyone else. They become technical advisors for our members—over 1,000 across more than 30 states—by doing webinars and guest blogging for us. And sometimes they donate “swag” – we like “swag”!

How are you different from other organizations focused on government?

We’re a pretty edgy organization. We confront issues that range from sensitive, like what happened in Ferguson last year, to self-reflective, such as gender and racial/ethnic representation in local government  I believe we are more than willing to push the boundaries by raising diversity, gender, or LGBT issues.

For example, in my profession there are very few female CEOs-only 13%, or one in ten. To bring this issue into the frontview, we launched a social media campaign using the hashtag #13Percent. We received an overwhelming response.

We’ll be the first to say that local governments’ non-transparent ways won’t work today. To make positive change in local government you have to be willing to call a spade a spade. Engaging our members, our organizations, our communities in these difficult conversations is where change starts.

Over 15 years ago when I started as an intern in local government, I thought I would change the world! My membership with ELGL has re-inspired me to have the audacity to believe that I truly can.