Local Gov Leader Rebecca Woodbury Launches Consultancy

After stepping down as digital services chief for the city of San Rafael, Calif., Woodbury is continuing her work at her new company, Department of Civic Things. Her focus: Helping small jurisdictions change.

Rebecca Woodbury
Eyragon Eidam/Government Technology
Rebecca Woodbury, the digital services chief for the city of San Rafael, Calif., who made a name for herself as an outspoken advocate for innovation in local government, has started her own company.

The startup, called Department of Civic Things, is a consultancy Woodbury has created to carry on her work with more local governments — especially small ones.

“I’m excited about small local governments because I think they actually have a lot of potential to provide really good digital services,” she said. “There’s a lot less red tape, they’re a lot more nimble, and I think that small governments are sometimes positioned better to do more innovative things. I think there’s potential for small governments to inform how larger governments do these things and offer these services.”

Woodbury left the city at the end of December to start up the company, so it’s still in its very early stages. She’s the first, and for now only, employee, and she said she has a pipeline of multiple government customers mostly interested in website work.

Websites and digital services will be a focus for Department of Civic Things, but the idea behind the company ultimately has more to do with helping governments address the more abstract concepts that surround and support any technology project — things like work culture, change management and the journey of reimagining processes.

“You can overhaul your website, and your new website can look really good at first, and it can be very exciting, but over time if you don’t address how the work gets done and the values that underpin the work as well, then eventually your website is not going to be very useful or helpful,” she said.

The company is coming online at a time when Woodbury sees a growing marketplace of “lightweight” technology options that make sense for local governments. The explosion of cloud-based tools means it’s become easier to quickly deploy and scale new software while avoiding some of the sunken costs that might have prevented smaller jurisdictions from accessing the same tools in years past. They run the gamut from permitting and licensing to citizen engagement to case management.

Websites are one area where San Rafael shined during Woodbury’s tenure, with the city launching a new website using the startup ProudCity. Given her familiarity with the company, Woodbury hopes to help guide governments looking to use ProudCity.

“There’s some great opportunities for organizations looking to use ProudCity but maybe need a deeper look at how they create a website and how that website stays awesome after day one,” she said.

Other areas of work Woodbury’s outlined for her new company include software procurement, content auditing and product management.

Woodbury’s focus will be on local governments in the U.S., but she’s planning a move to Sweden this year that might eventually lead to work with European jurisdictions as well.

“Definitely in the first couple of years I’ll be working with American clients, but I would never say no to, in the future, expanding that,” she said.

The name of the company is actually a nod to her future home: In old Norse culture, the word “Thing” referred to a democratic decision-making process. The “Department” part of the name, as well as the corporate logo, reflect her desire to support government’s mission.

Woodbury said she hopes to bring others into the company as it grows. As for the strategic direction, she’s keeping things flexible.

“I’m actually excited about the clients that I work with informing what becomes of this company, and really seeing where the real need is,” she said. “As someone who worked in government for 12 years and who knows many, many people who work in government, I have a very good idea of pain points, but I never like to make those assumptions.”

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.