Could the ELGL Conference Change Your Life? It Did For Me.

Posted on May 1, 2019

Moss article

This guest blog is by Sarah Moss, Civic Dreamer and Doer, Twitter | LinkedIn | Web.

The scene: My first ELGL conference. Sunshine poured through a wall of windows. ELGL board member Ben Kittelson warmly welcomed me at registration with a smile, a handshake, and a name tag. Positive energy simmered throughout the space with laughter and animated conversations as I looked for an empty seat at the What Works Cities workshop.

As an aficionado of strategic planning and Lean process improvement and alumna of Behavioural Insights Team training, I was excited to be among like-minded folks. I sat down at a table of friendly strangers and got to know Angelica Wedell, Joey Garcia, and Shanalee Gallagher.

The What Works Cities trainers instructed, “On your worksheet, write down three problems you want to solve in your work, either in your office, across your department, or community-wide.”

Pens flew across paper as my fellow ELGL members scribbled the challenges they wanted to tackle. I stared at my worksheet. Not usually at a loss for words, I sat paralyzed. Why, surrounded by all these people so excited about their work, was I… not?

For the entire conference, I pondered what was wrong with me as I listened intently to speakers and fellow attendees. I wrote pages of notes about ideas that got my juices flowing, yet the thought of implementing them in my office… didn’t get my juices flowing.

At the conference’s closing happier hour, Kirsten Wyatt helped me put words to it: While I was as passionate as ever about local government and public service, I was disappointed in the leaders of my organization and exhausted from years of fighting “that’s the way we’ve always done it” and non-inclusive culture in my department. It was time for a change. After the conference ended, I called my parents and said, ‘I know I am in the midst of a life-changing week. I’m just not sure yet what that’s going to mean.’

Two months later after extensive penny pinching and hours of contemplative walks around a public park I quit my job.


Not yet sure of the answer to “What’s next?” in my public service career, I decided to take some time off before applying for jobs. I asked people to tell me their stories of transitions. More than a dozen people, including ELGL members, generously shared their time on phone calls and in person.

Julia Novak recommended local governments with cultures I would enjoy. Over coffee, Nick Kittle advised, “Take time to detox and process the lessons” and “evaluate your negotiables and non-negotiables.”

Over wine, Angelica Wedell and Denise Taylor told tales of the importance of shared values and helped me dream about different forks in the road. The ELGL jobs board assured me with its plentiful opportunities.

A few contract projects led to starting my own consulting business of civic dreaming and doing with the motto, “I work with people I like and respect on causes I support.”

ELGL members, in addition to being thought partners and friends, are now clients and cheerleaders. Every week of solving policy and political puzzles at Sarah Moss, Inc. looks a little different.

Laura Savage and Nina Vetter at Pueblo West Metropolitan District hired me to facilitate their board’s strategic planning retreat. After hearing Kirsten Wyatt interview me on the GovLove podcast, a newly-elected city council member in another state reached out to ask for a proposal to facilitate her city’s strategic planning process.

Some days, I help governments and nonprofits with creative civic engagement techniques around policies or budgets. Other days, I coach leaders on narrative development, storytelling, and public speaking techniques. I produce videos, ads, and live message events.

Whether the projects are for a year, months, or weeks, I always feel like I am making a difference alongside people who are just as excited as I am about public service and progress.

As I reflect back on my life-changing first ELGL conference, I wonder: What might happen at #ELGL19? The possibilities are endless. As Oprah would say, this is what I know for sure:

  • New friends, new ideas, and fun Twitter will abound.
  • So will photo ops. I hereby announce I am instigating a massive group #CityHallSelfie (#CityHallUsie?) at Durham City Hall, which is a short walk from the convention center.
  • If you have a life-changing #ELGLepiphany and want to bounce around ideas, find me and let’s talk.

While I’m not sure I’ll have time to visit the Duke Lemur Center, in my Ally McBeal-like imagination, it has to look like something like this scene in Madagascar.

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