How #CityHallSelfie Day became a local government tradition

Phoenix won last year’s “Selfie from the Biggest City” award with this rooftop photo

Get ready for your close up! Tomorrow, August 15, is the fourth annual #CityHallSelfie Day. This new social media tradition celebrates service by encouraging people who work in local governments — and the residents they serve — to stretch their legs, take a fun photo in front of their city hall, and post it for the world to see.

Last year, civic enthusiasts shared more than 6,000 City Hall selfies on social media. And this year, organizers expect even stiffer competition for the event’s trophies honoring the funniest selfie, most creative selfie, and more.

To learn more about #CityHallSelfie Day and the group behind it, Bloomberg Cities sat down with Kirsten Wyatt, executive director and co-founder of Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL)—and former public servant herself—who talked about the origins of this social media event, why it’s caught on with city leaders, and her tips for how to take a stand-out #CityHallSelfie.

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You describe ELGL as a professional network for city leaders whose mission includes “encouraging joy in public service.” How did the group get its start?

Kirsten Wyatt: ELGL is essentially a big tent professional association of people working for and with local government. We’re celebrating local government work, showing that it is interesting and fun by bringing people together to meet colleagues and learn skills from others in the field.

I started it seven years ago with my husband—who works for the City of Tigard, Ore.—because we felt that local government learning and networking were siloed by job titles, and we saw a need for cross-departmental collaboration.

So we started getting people together for lunches in Portland, Ore., so that they could start to get to know each other. It really grew overtime.

Where did the idea for #CityHallSelfie day come from?

As we started to host more events and be more active on social media, our members started to find new ways to celebrate their local government on social media. Along the way, people started to take photos of themselves in front of the city halls they were visiting throughout the year.

One of our goals is to encourage joy in public service, and the #CityHallSelfie really embodies that. It’s a small thing anyone can do, it doesn’t cost any money, and it’s a great way to show love and pride for local service. So when we saw our members taking selfies and posting them, a former board member named Dan Wenheimer from Routt County, Colo., suggested we create a day around it — because there’s a day for everything!

We ended up picking August 15 because it’s a time when local governments are a little quieter, so people can get outside and take a good selfie and participate.

What started with us relying on our grassroots network to take city hall selfies and share them on social has grown over the last three years. Now, people from around the world participate. Some local governments will work with their entire community to take selfies. We’ve even had some celebrities, like the Fab Five from Queer Eye, use the hashtag and engage in the competition.

Kirsten Wyatt and her family pose for a #CityHallSelfie in Bend, Ore.

Why has #CityHallSelfie caught on with city leaders?

It’s all about finding and showcasing pride in local government and joy in the work. So many people are proud of what they do and this is really a great chance to share that.

It’s also a fun way for local government employees to engage with their coworkers and their community. Some local governments will put up signage and booths and do giveaways to get residents to come to city hall and take a selfie with them. Others will physically drive around their areas and talk to people about coming down to city hall for a picture.

We’ve already seen so much planning going into this year’s #CityHallSelfie Day. I’m always impressed by the organizations that also use this as a chance to engage with their community and talk with residents about the services the city provides.

There’s really just so much goodness and happiness that comes out of people celebrating local government service around the world. Which is why we’re committed to having #CityHallSelfie Day on August 15 for as long as we’re around.

What are you most excited about for this year’s #CityHallSelfie Day?

I’m really excited for the volume! Last year we had around 6,000 selfies so we’re hoping for more than that this year. We also want more geographic diversity as well.

I’m also excited for the awards. We have many categories that we give awards for ranging from “best photography” to “members choice” to “best dressed.” It’s a really fun way to get communities to mobilize and take different approaches to their pictures — because who doesn’t like a trophy!

What tips do you have for those looking to take the best-ever #CityHallSelfie?

I always love it when I can see the whole building, or as much of the building as possible, because I think it’s fun to see how different looking city halls from around the world are. I also really enjoy seeing groups of people together, like a whole department, or a family shot, because I think it’s just a fun way to capture the spirit of #CityHallSelfie Day.

Another piece of advice: Don’t forget to include the name of your city in your post. Sometimes it’s not included in the sign — and we like to know where you are!

And the number one tip is to make sure you use the hashtag #CityHallSelfie! It’s how we are able to find the pictures that are posted on all of our different channels.

Celebrating public sector progress and innovation in cities around the world. Run by @BloombergDotOrg’s Government Innovation program.