Community-Specific Tools to Solve Civic Problems

Philadelphia is the fifth largest US city with a population of 1.5 million. The City sought a better way to serve and connect with its diverse community, and to empower its residents to participate in improving their quality of life. The City partnered with PublicStuff to supplement its 311 call center with an interactive mobile and web app for residents to report issues directly to the appropriate City department. As more residents adopted the web and mobile app, the call center saw a 15% decrease in call volume, and a 90% overall request closure rate because staff members spent less time routing and assigning requests, and more time fixing them.

“It’s so exciting to find yet another channel to provide our residents with a more open and accessible government.” – Rosetta Carrington Lue, Customer Service Officer, Philly311 Director

Residents have most popularly requested business license and court information, and reported issues related to graffiti, residential maintenance, trash, potholes, housing, illegal dumping, vacant lots, and vacant homes. Gathering this data and understanding the community’s most acute problems helps the City prepare in advance and allocate resources accordingly.

Going beyond the app

However, the City didn’t stop at developing an app. Philadelphia took advantage of the system’s customizable widgets to build additional tools, keeping the app relevant for residents, and ensuring the platform’s continued success. For example, the Election Day widget – developed by Chief Data Officer, Tim Wisnewski – was purely driven by public demand for more information on polling locations, candidates, ballot questions, voter ID rules, and polling hours. Various agencies within the City, like the Office of City Commissioner, GIS Services Group in the Office of Innovation and Technology, and the Philly311 team, came together to build and release the widget in time for elections. Users didn’t even have to update their mobile apps to use the new widget; it was seamlessly added to the app and ready to be used on Election Day.

Prior to Election Day last month, Philly311 sent out a push notification to its mobile users, reminding them to vote. Residents could enter their address to find out where they’re registered to vote and find updated details about the current ballot.

A culture of collaboration

As residents increasingly demand more data, information, and transparency into government processes, it was essential to proactively engage the community to boost Philly311’s growing success. While residents appreciate an easier channel to report problems to their government, they also want to be assured that they are part of the city’s decision-making process.

The City has involved the local community by sponsoring hackathons and hosting civic developer contests to add to the repertoire of tools to help solve community issues. As a result of one of their recent civic developer contests, the newest widget on the Philly311 app is a directory of after school activities, developed by Chris Alfano of Jarvus and Code for America. The widget pulls data directly from Philadelphia’s After School Activities Partnerships website, which has made its listings available online for 10 years. Turning this information into a helpful and immediately accessible widget directory has now brought the same listings to a much wider audience of about 150,000 Philadelphia households.

Philly311 ASAP Widget                       Philly311 ASAP Widget

This post was originally published on the PublicStuff blog on December 3, 2014.

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