How One Town Uses a 311 App to Improve Operations, Engage Residents
The fast-growing town of Gilbert, Arizona, uses SeeClickFix to streamline service requests, prioritize repair efforts and communicate with citizens
By Rachel Zoch for EfficientGov
The town of Gilbert, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, was the fastest growing municipality in the United States from 2000 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The population has grown nearly fivefold since the turn of the 21st century.
Looking for greater insight into its operations, as well as a better way for citizens to report issues like potholes or burned-out street lights, the town adopted the SeeClickFix platform in 2017. SeeClickFix allows residents to report these issues with a simple smartphone app and provides an easy way for the town government to track and respond to those service requests.
Now, the town has cut its response time in half. Through the app, public works employees can update residents on the progress of repairs, and the back-end data allows the town to analyze operational processes to eliminate unnecessary steps or include additional departments when needed.
Derek Konofalski, data and technology analyst for Gilbert, says the platform not only helps the town communicate more openly with residents and deliver better service, the data collected also helps reveal patterns that can be used to justify hiring or budget priorities.
“What we’re seeing, for example, is which areas have the most potholes reported,” he said. “Then as we’re coming up with our long-range infrastructure plan, we know where the areas in town are that need that work.”
Increased Service Without an Increased Workload
The town rolled out the SeeClickFix platform gradually, first as an internal pilot program, then with a soft rollout to the public a month later, followed by a fully publicized launch the month after that.
Konofalski says there was some initial hesitation from staff who feared an increased workload without added staffing to handle the requests, but they quickly discovered that the additional information collected by the app sped up the process of responding and resolving the issue. They also realized that the data could be used to justify added staffing when needed.
“Including the GPS locations on every service request eliminates so much of the guesswork,” he said, “so now the first contact with the resident in 95 percent of the cases is an immediate resolution rather than a follow-up.”
Residents can add their names to an existing request in SeeClickFix, which cuts down on duplicated efforts and helps the town prioritize requests, says Konofalski.
Using Data to Find Efficiencies
One key way SeeClickFix allowed the town’s service departments to streamline their processes was by automatically issuing assignments to specific people in each department, customized according to local preferences.
Because the service requests aren’t languishing in inboxes, waiting for assignment, response times are shortened, enabling quicker resolutions and allowing more time to examine processes and find ways to cut down the time it took to resolve issues.
In one case, this worked almost too well, says Konofalski.
“When we were first setting things up, we had graffiti reports set to go to our public works department. They were going out within 48 hours and painting over the graffiti. We ran into an issue because the police wanted the graffiti reports first,” he said. “Because it's a crime, they needed to report on that crime before it got sent to our public works department.”
The solution was to add a step for the police to the workflow for graffiti reports. Once they are done with their reports, the police can re-categorize the issue to go to public works for the repairs.
Improved Communication, Accountability, Response Times
The no. 1 benefit, says Konofalski, is operational visibility fueled by more open communication. He says this provides a level of accountability that appeals to residents and town leaders alike.
It’s all now open and public,” he said. “A lot of the feedback that we’ve gotten recently from residents is that they love not only how quick things are, but they love that they’re seeing the process as it’s happening. They’re getting notified as things are being opened or closed or changed. We got a major chunk of accountability that we didn’t have before.”
Part of that accountability is adding a “311 champion” in each department to follow up on the automated assignments, so even if an issue is not directly assigned to a person, someone is checking to be sure a response is in progress.
“With SeeClickFix, as soon as somebody acknowledges a request, then the other people on the team know,” said Konofalski. “Without having to increase the number of people we have working in the system, we have some redundancy built into the process. And literally every step of the process is documented, so even after the fact, we have the ability to go back and look at the history of that issue.”
Since the SeeClickFix rollout, the town of Gilbert has heard nothing but good feedback, says Konofalski, whether via social media or the app itself. The improvement in customer relations, so to speak, is as valuable as the improved efficiencies.
In fact, the town received so many kudos through the app’s “other” category that they created a service request type specifically for collecting compliments. They also used the app to create an interactive map of holiday lights to give people another positive reason to use the app.
“Rather than reporting an issue, residents could report and post pictures if they put their Christmas lights up,” said Konofalski. “Then we took that data and made a map of all the light displays in Gilbert on our open data portal. We basically taught people how to use the 311 system in a more positive way.”
The biggest advantage overall, Konofalski says, is the sense of accessibility that an app like SeeClickFix provides.
“I think a lot of people don't interact with their government or they don’t involve themselves in it because it feels inaccessible,” he said. “These tools make government accessible to people. It’s not just a one-way thing. It opens up a two-way street of communication for residents to be able to participate.”