I spent the day meeting government officials who staff and manage 311 services in the city of Chicago. This is a great example of what’s right in government service delivery in local governments. Trust and confidence in government has been a pretty hot topic of late. Most of it is directed at the state and federal levels with partisan gridlock or budgetary woes. Some times I think we’re so focused on what government isn’t doing or what they could be doing, that we really fail in celebrating what’s awesome about it. I think 311 is an example of what’s right with government service across our cities and Chicago is a great example.
Last year, the 311 center fielded about 4 million calls from Chicago residents. Over half were informational, such as, when does my trash get picked up? Or, who can I talk to about permits? The rest were service requests like pothole filling or graffiti removal.
The line is 24/7. Operators are available to answer even your most mundane city question at 3 in the morning. Which, in the case of heat waves or blizzards, a 3 am call about the nearest shelter can be lifesaving.
To put 4 million calls into perspective, the entire city of Chicago proper houses about 2.7 million residents. It’s the third largest US city, following LA and NYC. I couldn’t get exact unique callers, but out of the 4 million, it’s pretty safe to say that one government service out of Chicago is serving a considerable portion of the residency.
Some big complaints about government are inefficiency and long waits. The 311 center is built on statistics around customer service. As an example, there are two huge call dashboards in the operator’s bull pen with wait times, alerts and monitoring systems. They use the dashboard to help ensure that their operators are efficient and answering/responding to callers as quick as possible. I’d wager that anyone walking into the 311 center without knowing the specifics of the work, would have a hard time distinguishing it from a well-oiled business call center.
I’ve seen 311 centers in a handful of cities and most all of them are data-driven customer-focused services. With the Open311 specification picking up speed, 311 is exactly the embodiment of government 2.0 for a new generation of data-driven platform orientated civic services.