City of Boston's 'Citizens Connect' Initiative Puts Power in the People's Hands

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By enabling its constituents to report maintenance and construction issues as they arise, the City of Boston empowers citizens to become the "eyes and ears" of their community in an effort to improve city conditions, engage the public, and quicken service

In our democratic society, government stands as an institution by the people, for the people. But, in many cases, the public has very few chances to enact change and alter the course of their community. However, for citizens of the City of Boston, input is not only encouraged, it's valued. Through the New Urban Mechanics Program, the city now focuses upon promoting constituent engagement across all levels of local government, empowering Boston residents to become the "eyes and ears" of their neighborhoods.

"In Boston, citizen engagement is really a hallmark of the Mayor Menino's administration," says Justin Holmes, director of constituent engagement for the City of Boston. "He's been called an urban mechanic because he's focused on issues that are important to city residents, like out street lights, potholes, and graffiti, and wanting to make sure that the basics of city government work for people. We're fortunate that, in recent years, technology has really caught up to what has always been a commitment for the mayor, and that is empowering citizens with the same tools to be urban mechanics in their own right."

Boston's Citizens Connect initiative enables residents across the city to report issues that arise using an array of channels that continuously facilitate increased constituent participation, collaboration, and service delivery. These citizen-to-city transactions aim to make service easily available to residents while cutting down on the elapsed time between the initial request and service fulfillment. One key component lies within the city's 24/7 call center, traditionally referred to as the Mayor's Hotline. This hotline connects residents with the initiative's principal channel, which consists of state-of-the-art workstations, telephony, and application software that allows staff to provide efficient and effective phone service to all callers within 30 seconds 95 percent of the time. However, because of channel proliferation, the City of Boston added five new contact channels within 30 months in order to reach even more of the population.

Leveraging KANA Lagan technology as the backbone of the city's end-to-end CRM solution, the Citizens Connect suite of six communication solutions allows residents to quickly and easily contact government officials, partnering to create stronger, safer, and cleaner neighborhoods no matter where they are, what the problem is, or how they prefer to engage.

In October 2009, the City of Boston launched its Citizens Connect mobile application, the first smartphone app of its kind in the nation. This tool allows residents to take a photo of the problem at hand. The phone's GPS and the citizen's description allow the system to automatically route the issue to the appropriate staff member for resolution, while also enabling residents to track the progress of their request. The city also enhanced its online presence by implementing a self-service portal with the city's website to help constituents submit requests and ask questions, which are also routed accordingly. Users can also connect with the city's live chat capability via Boston's website to speak with city staff for a more interactive experience.

During the fall of 2011, the City of Boston also incorporated its Citizens Connect Twitter account, which enables residents to tweet their photo to @citizensconnect, accompanied by a hashtag that describes the issue (i.e. #pothole), which will then be recorded, routed, and serviced accordingly. This account also notifies residents when a case has been filed and when that issue has been resolved. The @NotifyBoston account, managed by the Mayor's Office of Constituent Services Department, also aims to keep citizens informed about everything happening around the city. Boston's latest addition, which employs SMS text messaging, is currently in its pilot stages and enables users without computer or smartphone access to text their problem in English or Spanish.

In 2011, Boston also launched an application similar to Citizens Connect that enables city employees to manage their work on the road. "Our public works, parks, and transportation employees got really jealous when we launched Citizens Connect for citizens because they still had to go back to their desktops to print out work orders and issue reports," Holmes notes. "We quickly developed a tool for them so they could stay focused on their jobs out in the field and manage their work remotely." The City Worker application allows employees remote access to the city's CRM system via Android so they may execute service requests. By bringing every request into one single system, the city ensures consistency and clarity across channels, developing the kind of transparency that provides for an ideal user experience. "Just like citizens can report a pothole, [employees] can resolve a pothole right from the field, which has brought on dramatic increases in employee efficiency and resolution time," Holmes adds.

Since implementation, neighborhoods across the city have become increasingly safer, stronger, and cleaner, as operations have been streamlined to run more efficiently than ever before. For instance, while it once took about three business days to fill a single pothole, the response time has been cut in half, now taking less than one-and-a-half days to complete on average. Service throughout the city also excelled during Hurricane Sandy as all 4,600 phone calls that came in were answered by a live person within 30 seconds. The City of Boston responded to more than 700 reported tree emergencies, more than 300 down wire reports, and generate over 500,000 Twitter impressions using the #BoSandy hashtag and its @NotifyBoston account to communicate with residents during the storm.

Three years ago, 100 percent of Boston's citizen reports came through the city's hotline. But now, through these growing channels, only 66 percent of reports come in via the hotline, while 20 percent use Citizens Connect online, and 14 percent file reports through the Citizens Connect mobile app. Between 2009 and 2011, constituent satisfaction saw a 21 percent boost, while 89 percent of Citizens Connect users agree that they would recommend the service to other residents seeking problem resolutions. Yet, despite the escalating report volume-the city now averages 80,000 reports per year compared to only 40,000 per year prior to Citizens Connect-city employees have met and exceeded their goal of completing 80 percent of reports within the service level agreement time frame. By empowering residents to become problem solvers invested in the safety and maintenance of the city, Boston has integrated the tools to build even stronger communities than ever before.

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