New Haven, Connecticut, resident Ben Berkowitz had an epiphany after several unsuccessful telephone calls to city hall to report graffiti on a building adjacent to his property. “I realized that none of my calls to the city were being documented, so I was essentially starting the complaint process over each time I called. So I thought, wouldn’t it be great if there was a way for a resident to easily record and submit common community concerns, such as graffiti and potholes, to the city so that they could be quickly reviewed and resolved,” says Berkowitz, founder of SeeClickFix.
Berkowitz began the development of his community response system with a simple web interface that allowed residents to map the location of a problem. Within a few years, his company launched a smartphone application called SeeClickFix.
The SeeClickFix application can be downloaded for free (www.seeclickfix.com) and provides users with the capability to record the location of an issue, photograph it, comment on it, and submit the complaint to the city for resolution. Incidents can also be reported to SeeClickFix through local community websites that include an embedded widget providing a link to the SeeClickFix site. New Haven residents can use the link in the online versions of the New Haven Register and New Haven independent newspapers. Incidents can be monitored by community members on the SeeClickFix website to review the repair status and determine whether others have reported the same problem.
“Most users and communities already have citizens reporting issues,” states Ben Berkowitz. “The SeeClickFix mobile app and web interface is an inexpensive way to take the burden off public phone lines and automate work service calls, putting customer service personnel back to work in other important areas.”
The SeeClickFix/Cityworks integration allows citizens to enter Cityworks service requests via the app from their personal mobile devices directly to the city. In addition, citizens with an iPhone can take a photo of an issue, locate the issue in the GIS, attach the photo to the map location, and submit it as a Cityworks service request to the city. Citizens use the open 311 standard API application to submit work orders.
“Cityworks has been a great back-end work order management system for us and SeeClickFix has had tremendous resident buy-in as a front-end reporting system,” states Robert Smuts, Chief Administrator at the City of New Haven. “The integration has worked terrific for us. With it we can respond to a larger number of resident concerns utilizing fewer man hours. In government these days the ideal is to find ways to do more with less and that is what this integration has done for us.”
Brian Haslam, President of Cityworks, adds, “The level at which citizens can interact with local government is moving ahead at amazing speeds. The integration of Cityworks and SeeClickFix is very much a result of today’s technology. Similar to how Cityworks changed the way agencies manage assets, crowd sourcing is changing the way citizens connect with governing agencies. We are proud to be working with SeeClickFix in providing innovative solutions for government agencies and utilities.”
The data collected and sent to SeeClickFix by residents is transmitted to the City of New Haven after being sorted by keyword. Some identified issues are sent by email to the appropriate city agency or entities like the State of Connecticut, local universities, other big property owners, and utility companies. The most common city concerns, such as potholes, sidewalk complaints, and parking meter issues, are inputted directly into New Haven’s authoritative geographic information system (GIS) database for further processing by Cityworks and ArcGIS applications.
When sent to the GIS database, a service request is created in Cityworks and the location of the incident is geocoded so it can be viewed in ArcGIS for further evaluation. If appropriate, a Cityworks work order is then generated from the service request. Geocoding is a critical step in the process because it allows the city to maintain its asset registry, so all public works activities can be associated with a feature (or asset) in the GIS database. The asset registry also preserves the history of infrastructure repairs and allows city managers to perform a variety of GIS analyses, such as evaluating areas with unusually high maintenance requirements to determine possible causes and take preventative measures if appropriate. This allows the city to maintain the public assets it is responsible for in a cost-effective manner.
New Haven implemented its enterprise GIS from Esri (www.esri.com) several years ago. All the city’s infrastructure assets have been mapped using GIS, from city roads to the trees lining those roads as well as adjacent parking meters, subsurface pipes, and other conduits, and so on. This extensive asset mapping allows the city to maintain comprehensive geospatial data records in the GIS for maintenance review, project planning, emergency response, and the many other responsibilities of the city.
With the addition of Cityworks, New Haven was able to implement the staging area necessary to filter incidents reported by the community to SeeClickFix and populate its authoritative GIS database with citizen-collected data. The Cityworks application also prompts SeeClickFix to automatically send an email to the person registering the complaint to indicate it has been received, and a final email is sent when the issue has been resolved.
The Cityworks/GIS geoprocessing capability is presently available for the departments that regularly receive a large number of incident reports, including Public Works and Transportation, Traffic & Parking (TTP). Since 2008, TTP has received more than 20,000 complaints about potholes from concerned citizens.
“Potholes are a big problem in this part of the country,” says Smuts. “Providing the opportunity for citizens to easily report these problems and then have that collected data geocoded and integrated into our database for use by our maintenance crews helps us organize our work more efficiently.”
Smuts indicates that New Haven plans to further expand the use of SeeClickFix in conjunction with Cityworks and ArcGIS geoprocessing into other departments to geocode the incident reports and better maintain the city’s public asset records. However, if the volume of reports for a particular department is consistently low and does not require geocoding, they can be managed by department supervisors via a SeeClickFix dashboard display on their computer. In addition, incidents that are not infrastructure issues—such as crime reports, fire hydrant concerns, and questions for the public library—are forwarded directly to their respective departments for resolution utilizing Cityworks.
“I believe that our social media platform promotes a better, more responsive government,” concludes Smuts. “The process we have implemented allows our residents to report those problems and monitor the status of our response. This leads to greater satisfaction in the community with the local government and its officials.”
SeeClickFix has been encouraging citizens to constructively communicate with governments since 2007 and is active in thousands of communities around the United States and abroad. Through mobile web, web, iPhone, Android, and Blackberry apps, the platform is the most widely distributed citizen reporting tool in the country. The platform is fun and easy to use for citizens while being inexpensive and easily adaptable for governments. The City of New Haven joins 40 other cities in the United States that have purchased the enhanced SeeClickFix features for their citizens and municipal workers.
By Jim Baumann, Staff Writer, Esri and Lindsay Ferguson, PR & Marketing, Azteca Systems, Inc. — Cityworks