Residents report non-emergency issues with the City directly from their smartphones. These get sent into the City’s work order management system, which then sends it to the right person in City Hall. The award-winning app has been replicated and modeled by many other cities throughout Massachusetts and across the country.
The City of Boston had maintained a 24-hour hotline for decades. The hotline allowed residents to call year-round for requests and reports. In 2008, the hotline was fixed to update the systems used to track and resolve requests.
But, we realized there were lots of residents who were not calling City Hall. At the same time, the popularity of smartphones was growing. We were interested in seeing if we could engage more or different users if we offered the functionality of the hotline through an app.
Our hypothesis? Building a companion app to the City's constituent Hotline. This new app would give a new set of residents a chance to be our eyes and ears on City streets.
In 2009, we partnered with a local technology company called Connected Bits to develop the app for iPhones. The app integrated with the City's systems. When a resident snapped a photo of an issue, like a pothole, the next person who saw it was the right person to fix it. Launched in October 2009, it was embraced by the public right away. The app has also been improved many times in recent years.
In the current version, when a case is closed, users can learn more about the City team that did the work. In some cases, users can see a photo of the team. In a limited number of cases, they can even see a photo of the completed work, like a filled in pothole.
In 2010, reports from the app made up 6% of all service requests tracked within the City’s systems. By 2014, the app now accounts for roughly 28% of all service requests.
The app led to many more experiments, and other 311 apps around the country.
A study found City residents using the app submit reports with a slightly higher frequency, and cover more area. The same study saw that the app increased engagement among young, renter residents. This group had been underrepresented in reports submitted through traditional channels.