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Help us 'teach' the new 311

November 1, 2017

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Digital Team

We’re asking for your help as we redesign our 311 web interface.

A major change in the new interface is the way each constituent will interact with it. The current BOS:311 website prompts you to choose from dozens of the most frequent 311 case types and find one that matches your issue. This helps the system direct you to the right form.

In the current process, you have to figure out on your own how your issue lines up with the City’s case types. We found that some wouldn’t submit less common types of 311 cases because they didn’t show up in our list of cases.

Get started now

About the new 311 system

With our new system, you can tell us — in your own words — what’s wrong in a sentence or less. Our system then takes your info and suggests case types that fit your description. You’ll then be able to click on a case type that matches your issue, and go to the correct online form.

We don't want you to have to scroll through a long list to find what you need. We want to make things as easy as possible for you to submit a request from one of our more than 150 case types.

Getting better over time

As the new 311 system gets more data, it will learn what words and phrases are most common when talking about different case types. Over time, it will even be able to recognize patterns. If, for example, the system notices that snow-related cases typically come in batches (like during and after a storm), those suggestions will be shown more often when there is a spike in snow cases.

Right now, we’re building our initial training dataset that the system will be launched with. The plan is to do this before we start getting real requests. This is also where our crowdsourcing effort comes in.

Where you can help

We need your help to “teach” our new 311 model about the different words and phrases associated with case types. We built a web app that will take you through a test version of our new 311 system. First, we’ll give you an example of a case type at the top of the page. Next, we want you to list out three different ways you might describe that case type in the real world.

an example: Case type - Abandoned Vehicle
Abandoned vehicle case type

After you see the case type, we’ll ask you to give us three different ways to describe the case type. For this example, three options might be:

  1. Car left in front of my house for 2 wks
  2. Unknown vehicle parked on street for long time
  3. I don’t know whose car is in front of my home, please remove
Up for the task?

We’re not concerned with correct grammar or spelling in these examples. We just want real ways people may describe these cases.

If you can’t think of three different ways to describe a case, that’s OK. Any examples we can get help the system get better. We’ll also be releasing the dataset on Analyze Boston, our open data hub, so that other cities can use it for their own systems in the future.

Let’s get started