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If we build it, will they come?

August 12, 2016

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Digital Team

Part of our mission in Innovation and Technology is connecting residents with the information they need in simple and easy-to-access ways.

One example is the new guides on Boston.gov. But while they present curated information and tasks from across City departments in one place, people still have to find that place.

Naturally, we wondered if we could save them searching and bring that information to them when they needed it most.

All the various transactions residents complete with City, like requesting a moving truck permits or registering for resident parking, provide us not just a lot of data but also a snapshot of a time you may need something specific from the City.

If we could connect the dots between these siloed data sources, could we 'guess' who may be a new resident to Boston and provide them relevant information? Would it be helpful or just plain creepy?

We decided to try and find out whether email would be an effective way to engage new residents who could use some help getting settled in.

We sent two versions of the message so we could learn what information would be most helpful. One email showcased 311neighborhood services, and City events, while the other focused on having a carregistering to vote, and the trash day app. Both included links to the full moving guide page as well.

Identifying new Boston arrivals

This turned out not to be as easy as we’d expected. The City’s Assessing database gives us a sense of who might be new homeowners, but we wanted to include renters too (and the assessing rolls don’t have email addresses). We decided that moving truck permits and residential parking permits were better sources. However, both of these have their limitations: a moving truck applicant might be leaving the city, not moving in, and a parking permit applicant might be a new car owner but not a new resident.

In order to avoid sending messages to long-time residents, we excluded anyone registered to vote in Boston as of April 1, 2016. We considered only moving truck permits issued on 4/1/2016 or later.

What we’ve learned

We’ve received feedback about how to improve the emails and the rate of opens and click-throughs has been high. In future iterations of this pilot, we might provide an opt-in system for signing up to receive new resident information, or we might focus on identifying new movers from other types of outreach we already do, like in-person events around big move days like September 1.

We’ve since discovered that we made an error in our date matching on the parking permits, so if you have an active parking permit that was issued before April, and you aren’t registered to vote (or your voter record didn’t match for some reason), we may still have emailed you. If you’re in that group, we apologize for the not-quite-as-relevant email; hopefully it contained some new information!

If you’re a current resident, we'd love to hear what your experience moving to Boston was like. What would have made your move easier? How and where would you like the City to communicate with you as a new resident? Do you have creative ideas for how we might identify new residents to the City? Email us at feedback@boston.gov.