Monitoring the Pothole Buzz

Potholes in an asphalt roadway.Seems like over the last year, several sites have popped up offering people a chance to create a "to do" list for their local public works department. From logging potholes to traffic problems and graffiti, websites like FixMyStreet, SeeClickFix, City Sourced, PublicStuff, Lagan311, and many others are encouraging citizens to upload problems onto maps. Three years ago when FixMyStreet was the only site like this out there, it seemed like a great idea. Particularly when SeeClickFix opened up for those of us in the U.S. But now there are many services like this, and citizens using the sites are expecting that we will see their problem regardless of where it is posted. However, one city cannot keep track of all sites offering these services and then spend time monitoring each one on a daily basis.

Fortunately cities like San Francisco have taken the lead in providing us a solution. Earlier this year, they launched their own Open311 program designed to allow these services to interact with San Francisco's data. The other key to implementing this interaction has been the development of an Open311 standard organized by OpenPlans – a non-profit organization working to support open government and citizen engagement. The group's Open311 project "provides open communication with public services and local government." What this means is that all services, including our work order systems, will have a common language for transferring information. And if our work order system has been well designed, it will be able to reach out and grab all the issues posted on these sites. It should also offer us the opportunity to only pull the issues located within our jurisdictional boundaries.

So where does this all leave us today? Some might be thinking it isn't something they really have to worry about. But based on what I have seen happening, you will eventually have to address it. The sites are not going away – they are only increasing in number. And once citizens find these sites, elected officials are not far behind. If one of their constituents has a concern that has not been taken care of, you know you will be getting a call. 

If you are fortunate enough to already have a work order program that has adopted this open standard, you should just need an upgrade. If you don't have a work order system or CRM (customer relationship management) program, but you are in the market for one, just make sure the program provides this service. Finally, if you can't afford to upgrade or purchase, you could try visiting the most popular sites being used by your citizens and grabbing or subscribing to the feed of issues. Most offer the opportunity to "follow a zip code" or "create a watch area." Then whenever anything gets posted, the issue is sent to your email. The Open311 Wiki offers a list of current services here:


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