SeeClickFix in Chicago
The website lays bare the city’s 3-1-1 service request progress—and lack thereof.
As long as Chicago has had a complaints department—the 3-1-1 service center, created in 1999—the biggest complaint has been with the system’s opaqueness. Mayor Emanuel owned up to that flaw in May, announcing that Chicagoans would now get a serial number to track their service requests. “This new system will reassure the public that their requests are not falling into a black hole,” he said.
Furthering the effort in September, the city launched 3-1-1 Service Tracker, on which Chicagoans can input those tracking numbers.
The most recent attempt to convince taxpayers that their pleas aren’t being swallowed up by the bureaucratic void came late last month. The city announced a partnership with SeeClickFix, a New Haven, Connecticut, company whose website and app feel like the love child of 3-1-1 and EveryBlock. Users complete a brief questionnaire related to their issue—categories range from an abandoned vehicle to violations of sanitation or building codes—and can attach a photo. The requests go directly to the appropriate city agency, and the issue is embedded with a Service Tracker link. That’s not much different from, albeit easier than, submitting a request online via the city’s clunky site.
The advantage of SeeClickFix is the ability to see government in action: the city accepting the request, marking it “acknowledged” and—eventually…fingers crossed!—stamping it “closed” (i.e., fixed). There’s also a community engagement aspect: Users are awarded “civic points” for their activity; certain politicians, such as 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman, respond personally; and a map view offers a block-by-block glimpse of issues.
“This is an example of how public-private collaboration thrives when the city opens up the systems and gets out of the way of private creativity,” says John Tolva, the city’s chief technology officer. Of the 3.9 million calls the 3-1-1 center gets annually, 40 percent are duplicates. Tolva hopes SeeClickFix can help streamline things.
A look through the site last week revealed the staggering magnitude of complaints the city fields, most commonly graffiti removal and rat sightings. Inoperative traffic signals and out street lights seem to be the only requests that get an immediate fix. Several pothole reports (some patched impressively within 24 hours, according to the site) were a reminder SeeClickFix likely will be inundated once freezing temps set in; last year, crews filled more than 600,000. A gallery view brings up only the requests that have a photo attached. It’s a slideshow of a city in decay: menacing gang tags, vacant lots overtaken by weeds, downed signs, caved-in streets.
One month into its partnership with SeeClickFix, the city has taken note of roughly 24,000 service requests through the site. It has addressed only about 9,000. That doesn’t include “open” issues the city has inexplicably ignored; last week, those included an uncovered electrical box on the Lakefront Trail and missing manhole covers in Logan Square. Service requests like these no longer fall into the bureaucratic black hole Emanuel spoke of. They bake untouched under the harsh light of transparency.