The Civic Value of Complaints, Feedback

Local governments are dedicating time and resources toward interaction with citizens to collect feedback, ideas and insight into the needs of the community


What Happened?

Local governments are dedicating more time and resources toward direct interaction with citizens to collect feedback, ideas and insight into the wants and needs of the community.

The Trust

A recent poll from Siena Research Institute found residents of New York trust their local governments more than state or federal governing bodies. The majority of voters explained local government was better able to understand the needs of residents and actually accomplish goals to overcome problems.

According to the poll:

  • 43 percent of voters trust their local government most or all of the time to do what’s right
  • 28 percent trust their state or federal government to do what’s right
  • 70 percent feel local government understands their needs and responds to them
  • 20 percent prefer state government
  • 96 percent approve and are satisfied with their local fire departments
  • 90 percent are confident in their emergency services
  • 78 percent say police are doing a great job

Furthermore, the vast majority of New Yorkers polled feel local government is considerably better at managing tax dollars than state and federal counterparts. The underlying tone of the poll results suggest citizens appreciate governing bodies that listen to their concerns and directly respond to feedback as effectively as possible.

Complaints Welcome

In an effort to continually improve transparency and communication with residents, many local governments have adopted convenient technologies for the collection of citizen complaints and feedback.

In Singapore, for example, the Municipal Services Office launched the OneService app that allows the public to submit complaints through a single platform that will then be directed to the appropriate agency. Users are presented with a menu for them to place a comment or complaint under one of six categories:

  • Animals
  • Pests
  • Roads and footpaths
  • Water supply and drains
  • Cleanliness
  • Trees and greenery

The relevant government agency will then receive the complaint, while all other messages are sent directly to the Municipal Services Office. The goal of the app is to expedite the delivery of services and improve the efficiency of communications with citizens. Since the app launched, government agencies have reported times needed to resolve municipal cases cut in half thanks to the ease of communication, The Malay Mail Online reported.

Survey Says

Just as municipalities want input on where services are needed, many also want to regularly check in on their performance metrics. Kansas City, Missouri, is working with data scientists to integrate online public data with the results of citizen surveys to gain deeper insight into individuals’ interactions with city services and infrastructure.

Kansas City Deputy Performance Office wrote in GovExec that citizen surveys help local governments improve performance through feedback and criticism. The responses can be specific to departments and services, as well as address overall performance. The data analytics come into play when segmenting the citizen responses based on a variety of characteristics such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Neighborhood
  • Income
  • Other demographic breakouts

When the responses are broken down to very specific populations, local governments better understand taxpayer perceptions and can develop strategies to target unique needs in the community. The key to success, however, is turning this insight into action as soon as possible.

Let’s Chat

Many municipalities will actively seek citizen input during the planning process of major projects and long-term initiatives. Local agencies will send out notice to local residents before a project is launched or during a pilot period to get direct feedback on what is working and what is coming up short.

For many long-term projects, local officials will hold events where citizens can learn about new initiatives, ask questions and share feedback in a comfortable space. New York City, for example, is rolling out an update to its PlaNYC initiative aimed at preserving local infrastructure and combating the impacts of climate change.

To ensure the community is aware of the changes to the plan and new strategies moving forward, the city is hosting a series of hearings to collect feedback across all 59 community boards, Capital New York reported. The city is also launching a web survey so residents can share their feedback at their own convenience, while informative pamphlets are being distributed in key locations, Capital New York reported.

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