311 data fuels government response & transparency

From managing requests to running rich reports and engaging citizens regularly and during disasters, 311 data systems are evolving government operations


Many local governments are focused on becoming more accessible and transparent, while also trying to deliver services at a higher speed and quality. Citizens are holding public sector agencies to service standards typically found in private industry. As a result, local governments are turning to innovative technology to keep up with rising service expectations.

311 systems offer local governments speed and insights that boost overall performance. They:

  • Enable citizens to submit requests from anywhere at any time
  • Provide location accuracy related to requests with GIS functionality
  • Mobilize information sharing across government departments
  • Account for service costs more accurately and timely

However, much more can be realized by governments that have powerful 311 data capabilities. Government employees, contractors and partners can track and share data and assist local governments with critical functions — ranging from more-accurate budget forecasting and resource allocation to disaster management.

Cost Reductions & Trend Spotting

With 311 data, municipalities can better plan programs, train employees and more strategically allocate budgets.

The city of Albany, New York, needed a solution to route citizen requests to various departments, but lacked budget for a centralized call center. As a result, Albany deployed citizen reporting tools alongside a hosted request management platform. Requests come in through mobile phones, the city website or in person.

All the city’s requests are now managed through the request management platform, where reps are able to respond to citizens and route requests appropriately. The citizen self-serve channels account for more than 30 percent of the city’s service requests, reducing costs.

City managers are able to run reports and analyze request data where emerging trends can be identified by analyzing the call data, service requests and work orders. Because 311 data is now accessible across departments, Albany’s leaders and staff can collaborate to identify operational challenges, like overstaffing or underfunding services in-demand.

Service Delivery Reporting

Reporting functions of modern 311 systems — sophisticated and easy-to-understand reports — achieve transparency in municipal operations. Call metrics like purpose, time, location and resolution can tell the story behind a municipality’s citizen-call-response lifecycle with better clarity.

In the absence of a central system, non-emergency service requests registered to various agencies can lead to requests going unacknowledged. When filing 311 requests, the system informs residents of request status and when they can expect contact from the city as issues are resolved.

Further, sharing the data has been found to improve public communications. Some municipalities have started to provide publicly available 311 data through Open311 initiatives, such as Baltimore. The interfaces allow datasets to be aggregated at will by anyone, at any time for greater operational and financial transparency.

Disaster Response Resource

Even during disasters, many cities promote their 311 systems as a better way to resolve non-emergency issues and offload some of the burden on 911 emergency call centers.

New York City found during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 that many calls to 911 were downed trees and other non-emergency reports that may normally have come in through its 311 system, established in 2003. The sheer volume of 911 calls during the superstorm reportedly slowed slow response times, according to a Data Smart City Solutions report.

By assessing legacy 311 data and other sources from previous disasters or emergencies, governments might predict areas of risk during times of crisis and better prepare both emergency and non-emergency resources.

Municipalities could also use 311 systems to communicate public information during disasters. Ready New York’s emergency plan materials encourage citizens to contact 311 during disasters for important information, like shelter locations. Two-way communication allows cities to also share vital safety information when residents report issues during a disaster to 311.

Andrea Fox is Editor of Gov1.com and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.