Chicago was an early adopter of 311 — a system connecting residents with the local government for non-emergency needs. Originally their system was phone-based and closed to digital mediums, but CfA and a number of community groups including the local Brigade and OpenCity and Smart Chicago Collaborative have done a ton to shore up the digital divide. For more on Chicago’s history of hacking, check out local Brigade Captain Chris Whittaker’s post or for email him to connect.
The spirit of Code for America is really what is transformational about the work they do… it’s about a model of working and innovating in a culture that’s bound by a lot of rules. It’s kind of a culture virus for innovation in government.
John Tolva, CTO of the City of Chicago
In traditional government public service inquiries, it’s easy for citizens to feel like their requests are unheard. Most systems offer little insight into whether a request has been received, whether it’s being worked on and the timing of that work. The City of Chicago already had the data standard to help build a better system, but CTO John Tolva and Executive Director of Smart Chicago Collaborative Dan X. O’Neill enlisted 2012 fellows Angel Kittyachavalit, Ben Sheldon, Jesse Bounds, and Rob Brackett for help.
Upon arrival to their 2012 residency, the fellows joined local brigade member Veronica Ludwig to co-host Chicago’s IdeaHack event. It was at this event that Chicago CTO John Tolva offered his presentation, “The City is a Platform“. With the momentum of the event and the words of their city contact, the fellows embarked on a journey that would lay a foundation far beyond the borders of their fellowship city.
After doing more than 70 interviews with city partners, community leaders and educators, the fellows consulted the city’s database of service requests for insight into improving the 311 process. Armed with all this data they produced a suite of services that included a 311.fm visualization tool for service requests, the framework for a map-based daily service tool and a Fedex-style tracker aptly named Service Tracker.
While these tools might seem customized to Chicago’s unique needs, they were in fact solving the same problems faced by a number of cities. In July 2012, the 311 work done during the Chicago fellowship was spun out into a national effort dubbed Open311 Labs. Today, several cities continue to adopt and improve upon these tools.