We might have to adjust this equation based upon a recent City press release
Well, what a surprise. The City of Vancouver sent out a glowing press release about 311 this week. Say whaaaaa?
Yes, the service condemned by Vision Vancouver while in opposition, yet triumphed by the NPA and former City Manager Judy Rogers as a way to innovate City services, is finally getting a little credit from the stone age bunch running Vision City Hall.
We've been 311 boosters since the first weeks of CityCaucus.com, and a quick search indicates we've discussed 311 in nearly 80 posts since. So the City of Vancouver will have a little catching up to do in order to give as much play to 311 as this blog has.
While other cities across the continent are embracing and promoting 311 services, and third parties are getting on board with iPhone apps to integrate with 311, Vancouver has dragged its heels and stubbornly refused to acknowledge the existence of this service by refusing to promote it. In New York, for example, 311 signs exist everywhere.
In San Francisco, the City has even integrated 311 with Twitter so now you can actually tweet your 311 reports. The website called Governance for Development is cautiously optimistic about what a free tool like Twitter can do for cities.
On paper at least, this already looks like a huge improvement over calling 311 because:
- City services can become more transparent: Technically you are able comment on a tweet, and this should be encouraged - although in the San Francisco case it looks like tweets would be private. With a public tweet, if you request a road to be cleaned up and no one has done it, you can comment back in, and hundreds of others who are following the tweet will see that it has not been done. This is exactly the kind of transparency that is needed.
- Information is instant: You don't have to go to a website, you don't have to call, you don't have to wait in line. You can get the information instantly on your cell phone or email and if you have a comment to make you can do it right away.
- Creation of virtual communities can improve governance: San Francisco is, already a community, but not all residents are able to communicate with each other on issues of mutual interest. The use of Twitter and Social Networking tools can help strengthen the community by creating additional virtual communities based on interests, and energizing existing networks. The success of these communities will be helped by the fact that Twitter works well with mobile technology. Not everyone has a computer but most people have cell phones.
- Transparency can lead to improve accountability: If Twitter based service requests take off, we will have increased accountability of public officials. Information will be collected on the services that were requested, and what the city officials did about it. This could spark increased community involvement, and incentivize public officials to make good on their promises.
- Participation can improve governance: Citizens can be involved in the running of the city. When you have to chance to do be a participant in the governance process, it makes a difference in how you view the city. It becomes "your" city, and you take better care of it. This improves governance.
Other local governments should consider Twitter or similar Web 2.0 tool to help improve transparency, accountability and participation.
For a transparency-challenged government like the one in Vancouver, you can see the immediate impact an innovation like this could have.
One of the reasons I feel compelled to criticize Vision Vancouver is the sheer lack of good ideas they bring forward. We're a city with great future prospects if we're prepared to embrace opportunity and innovation. Under this government we're stuck in the 20th Century way of dealing with issues.
In the weeks to come leading up to the 2011 election, you're going to see many more ideas put forward on CityCaucus.com about ways to improve governance and city services, and move Vancouver forward. While some of the proposals may be limited by practicalities, sending up trial balloons in a venue like this allows the public to start weighing in.
Here below is the City's press release about 311 receiving its one-millionth call...
City’s 3-1-1 service takes one millionth call
Have you ever called the City of Vancouver’s 311 service to report a pothole, find out about earthquake preparedness workshops or file a noise complaint?
If so, you can count yourself amongst the one million callers assisted by the 311 team since the public service began two years ago.
A request for a building inspection became the one millionth call to the City’s contact centre on Tuesday and was taken by a 311 staff member who has answered more than 35,000 calls in her time with the team.
Since introducing 311, the Centre has created 80 local jobs and expanded to offer service to the public between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., seven days a week.
311 is currently averaging 45,000 enquiries per month and up to 350 calls per hour during peak times.
Vancouverites are calling about everything from property tax bills and permits, reports of missed garbage pick up, traffic and street lights out, pothole repair requests and sewer back up reports, to building inspection requests, noise concerns and payments for licenses and other services.
When the 311 staff cannot deal directly with a request, callers are connected to the right City staff and departments.
City 3-1-1 staff also have access to interpreters in 180 languages. Last year, 16 different languages were used to assist 576 calls. So far this year, 101 callers have requested service in nine different languages.
For more information on the City of Vancouver 311 service, visit Vancouver 3-1-1
To reach a 311 citizen service representative, just dial 3-1-1 within Vancouver city boundaries or 604.873.7000 outside the city.
- post by Mike. Follow @MikeKlassen on Twitter. To check out San Francisco's 311 Twitter service see @sf311.