18 July 2013

Feel like your 311 requests get lost in the shuffle? They might be.



I used the DC311 mobile app to report this damaged school zone flasher on April 23, 2013.

**UPDATE: I just got off the phone with Ben Berkowitz, co-founder and CEO of SeeClickFix. It sounds like, for this specific request, downtime in the API may have caused it to get lost in a purgatory of sorts, rather than it being directed to DC311/OUC. Berkowitz noted that if a service request continues to show as "Open" with no response at all, it may be best to manually close the request and open another. Additionally, he mentioned that a very small number of requests in DC—something like 30 out of 18,000—have been caught up in this type of glitch. You can check under "Notified" in the right column on a specific request on the SeeClickFix site to confirm that it's been passed on to DC311. From my conversation with Berkowitz, it's also clear that DC has been at the forefront of municipalities embracing SeeClickFix as a large-scale, interactive tool.

While I still have concerns about the confusion at OUC about whether or not the request could be accessed depending on if I submitted it via the mobile app or via the SeeClickFix website, I am generally pleased with the interaction and results today. Overall, I am happy to see DC embrace Gov 2.0 tools, and I hope bumps in the road like these are considered as learning opportunities and not as reasons to inhibit or stop the progress we've made in this realm so far.**

***

Hang on, folks, this is a long one, though worth it, because it very likely outlines any number of the collective frustrations out there with the state of government ops and constituent services in the District (and possibly beyond)....

In May 2011, SeeClickFix announced platform integration with DC's Open311 system, and there was much rejoicing across the Distrcit: from Gov 2.0 nerds (like me), from oft disgruntled residents (like me), and even from the now-defunct Daily Gripe column on the Washington Post's website:
Now, instead of solely relying on operators fielding phoned-in requests to the city’s 311 line, residents and visitors can send non-emergency reports to 311 through SeeClickFix’s free mobile and web platform that allows them to pinpoint locations and upload photos and videos.[emphasis mine]
Did you see that? Mobile and web platform. In case you think the Post got their signals crossed, let's go back to the horse's mouththe official press release from the DC Office of the Chief Technology Officer, dated May 24, 2011:
SeeClickFix is a free mobile and web platform that allows citizens to submit online reports of non-emergency public problems to governments. The SeeClickFix platform is available in many locations and formats, including mobile phones and widgets on the Washington Post and other city blogs. Citizens can access SeeClickFix at SeeClickFix.com, The Washington Post, Greater Greater Washington, and The City Fix.
...
Overall, the integration of SeeClickFix with the District’s 311 system ensures a seamless flow of information between residents and District officials, and a more efficient way of fixing problems throughout the city. [again, emphasis mine]
After over a month with no repairs on a lopsided school zone flasher, and a still-open request on DC's SeeClickFix site, I reached out to DC311 on Twitter on Monday, July 1, and followed up again on Wednesday, July 17:

Much, much more below the fold...


And so I turned to email, and had the following exchange with Erick Hines from the Office of Unified Communications (OUC):

From: Jaime Fearer 
Sent: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 12:34 PM
To: Hines, Erick (OUC)
Subject: SeeClickFix/DC 311 Issue ID #485011

Mr. Hines,

I'm writing to check in on the status of a DC311 report filed via SeeClickFix on April 23, 2013: http://seeclickfix.com/issues/485011. Since April 23, the issue has been open, with no comment from applicable government agencies. While I did not take a detailed look at the flasher, my understanding is that the lower bulb mechanism simply needs to be turned back around to face oncoming traffic.
I followed up with @311DCgov on Twitter on July 1 and again today, and they said in a reply today, "Need more information. We can not pull up the SCF serv request #. Please email Erick.Hines@dc.gov, and he will assist."
Can you please look into this further and let me know what you discover? While the fix likely could have been made in the 1.5 months leading up to DCPS's release for summer, it most certainly should be repaired before school returns for the fall.
Many thanks,
Jaime Fearer
---

On Wed, Jul 17, 2013 at 12:37 PM, Hines, Erick (OUC) wrote:
Can you please provide me with the nature of the issue and address  you provided at the time of the reort. [sic]
---

From: Jaime Fearer 
Sent: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 12:43 PM
To: Hines, Erick (OUC)
Subject: Re: SeeClickFix/DC 311 Issue ID #485011

Mr. Hines,

Are you unable to open the link to the SeeClickFix issue I provided? It contains the location, a description of the issue, and a photograph: http://seeclickfix.com/issues/485011.

The issue is that the bottom flasher bulb on the school zone flasher on Trinidad Ave. NE, near - but preceding - the intersection with Neal St. NE (where Wheatley Education Campus is), is turned the wrong way. It needs to be turned back around to face oncoming traffic on Trinidad Ave. NE, which is a one-way street with traffic traveling northbound. SeeClickFix recorded the address as 1300-1322 Neal St. NE, but as I mention both in a comment on the site and above, the flasher is on Trinidad Avenue NE.

Thank you,
Jaime
---

On Wed, Jul 17, 2013 at 12:48 PM, Hines, Erick (OUC) wrote:

It appears this issue was reported directly to see click fix and not by the 311 phone app. We do not have access to requests submitted in see click fix.
---

From: Jaime Fearer 
Sent: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 12:52 PM
To: Hines, Erick (OUC)
Subject: Re: SeeClickFix/DC 311 Issue ID #485011

Mr. Hines,

It states - and I remember doing so as I was walking the neighborhood - that I reported this via the mobile app. Are you able to file a 311 report for it at this time, or do I need to do this all over again? Additionally, are you saying that anything reported directly through SeeClickFix doesn't actually go to DC gov?

Finally, it also appears that the signage indicating that this is a school zone flasher *on* the flasher is missing, and I'd like to add that to the request I'm hoping you are able to submit.
Thank you,
Jaime
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On Wed, Jul 17, 2013 at 12:55 PM, Hines, Erick (OUC) wrote:

We will need  the address and type of issue reported  or DC311 app confirmation which is not 485011 to follow up on the previous request. If you would like to provide the type and location I will have the issue addressed.
---
From: Jaime Fearer 
Sent: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 1:01 PM
To: Hines, Erick (OUC)
Subject: Re: SeeClickFix/DC 311 Issue ID #485011
Mr. Hines,

In addition to giving you the link, I detailed both the type of issue as well as the location in my first email below. What information do you that I have not yet provided? I am also attaching the photograph I initially submitted through the DC311 mobile app.

Thank you,
Jaime
---
On Wed, Jul 17, 2013 at 1:00 PM, Hines, Erick (OUC) wrote:

You should be receiving a confirmation for Trinidad/ Neal shortly to have signals repaired
---
From: Jaime Fearer 
Sent: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 1:03 PM
To: Hines, Erick (OUC)
Subject: Re: SeeClickFix/DC 311 Issue ID #485011
 
Thank you. Do you know if this will include the missing signage as well, or do I need to submit a separate request via the mobile app the next time I am home during the day to do so?

Thanks,
Jaime
---

To date, I still have not heard back from Mr. Hines on the reported (by him) disconnect that leaves OUC/DC311 staff unable to access SeeClickFix service requests that are submitted via the website rather than through the mobile app. And, needless to say, it was frustrating to have to repeat, and repeat, and further repeat the details of my service request.

So I turned back to Twitter, just after needling @311DCgov a bit for retweetingmultiple times in the past week—Anacostia Playhouse's opening celebration coming up on Saturday [full disclosure: I'm an Anacostia Playhouse supporter and patron]:


Ultimately, I'm still waiting to hear back from District staff who made it sound like this wasn't just a glitch, but is in fact a more widespread concern about how residents can report their 311 service requests. I absolutely appreciate Ben Berkowitz, co-founder and CEO of SeeClickFix, jumping in—that certainly exemplifies the targeted communication we can create within Twitter—though I worry we've been given some potentially amazing tools here in DC that, are, well, too often ineffective. 

If the overall environment and capacity of the District staff isn't strong enough to support the integration of SeeClickFix and 311, then let's not offer that service until it is. Otherwise, we're left with a process that is even more onerous, laborious, and frustrating than the original, as the nearly 1500 words above indicate.

3 comments:

You can be curmudgeonly too, but let's try to be civil and constructive here, ok?