SeeClickFix’s 2 Million Reasons
This piece was first posted on the SeeClickFix blog.
Yesterday, the two millionth issue was submitted via SeeClickFix. This is an important moment for us and a chance to reflect on how SeeClickFix has evolved over the years and where we are headed next.
Here’s the two millionth issue!
The purpose of SeeClickFix has always been to improve communities by getting neighborhood issues resolved. This has driven every decision that we have made over the past six years. In other words, these 2 million issues are the reason we exist. Each issue represents a moment of successful communication—a step toward making a town a better place to live. Each issue represents incremental progress in building trusting and supportive communities for citizens and governments.
Today, I’d like to offer a brief depiction of where this journey has led us and how, after 2 million issues, our purpose has evolved.
I’d also like to use this moment to announce what we are working on next: a brand new way to connect directly with neighbors and governments on SeeClickFix. We will be rolling out direct mentions on SeeClickFix this year and we want to give you early access.
But first, here’s a story.
Eight years ago, SeeClickFix was born out of frustration. I had tried, unsuccessfully to get a piece of graffiti removed from a building next door to where I was living in New Haven. The process was unnecessarily complex and I had trouble making my concerns visible to the folks that mattered. I knew there had to be a better way, so I convinced that smartest people I knew—Kam and Miles Lasater—to work nights and weekends with me, building a tool that would make our concerns more visible to our city.
What we built was an online forum where neighbors could publicly document concerns with information like photos, addresses, and descriptions. Because these concerns were public, our neighbors could congregate and collaborate—discussing and identifying solutions to these issues. Importantly, we also built a notification tool that allowed users to forward their concerns directly to public officials.
There were two things that surprised us immediately. First, the support from my community was amazing. I could never have predicted the level of participation and excitement from my neighbors. Second—and perhaps most importantly—the issues that were reported were actually getting fixed, and they were getting fixed fast. Direct access to city officials along with increased public accountability appeared to be a powerful combination. This open dialog began to slowly transform the city.
As neighborhood activity grew, cities began coming to us, asking for more. Officials wanted us to improve both the quantity and quality of these exchanges. To do this, we built an iPhone app and an embeddable reporting tool for city websites. We also built a backend tool that allowed officials to structure the information that came from the public with request types and secondary questions. Finally, we integrated into city work management systems, so that any concern coming into a city could be routed directly into the city’s workflow.
These tools were a “force multiplier” for 311, and spread quickly throughout the country’s biggest cities. As Frank Carmody, assistant director of Houston 311 described:
“SeeClickFix enables citizens to report problems without calling 311. A force multiplier for 311 because citizens can self-serve, which reduces calls to 311 and, therefore, lowers the Average Speed of Answer. Because of SeeClickFix, Houston 311 is now significantly more efficient.”
By 2012, our government partnerships had made SeeClickFix a leader in public communication: increasing government accessibility around the world. Working with civic innovators like Frank, we had built a highly efficient reporting system. And because these tools were built on the SeeClickFix public forum, we had also helped to strengthen neighborhood communication in hundreds of communities.
Cities like Houston have complex workflow and communication systems. SeeClickFix is able to connect directly to these systems, adding a citizen input channel to the city’s internal workflow. For most cities however, these workflow systems are disparate and disconnected—often they are almost non-existent. When a concern would come in via SeeClickFix, the city official would have to manually track this issue through multiple departments and systems—calling each department to check on progress and manually calling back each concerned citizen. This is a huge pain and requires a ton of resources to accomplish successfully. To address this complexity, SeeClickFix built workflow and analytics tools into our backend system. These tools gave government officials a central location where they could track citizen concerns and manage the public communication surrounding these concerns. Now, issues would not fall through the cracks, and management had tools to measure and report on successful exchanges.
The internal communication supporting the resolution of a single issue can be really complex. A graffiti issue, for example, may need to start within the Police Department, where it is inspected for potential legal action. The issue may then get sent over to Code Enforcement to facilitate resolution on a private property and then, finally, to Public Works who will paint over the graffiti. In each of these departments, the issues may touch the administrative assistant, the director, and the field staff. In some scenarios, part or all of this process may be handled by an external agency. Managing this internal communication along with the external communication with the public is a major obstacle for many towns.
Internal and external communication are both really hard. For most cities, doing both well is impossible. That’s why over the past few years, we’ve worked with our government partners to build a complete service management system that handles both the external and internal communication required to run successful public service organization. There is tremendous power—and efficiency—to managing external communication with the public in the same system where you manage the internal communication around the related work. In fact it is the only way that most small to medium-sized cities can provide a high level of service.
In order to build this integrated system, we had to redesign the communication model that we designed back in 2009. We added internal and private communication tools that work in line with both work order processing and public notifications. We rebuilt our government interface from the ground up to provide a streamlined communication process that works across departments and across devices.
Today, two million issues have been routed via SeeClickFix. Each of these issues represents a concerned citizen and an opportunity to change a person’s relationship with their local government. And now, it also represents a chance for internal communication and relationships between departments and within a local government to build and improve.
To date, communication on SeeClickFix has been entirely one to many.
It’s often the case, however, that our neighborhood and government users need to communicate directly with one another. Here are a couple examples:
Neighbors need to connect directly with other neighbors to organize events and discuss projects. For example, neighbors who have connected to clean graffiti in a shared space may want to organize directly on further projects.
Government officials want to connect directly with other officials to update information or ask a question regarding an outstanding ticket.
Before today, none of this is possible.
Today, we are announcing one to one communication on SeeClickFix. This will allow all of the above examples and many more to be possible on the SeeClickFix platform. With one to one communication, neighborhood users can connect directly with other neighborhood users and government officials can directly connect with other officials around the issues, ideas, and projects that they care about the most.
To accomplish this, we will be adding unique handles for all SeeClickFix users that will be used both for public references as well as direct communication.
Of course, these tools will also come with enhanced notifications and privacy settings.
One to one communication will be rolling out in 2016. But you can get started today by signing up for early access to claim your handle. I’m going with @bb.
To our citizen and government users, thank you so much for your continued support throughout the years. We are continually inspired by your commitment to improving the public space.
And thank you for these 2 million submissions—as I said at the beginning, these are the 2 million reasons why we exist. They are 2 million reminders of our purpose; and 2 million ways you’ve helped us evolve.
Your passion is the reason for everything we do. We can’t wait to see what you will do with one to one communication.
Ben Berkowitz is the founder and CEO of SeeClickFix. A proud resident of New Haven, CT, the inspiration for SeeClickFix came from a desire to improve his own community with his neighbors and his government.