1999Just Dial…

With Y2K looming and an area code split threatening to make city services even more difficult for callers to navigate, Chicago launches the first comprehensive 311 system in the nation, offering “one-stop shopping” for all constituent services.

2001Two Steps Forward

In Baltimore, then-Mayor Martin O’Malley expands 311 to cover all city services—everything from bulk trash collection to graffiti removal to noise complaints. Meanwhile, Chicago institutes a web-based 311 system.

2009Right-Sizing

Baltimore, the 311 pioneer, cuts back on overnight 311 call center service, reducing staff and reserving the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. for “urgent requests for service.” The service had become too popular and too expensive—citizens often use it to access information that is available from other sources, especially online. The city still accepts requests for service submitted on the web 24 hours a day. The change is projected to save $500,000 a year. Cash-strapped cities around the country take note.

2009Oh Hey, @MyCity…

San Francisco, which launched its 311 system in 2007, becomes the first city in the nation to enable its citizens to report problems and make requests via Twitter. Some cities, including Boston and Pittsburgh, start launching 311 mobile apps.

2013Tooled Up

L.A. launches an official 311 app, the first to include bill-paying capability.

3-1-1:
A City Services
Revolution

Government should be accessible and accountable to its citizens, right? You won’t find many who will argue with that sentiment. How to deliver on the ideal is another question altogether, one that municipalities have not always navigated well. But over the past couple of decades, a growing number of cities have been changing their approach, casting themselves as service providers and taking advantage of new technologies to offer increasingly innovative and seamless ways for citizens to get what they need. By Sarah Goodyear

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1996Something’s Got to Give

Police departments across the United States are overwhelmed by 911 calls for non-emergency queries. With the help of a $300,000 federal grant, the city of Baltimore addresses this problem by launching an experiment: the nation’s first dedicated three-digit number for non-emergency police services. Users are encouraged to call 311 for complaints such as illegal dumping, double-parked cars, or anything else that requires police attention but not an immediate response. The service proves popular.

1997A Universal Number

In light of the Baltimore experience, the Federal Communications Commission makes the 311 number available to any police department in the U.S. that wants to use it, with the idea that “use of this code could improve the effectiveness of 911 emergency services by alleviating congestion on 911 circuits.”

1999Just Dial…

With Y2K looming and an area code split threatening to make city services even more difficult for callers to navigate, Chicago launches the first comprehensive 311 system in the nation, offering “one-stop shopping” for all constituent services.

2001Two Steps Forward

In Baltimore, then-Mayor Martin O’Malley expands 311 to cover all city services—everything from bulk trash collection to graffiti removal to noise complaints. Meanwhile, Chicago institutes a web-based 311 system.

2002Scaling Up

Los Angeles becomes the latest major U.S. city to adopt 311, making some 1,400 municipal services accessible to callers.

2003A New Standard

New York launches the nation’s largest and most comprehensive 311 service. Today, it operates in 180 languages 24 hours a day, fielding about 50,000 calls per day.

2008Public Problems, Private Solutions

SeeClickFix launches in New Haven. Its first iteration is a website where residents can post problems they see in their communities, generating an email notification to local officials.

Over time, the city of New Haven realizes it is getting more service requests through SeeClickFix than it is through its own portal. As the service develops, adding a mobile app, it will eventually become the official 311-style online reporting system for New Haven and many more cities.

2009Right-Sizing

Baltimore, the 311 pioneer, cuts back on overnight 311 call center service, reducing staff and reserving the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. for “urgent requests for service.” The service had become too popular and too expensive—citizens often use it to access information that is available from other sources, especially online. The city still accepts requests for service submitted on the web 24 hours a day. The change is projected to save $500,000 a year. Cash-strapped cities around the country take note.

2009Oh Hey, @MyCity…

San Francisco, which launched its 311 system in 2007, becomes the first city in the nation to enable its citizens to report problems and make requests via Twitter. Some cities, including Boston and Pittsburgh, start launching 311 mobile apps.

2010Across the Border

Toronto, which initiated a phone- and email-based 311 service in 2009, makes a web-based 311 option available to its citizens. Toronto’s 311 system is the largest in Canada and the second-largest in North America, after New York.

2010An Opening…

Washington, D.C., and San Francisco pioneer the Open 311 approach, in which the city’s API is open to the public, standardizing protocols, allowing independent developers to create their own apps, and enabling more transparent interaction with government when it comes to reporting non-emergencies. The White House supports the move as part of the Obama Administration’s Open Government initiative. The approach is similar to that used by private-sector companies such as SeeClickFix.

2012…And a Closing

Detroit, a year away from filing for bankruptcy, discontinues its 311 service for lack of funds.

2013Tooled Up

L.A. launches an official 311 app, the first to include bill-paying capability.

2015Don’t Call It a Comeback

Detroit, enabled by SeeClickFix, launches the Improve Detroit app, giving the city a 311-style capability for the first time since its traditional service was discontinued.

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And Beyond…

New York logs its 200 millionth 311 call. More than 200 cities around the United States now have traditional 311 services. In addition, about 220 mostly smaller municipalities are paying to integrate SeeClickFix, with many more relying on the free version of the tool. The cities with the most sophisticated systems now use 311 data not just to deploy services but also to measure their own performance and make crucial budget and policy decisions.

PRESENTED BY

IMAGE CREDITS (TOP TO BOTTOM)
Chaikom / Shutterstock.com; Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com; jakelv7500 / Shutterstock.com; Angus Greig; Angus Greig; Evan Fariston / Shutterstock.com; Edward Reed/NYC Mayor’s Office; SeeClickFix; Angus Greig; Angus Greig; Taxiarchos228 / Wikimedia Commons; AP Photo / Carlos Osorio; Angus Greig; City of Detroit; Chaikom / Shutterstock.com

INTERACTIVE CREDITS
Executive Producer: Sommer Mathis; Producer: Clarissa Matthews; Art Director: Libby Bawcombe; Lead Developer: Frankie Dintino; Associate Producer: Mark Byrnes