Philly Unveils New 311 Service with Blueprint for Innovation

Mayor Michael Nutter showcases new 311 platform alongside a new city strategy for civic tech and citizen engagement.

by / February 18, 2015
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is helping the City of Brotherly Love become a "showcase city." David Kidd

Philadelphia is a city known for its advancements in areas of civic tech, and is again working to position itself as a frontrunner in innovation -- this time with its Philly 311 platform.

On Wednesday, Feb. 18, at the city's first Innovation Summit, Mayor Michael Nutter announced the successful completion of a pilot to update the city’s 311 system -- an app and citizen service system that lets citizens submit millions of non-emergency requests each year.

In December 2014, the city partnered with customer relationship management platform SalesForce and IT firm Unisys to launch a community portal tied directly to all of the city’s service departments. The additions, now deployed citywide, not only let residents call in help for problems like potholes, graffiti and missed trash pickups, but also connects them directly with local organizations, community members and city officials -- no matter their device.

Among its features, users can see nearby requests, get response times, find property histories, see after-school activities, discover Wi-Fi locations, check city announcements and news, and make emergency 911 calls if needed.

“With the new Philly 311 customer service platform, our goal is not only to create a more connected, citizen-responsive city, but also to inspire other cities to follow our model and engage their citizens,” Mayor Nutter said in a release. “I made it a priority to enhance transparent and efficient government, increase integrity, build better open data practices and improve government accountability.”

The city sees the new system as a way to reach out to residents for on-the-ground feedback for neighborhood issues. Rosetta Lue, Philadelphia’s chief customer service officer, was tasked with Philly 311 development, and has led much of the effort since the program launched as a call center in 2008. The changes, she said, have been instrumental.

“It’s something new in government for us. We’ve never done this before; we’ve always had the reactive, ‘Send us your request and we’ll get back in contact with you,’ type of transaction,” Lue said. “Now we’re actually talking to people and having conversations online in one big portal where people are generating ideas and coming together.”

Notifications come in daily and there are even “community liaisons” that regularly inspect neighborhoods. One retired couple, Lue said, has logged more than 1,000 valid submissions through the platform in the last two years. Similarly, the platform connects to an amplified set of demographics with its 17 different languages. Further benefits include using new data to improve response times and service delivery.

“We need to be taking advantage of this technology that’s out there to make us more efficient, effective and more responsive on a larger scale,” Lue said.

That scale applies to other cities as well. Nutter said the city intends to be a template for civic innovation nationwide. To that end, it has released a blueprint that chronicles digital efforts and outlines a step-by-step process cities can leverage to connect with citizens on multiple channels.

Vivek Kundra, Salesforce’s executive vice president and former White House CIO, said the vision is uniquely crafted so it can apply to all jurisdictions regardless of population size or geography.

“We’ve been working very closely with Mayor Nutter to realize his vision," Kundra said. "And his vision is very much about using the power of technology to make sure that he was really focused on core issues, whether it was public safety, education or health-care reforms."

Philadelphia plans to collaborate with Salesforce on more of its major IT projects -- such as new apps and efforts in predictive analytics -- that will be announced later this year. The city’s total capital investment projects to improve technology infrastructure, of which Philly 311 is a part, are budgeted to cost roughly $120 million.

Editor's note: copies of the blueprint can be downloaded here.

Jason Shueh former staff writer

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.