Following the positive feedback Boston received for its Citizens Connect mobile app, which serves as a 311 app, the city and state announced that it will expand the app to create a linked system that will be used by dozens of cities and towns throughout Massachusetts.
Each of the state's 36 municipalities selected for the project, called Commonwealth Connect, will receive a mobile app and a Web-based work order management system branded for its community. Each municipality will also receive three years of operational funding, which is covered by the $400,000 grant offered to Boston by the Community Innovation Challenge (CIC) Grant Program. The project is scheduled to for completion by the end of March 2013.
Though each participating community will get its own app, the system will be linked so users can report problems for whichever city they are physically in. If, for instance, a resident of Fitchburg is visiting Boston, he can use the Fitchburg Commonwealth Connect app to report a problem in Boston and the request will make its way to Boston's work order management system.
In Boston, the Citizens Connect app was used to resolve more than 35,000 issues since launch in 2009, addressing reports of things like grafitti, potholes, abandoned vehicles or nonworking infrastructure. Because the app was such a success in Boston, the CIC grant was a great opportunity to expand the app's reach across the state, said Boston CIO Bill Oates.
More than 60 communities applied for an opportunity to participate in the project, he said, but only 36 governments were initially accepted. However, more governments may get another opportunity in 2013 during the next round of CIC funding, he said.
“We're excited about it,” Oates said. “You know, ultimately this kind of system and these platforms can extend beyond the 36 that we're talking to today, and it could extend beyond Massachusetts."
Oates said he's had some preliminary conversations with some of his peers in other cities on the subject. "We think this is the kind of thing that can not only create some great apps that constituents can use and that cities and towns can use, but also start creating better data about how all this stuff works.” And better data, Oates said, will lead to “performance management for improved service delivery.”
To select the governments that would be involved in Commonwealth Connect, Oates said the city selected communities that showed commitment to technology and a readiness to promote the program within their communities. There's a new culture of support surrounding this type of technology in Massachusetts. The state's IT department created a new municipal liaison role charged with connecting IT across cities and towns, Oates said, and it shows a high-level commitment to these types of projects. “The goal here is to create a community practice around these constituent service applications,” he said.."
The Massachusetts communities selected include: Ayer, Barnstable, Braintree, Brookfield, Chicopee, Clarksburg, Easton, Everett, Fall River, Fitchburg, Framingham, Halifax, Haverhill, Holliston, Lexington, Malden, Medway, Melrose, Middleborough, Nantucket, New Bedford, Newton, North Adams, Northampton, Orange, Revere, Somerville, Taunton, Wakefield, Watertown, West Boylston, Westborough, Whitman and Woburn.
Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.