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311’s Culture Shift in City Communications Now Aided by AI

Artificial intelligence isn’t everywhere yet, but several local governments around the country have either discovered how it can further enable modern 311 or are considering how it could.

A person uses a smartphone with both hands. Light background.
The cultural shift in municipal communication enabled by modern 311 systems is now being further facilitated by the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI).

Three cities have recently implemented or updated 311 platforms guided by AI — and the mayor of a fourth municipality with a recent deployment was quick to point out that the technology is, like so many others, often just a means to an end.

In Denver, the consolidated city-county’s Technology Services department worked with Citibot for about a year to fine-tune the software needed to create a 311 tool named Sunny. The generative AI-powered chatbot can respond in 72 languages and is available 24/7 via the city’s website and through text messaging from any device.

Sunny’s responses and customer service capabilities are fed by the government’s website,, and a comprehensive 311 knowledge base, according to Suma Nallapati, Denver’s chief information officer. Since Sunny’s launch in February, the city has been able to optimize ticket routing, resolve previously unanswerable questions, and subsequently enhance Sunny’s ability to respond with more situational knowledge using AI.

Now, the city has plans to integrate AI into other smart city initiatives.

“One integration we feel will be really helpful for citizens is adding Sunny into our smart [Interactive Voice Response] IVR solution,” Nallapati said. Smart IVR is an advanced telephone system technology that interacts with callers, gathers information, and routes calls to the appropriate recipient.

“Unlike traditional phone systems that use simple menu-based navigation, this IVR system will incorporate artificial intelligence and natural language processing to understand and respond to caller inquiries more effectively,” Nallapati said.

The city of San Jose, Calif., created its initial 311 app in 2017 but has worked consistently since to expand its capabilities and help prevent delays in service requests. Most recently, the city announced an app update to revamp how its software receives and disseminates service requests, according to San Jose Chief Information Officer Khaled Tawfik. He looks to use AI proactively — aiming to prevent smaller issues from becoming larger problems.

“We’re trying to be more proactive and more predictive using AI, in a sense that we know that potholes, for example, don’t develop overnight,” Tawfik said. “For the pothole to become a pothole, there are a lot of phases that the street will go through before it becomes a nuisance. So, if we can find a way to detect all these conditions before they become a large concern, then maybe we can address it before the greater public even recognizes there is an issue.”

Ainsley Allison, the communications manager for Pelham, Ala., said her city developed and launched its Pelham 311 app earlier this year using a holistic approach working alongside vendor Tyler Technologies. Residents can report issues through the app while also accessing city news, contact information for elected leaders, and details about local parks and amenities.

Pelham plans to integrate AI into its new app to analyze historical data and proactively address city issues, and Allison sees significant potential in incorporating new technologies such as AI and generative AI.

“There’s some pretty powerful stuff out there related to AI that can be useful if used correctly,” she said. Since its official debut in January, the app has seen growing engagement, with more than 2,635 downloads in the first six months.

In San Leandro, Calif., the launch of its new My-SanLeandro mobile 311 app was rooted in city leaders’ desire to improve communication with residents and visitors.

Through the app, users can pinpoint the exact location of a public service issue using GPS; upload videos and photos so it can be more accurately diagnosed; and get multilingual support.

San Leandro Mayor Juan González said implementing new technologies like AI is crucial — but it’s equally important for cities to ensure users are acclimated and comfortable with these systems.

“You can put in technology, but if the people don’t adapt to that technology, the technology is not going to be effective,” he said. “We can’t drive a cultural change if residents don’t download our app or embrace the use of it, so that’s where the hard work is.”

Denver’s Nallapati made similar points regarding the accessibility, privacy and security of AI’s integration with 311.

“It’s key to have a responsible approach in the way you use AI, so that it is used ethically and won’t deceive the public or result in a negative outcome,” she said. “You need to be aware of the data being used and stored by the tool to ensure privacy and data standards are followed.”

However, she said, when effectively implemented, 311 tools with AI can be more efficient and deliver greater impact to end users.
Ashley Silver is a staff writer for Government Technology. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Montevallo and a graduate degree in public relations from Kent State University. Silver is also a published author with a wide range of experience in editing, communications and public relations.