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Secrets Behind Successful 311 Apps: Unlocking User Satisfaction

How do some agencies create apps residents like to use? The minds behind some of the highest-rated 311 apps share best practices and recommendations to improve performance and citizen experience.

A person holding out a smartphone in front of them. Hovering above it's screen are three checkboxes with emoticon faces above them. One is smiling, the next one is making a neutral face, and the third is frowning. The box below the smiling face is checked. Black background.
The review sections for government 311 apps can be a dark place. Fueled by strong opinions about the best use of taxpayer dollars, some residents don’t hold back when a 311 app doesn’t work the way they expect.

Common criticisms are that apps crash when a user attempts to upload a photo, or that GPS location services don’t function properly. Users also frequently sound off about clunky interfaces or requests that are closed without any resolution or explanation.

Warranted or not, negative reviews can impact whether people will take the time to download an app. According to a survey conducted by software company Alchemer, 75 percent of people identified mobile ratings as a key driver for downloading an app. Meanwhile, nearly half of respondents said the minimum average star rating they’d consider acceptable when evaluating an app to download is four stars.
Government Technology analyzed the user ratings of 75 different 311 apps created by small, medium and large city and county governments to pinpoint the ones residents like the most.

The average Google Play rating of the 75 apps is 3.3 stars, and 3.1 stars in Apple’s app store. While Android apps developed for agencies with populations over 250,000 had slightly higher reviews than apps from agencies with smaller populations, the opposite was true for iPhone apps.

To learn how agencies of any size can improve public perception of their 311 apps, Government Technology picked the brains of agencies with the highest reviews.


Since NYC311 launched an app in 2009, the city has received more than 16 million in-app contacts. The number has rapidly climbed over the years as fewer residents make reports over the phone.
Not only does the NYC311 app have more reviews than any other, its ratings on both Google’s and Apple’s platforms are higher than average.

According to Deputy Commissioner Joe Morrisroe, the city put a lot of consideration into the specific requests people might have while they’re away from home and want to quickly make a report.

“To keep the app simple, our strategy has been to add the most important ‘on-the-go’ service requests to the app, and make it easy for customers to discover our full catalog of service request types online,” he said in an email.

Morrisroe added their most popular features are simple, like displaying updated alternate side parking information right on the home screen.

“It saves them a call to 311, and lets them know when they need to move their car,” he said.


The city of Detroit’s Improve Detroit is one of the most positively reviewed apps in the country, with high ratings on both Google Play and the Apple store.

Detroit CIO Art Thompson said one secret to the city’s success is that the app was designed to only receive requests that are actionable.

“Making sure that we’re able to show that we’re closing the tickets as opposed to them going to a black hole has been very critical,” said Thompson. “Managing customer expectations is huge for us, because we don’t want to receive complaints on things that are going to take 30 or 60 days to fix, because that’s when people start to lose faith in the product.”


In Detroit, the goal is to never let the app grow stale for citizens. The city reinvents it on a regular basis, yet remains strategic about marketing campaigns.

“If we have a new service, it just gets kind of blended in at first. But as we get two or three different services that are added on, we try to make sure that doesn’t get lost in translation,” said Thompson. “We do a campaign every couple of years and really highlight the additional improvements we’ve made, that way people really view the growth and development.”

New features are usually inspired by the current needs of the community. For example, when Detroit experienced flooding in 2021, an ability to file water damage claims was added to the Improve Detroit app.

Thompson added that the city partners with vendor SeeClickFix, making it easier to continue to evolve the app’s capabilities and tools over the years.

“The support lasts longer term, because you have more and more departments that can buy into it and grow it over time, as opposed to doing something custom internally that doesn’t scale well enough for cities as they grow,” he said. “We’re always looking to see how we can improve and streamline so that people are getting responses and things are getting fixed as fast as we can so that people see they’re being heard.”
Nikki Davidson is a data reporter for Government Technology. She’s covered government and technology news as a video, newspaper, magazine and digital journalist for media outlets across the country. She’s based in Monterey, Calif.