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311 Launches in Richmond, Va., Along with a New City Department to Manage It

Officials say in addition to better customer service, the new data RVA 311 yields will lead to better decision-making.

Richmond, Va. has a new 311 platform along with a new city department to help manage the citizen requests and data that the platform produces.

Dubbed RVA 311, the platform has been live since June, and as of this week it is housed in and managed by the city’s newly created Department of Citizen Service and Response, said Krystal Onaitis, customer relationship management program manager for Richmond.

In terms of functionality, RVA 311 is a relatively standard non-emergency citizen service request platform. Residents, visitors and businesses in Richmond can use it to report things like potholes, broken sidewalks or unruly grass, as well as to access 150 sets of frequently asked questions about everything from taxes to parking tickets. Currently seven city departments are providing information and services through the tool, with plans to add more government agencies over time.

Outwardly RVA 311 is simply a centralized location for constituents to interact with the city, similar to 311 platforms that have sprung up in local governments across the nation over the past decade or so. Internally it also stands to make vast improvements to the city’s workflow.

Prior to RVA 311’s creation and launch, Onaitis said there was no centralized channel to report problems or make requests of the city.

“Citizens would call our call center, or their councilperson’s office, or an agency directly, or they’d just send an email to someone they knew at the city,” Onaitis said. “We would get requests from all these different channels.”

And while those channels are still receiving citizen requests, Richmond has undertaken internal training to ensure that the requests are now funneled into RVA 311, where they can be tracked and turned into valuable city data. The city is also working to educate its population on RVA 311, so that usage increases.

For example, if a city worker gets an email from a citizen about a broken sidewalk, they will create a ticket within RVA 311 to have it fixed. They will also likely send the citizen a response letting them know all about the new platform. Other outreach efforts for RVA 311 include a series of YouTube tutorial videos, fliers and steady promotion by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney as he makes his regular visits to the city’s nine districts.

Aside from providing better citizen service, Onaitis said the city is also excited about new data related to what constituents want and why, which officials hope can lead to more efficient government, better allocation of resources and an overall higher quality of life within the city.

RVA 311 is built on top of AvePoint’s Citizen Services software, which is itself built on top of Microsoft Azure, that company’s cloud-based computing service. Richmond is the first city in the United States to go live with an AvePoint platform, said Paul Olenick, AvePoint’s director of product strategy.

Olenick said that the platform is designed to provide data aimed at enabling Richmond to assess feedback and constituent sentiment that will lead to user-centric tweaks with the local government, and, indeed, that was also the aspect Onaitis said the city was most excited about.

The next step is to make RVA 311 even more accessible to constituents via mobile apps slated to launch in the coming weeks.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.