Upgrading Customer Service in Atlanta’s Municipal Courts

Since late February, Code for America fellows have been hard at work to move Atlanta forward, focusing on infrastructure, open data and municipal court inefficiencies.

by JON KEEN, Data-Smart City Solutions / July 16, 2014

This story was originally published by Data-Smart City Solutions

In January, Code for America Fellows – Andrea Hansen, Sam Hashemi, and Tiffani Bell – showed up to Atlanta’s City Hall.  Mayor Kasim Reed, his staff, and Atlanta’s civic innovation community welcomed their arrival as an opportunity to continue moving the city forward.  In the words of Mayor Reed:
 
“Code for America offers our city an unparalleled opportunity to encourage collective problem-solving through civic collaboration, while creating a more open and transparent government.”
 
After about four weeks on the ground, the fellows presented their ideas to their City Hall advisory committee, focusing on infrastructure, transparency and open data, and municipal court inefficiencies.  Since late February the fellows have been hard at work in these three areas. 
 
In early May, Atlanta hosted its second annual Big Data Week.  This series of events included a combination of private, nonprofit, and public sector leaders discussing the application of data in their fields.  The fellows, along with Mayor Reed, used this opportunity to launch their first project, ATLCourt.  ATLCourt is a new website that allows residents to look up their court case, get text message reminders, and find answers to frequently asked questions.  The focus is on improving customer service and operations within the municipal court system. 
 
One of the most innovative features is the text messaging system, which allows users to text their citation number and receive details about their case.  It is one of the first texting systems for a court system within the US.  In addition, the system will send users reminders about their upcoming court dates, reducing missed court appearances and improving court efficiency and operations.
 
The “Find My Case” feature of ATLCourt is a new, experimental feature.  Therefore, the Code For America Fellows are collecting feedback from users to improve functionality and reliability.  Residents and the civic innovation community are invited to submit ideas to make it better and the content for the site has been made available on GitHub under the Creative Commons License.  
 
This project is a great example of the potential for small but impactful civic innovation within Atlanta.
 
The team of fellows has built an experimental feature that will only improve with feedback from residents and effort from the local civic innovation community.  It is a model for civic engagement and experimentation in the public sector.  Too often, public servants are unwilling or unable to engage with this type of talent and experiment with public services.  The City of Atlanta is making progress. 
 
Atlanta, like many other cities, has lots of local talent that is eager to engage with their city in ways similar to this project.  The next challenge the city faces is determining and creating the structures necessary to make civic innovation a continuous and embedded process that all public sector agencies can take advantage of. 
 
Congratulations to our 2014 Atlanta Code For America Fellows for helping lead the way.  Their first project, ATLCourt, provides a great model upon which Atlanta residents and the City of Atlanta can build.  We look forward to what else they have in store for the remainder of their fellowship program.
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