In the 80s and 90s, the 911 system in the US became overloaded with people calling to report things like wayward couches and double-parked cars—not emergencies, yet situations where city officials could help. In 1996, Baltimore successfully tested a system that diverted these requests to a separate number. In 1997, the FCC reserved “311” as a dedicated non-emergency number for US residents nationwide.
At first the plan worked: City agencies began fielding requests independently, and 911 was no longer flooded with noise complaints and graffiti reports. Many large US cities launched their own 311 call centers, and some even turned these requests into an opportunity to collect information that helped to launch preventative efforts.
But this became the big problem with many 311 services: The programs exist, but historically, cities have been disproportionately responsive to these requests, largely because the technology has not kept up with the volume.
A recent audit of LA’s 311 service center showed that about a million calls were placed to the 311 hotline during the 2013-2014 fiscal year, but only about 670,000 actual requests were made. Callers waited an average of 3 minutes and 45 seconds to speak to someone—a full third of the calls were abandoned before anyone answered. Even an answered call did not guarantee a response: four out of ten answered calls were simply transferred to different departments.
Worst of all, the service didn’t track requests. No historical data existed to show which neighborhoods were seeing the same requests over and over—or if anyone was doing anything about it.
This lack of public accountability for 311 programs is what inspired Ben Berkowitz to launch SeeClickFix, a service request app that can be customized or used as-is by any city.
SeeClickFix turns a walk around the block into a mobile scavenger hunt. You can photograph and geotag a service request on the spot, choosing from dozens of customized categories ranging from the mundane (“dead tree in street”) to the horrific (“dead animal pickup”).
READ MORE: http://gizmodo.com/the-app-youve-neve ... -your-city-bet-1771032333