An Editorial by Breanna Lungo-Koehn, City Councilor and Candidate for Mayor
Ask five residents how to report a problem to local government and you’re likely to get five answers. The tool being used by City Hall is See-Click-Fix, an online reporting tool for residents to report a host of issues, from potholes to lost pets. We have found that his well-intended response lacks a variety of things necessary to meet Medford’s needs. The tool is unknown, its approach is inconsistently adopted within our government, and the core benefits of the tool, accountability and transparency, have not been embraced.
Launched in 2016, most residents are still unaware of the online tool See-Click-Fix. In looking at the online app in June, for example, it showed 124 issues opened, 37 closed and 32 “acknowledged.” Is that a lot? Not compared to how often I hear from constituents requesting help. We should research how many times the phone application has been downloaded by Medford residents. We should know how many issues are reported monthly and quarterly. Without this knowledge, it’s impossible to understand whether it’s been embraced or used.
Whether it’s See-Click-Fix or the phone-based reporting tool 311, we need an all-out marketing effort to encourage residents to download the app and use the service. Medford’s Mayor and City Councilors should be encouraged to change their ways and lead by example and regularly report the issues online, rather than simply call department heads to resolve constituent issues. If elected, I propose evaluating, researching and implementing the right approach to report City Services, which will also include encouraging residents to use the reporting tool after a full-out marketing plan is put in place.
Second, the online approach to services is not consistently used by City government or by residents, even when they know about it. With only 32 cases acknowledged of the 124 reported over the last 30 days in June, it seems we have lots of room to grow in using the system. Beyond that, City government hasn’t moved to embrace management information systems or web-based solutions. Looking to file for a building permit? Not allowed online. Looking to report a streetlight out? Follow a link to a private contractor’s website. Trying to understand when your street will be swept? There is an incomplete list of “main” streets online, but inconsistent sweeping compared to the schedule for these streets and no information on other streets.
If an online app is the way to report problems, online tools need to be consistently embraced, updated and utilized. A full 100% of issues should be acknowledged, even if a solution isn’t possible. Without a 21st-century government approach, 21st-century tools like See-Click-Fix can’t be used properly to channel work orders to departments effectively and also reduce duplicative administrative functions or inefficient paperwork.
Regardless of how effective a tool is at receiving resident reports, the benefits of See-Click-Fix or 311 will not be realized without transparency or accountability. The data from the See-Click-Fix system or 311 provide government departments with the information they need to see trends. Is the City seeing more noise complaints in a certain neighborhood and a greater police presence where code enforcement response is warranted? Are potholes worse the year after hiring a new City paving contractor? The data directs problem-solvers to address issues early, before impacts on taxpayers are too great.
It also facilitates performance metrics to create expectations across government. What is the target for potholes filled between April 1 and May 1 each year? How long should we expect the City to fill potholes after they are reported? With a reporting tool, we can create expectations and strive for measurable goals to hold ourselves accountable to reach. It also allows City government to provide taxpayers with assurances that the people’s work is being done through data reporting.
Medford public employees work hard. In a particularly hard-working season, lets share how many potholes were filled and whether we met our target response rate for filling them. Using the data is the way City’s get smarter and more efficient. 311, which is a phone based reporting system, can be what drives that change for Medford.
Even still, online reporting will leave too many residents on the outside. A consistent phone-based reporting tool like 311 will be far more accessible to the majority of residents. The 311 system provides a single “go-to” place to report problems. It requires little navigation of the City’s bureaucracy and provides a 24-7 tool to report issues. I want to have this debate, now. Paved roads, working street lights, prompt two-lane snow removal, animal control, parks without trash or overgrown grass. These are the services a City is asked to provide. Can we do better? I sure think so, but if you disagree, lets talk about it.