The City overhauled its 311 system to automatically fix spelling and other errors, anonymize requests, redact objectionable material and link related tickets.
Launched Dashburgh, a data dashboard detailing city services that includes the latest 311 data, including pothole repair requests, broken down by neighborhood.
Pittsburgh is now using 311 data as a criterion for measuring procurement outcomes.
In Pittsburgh, locals quip that if it’s not snow season, it’s pothole season. To prioritize its street repair To Do list, the City’s Department of Public Works (DPW) relies in part on residents flagging problems via the 311 Response Center. 311 operators field tens of thousands of nonemergency requests each year via phone, mobile app, and social media channels. Pothole repairs are among the most common.
“In some ways, 311 is the city’s first line of defense,” says Trever Stoll, Civic Innovation Specialist in Pittsburgh’s Department of Innovation and Performance (I&P).
The 311 system worked well for more than 15 years, but service request data the 311 team shared with relevant city departments wasn’t perfect. A resident might misspell an address or include a phone number in a format the software couldn’t parse. A person’s complaint about a neighbor’s illegally parked vehicle might include personal information about the alleged offender. Multiple residents might submit requests about the same brutal pothole, creating separate repair tickets in the system that then all needed to be reviewed, addressed and closed.
The legacy system’s data quality issues were all consistently adding up to more work for staff. And they often posed obstacles to the responsive delivery of services from the DPW and other departments. In a deeper sense, unreliable data makes it harder for the City to understand residents’ needs and make equitable resource allocation decisions, says Heidi Norman, director of the I&P department.
When it comes to data-driven governance, knowing which pothole to fix first is the micro level. Those decisions matter to residents, translating into tangible outcomes and improved quality of life.
But Pittsburgh’s leaders see big potential to prevent bumps at the macro decision-making level as well. The I&P department views building a solid data foundation — in part through the 311 data upgrade — as a crucial part of helping the City’s various operations departments understand if they’re effectively and equitably delivering services, Belasco says. The I&P department sees a range of data-driven governance upgrade possibilities that could set the stage for insights into costing, resource allocation and performance.
An example of how better data supports performance management can be seen in the realm of procurement. Pittsburgh is now using 311 data as a criterion for measuring procurement outcomes. The City has put out an RFP seeking contractors to maintain vacant city properties. One performance expectation is defined via the number of 311 complaints received about the properties. (What Works Cities’ expert partners, including the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University, the Behavioral Insights Team, and the Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School, have supported Pittsburgh’s capacity-building around procurement and data governance and evaluation.)
The road ahead may not be perfectly smooth, but Pittsburgh is clearly moving forward.