“Tree limb snapped, hanging on phone wires,” “Pedestrian street signs are down,” and “Pothole on Smith St” are common concerns reported each day to local governments across the United States. But instead of a requiring a phone call, a letter, or an in-person trip, these reports were made directly to the correct City of Boston office through a smartphone app called Citizens Connect.
Created in 2009 through a partnership between the City of Boston and a local developer, the app allows residents to take pictures of issues encountered and immediately report them to their local governments for quicker resolution. Throughout the process, residents track the status of their request. Since the program launched three years ago, nearly 20% of all resident requests are submitted through Citizens Connect.
In 2012, the Community Innovation Challenge (CIC) grant program awarded $400, 000 to the City of Boston to expand the app to up to 35 other communities across Massachusetts. The city and the Commonwealth partnered to run a competitive process, held four information sessions across Massachusetts, and received applications from 58 municipalities. The 19 towns and 16 cities selected, including 10 Gateway Cities, are composed of 1.2 million residents, or 18% of Massachusetts’ population. This grant will establish the Citizens Connect app in communities ranging in size from Brookfield (population 3,390) to New Bedford (95,072).
This expansion exemplifies the Government Innovation Officer’s mission to identify and implement innovative solutions, which can reduce costs and improve access to government services; to leverage the power of social networks, which can allow every resident to play an active role in their communities; and, to catch up with our increasingly mobile society, which allows the Commonwealth and its municipalities to achieve efficiencies through strategic use of technology.
Each Commonwealth Citizens Connect community will receive support from the respective city and from a selected vendor as they work to develop the app and the work-order system. Each app will be customized to the municipality’s “branding” and will include up to 10 community-specified categories, like “potholes.”
Participating communities include: Ayer, Barnstable, Braintree, Brookfield, Chicopee, Clarksburg, Easton, Everett, Fall River, Fitchburg, Framingham, Halifax, Haverhill, Holliston, Lexington, Malden, Medway, Melrose, Middleborough, Nantucket, Needham, New Bedford, Newton, North Adams, North Andover, Northampton, Orange, Revere, Somerville, Taunton, Wakefield, West Boylston, Westborough, Whitman, Watertown and Woburn.
Citizens are our cities’ “eyes and ears.” Soon, the residents of these communities can alert local officials about a range of quality-of-life issues — and witness their concerns quickly turning into action and resolution.