Driving citizen engagement with mobile technology
By Bruce Mesnard, VP of Business Development, MaintStar on February 10, 2016
Filed under Microsoft CityNext
If you’ve ever been on a walk and spotted a gaping pothole in your street or some graffiti on a building, chances are it made you angry. At the very least, you probably hoped the city had plans to fix the problem. Or you may have taken action yourself and either called or emailed the city to report the issue. However, city officials might not have responded with the urgency you wanted, whether it was because your call or email wasn’t answered or they were using an outdated spreadsheet-based system to process a work order.
That scenario is exactly what MaintStar is trying to eliminate. We create technology solutions that are meant to drive operational efficiency for small towns and large cities, so they’re more responsive to their citizens. And most importantly: we want to improve citizen engagement through mobile apps that make it fast and simple to report problems.
The need for better engagement
Citizen engagement is a big issue for most cities today, and it’s a two-way street: citizens want to feel more engaged with their community, and need to feel their city leaders are listening to them, while municipalities and cities are seeking to connect more closely with residents and become better at responding to their needs.
One of the reasons we’re a Microsoft CityNext partner is that we know that Microsoft is committed to improving citizen engagement worldwide. We were especially excited when we learned Microsoft was starting to focus on serving municipalities with populations under 100,000 – exactly the kinds of cities we were looking to get into. That’s why it was a natural fit for us to partner with Microsoft on Mobile Citizen, our mobile app that citizens can use to better connect with their city leaders.
Empowering citizens to take action
Mobile Citizen, which can be downloaded to any Android or Apple smartphone, empowers citizens to take action and quickly notify the proper public works departments of non-emergency infrastructure incidents or problems. For example, citizens that notice streetlight outages or flooded intersections can open the app, take a picture of the light or street, and submit the image through the app. Once the item is submitted, the app automatically processes the photo and GPS location of the incident and sends it to the MaintStar Service Request System, which is based on Microsoft SQL Server database software and hosted on Windows Server.
Within seconds, a city employee receives the report and a work order is created. An automatic reply is sent to the citizen who submitted the report, and subsequent emails are sent when the work order is created and the incident is resolved by the city. It’s a seamless process, designed to shorten the time it takes for cities to address infrastructure issues.
Although we’re still in the process of rolling out the app into new places, we’re already seeing great success in cities like Pleasanton, California, Alameda County, California, the Merrimack Valley area of Massachusetts and Seminole County, Florida.
Connecting citizens and cities
With Mobile Citizen, we’re trying to connect citizens with their cities in a way that wasn’t possible before. With this app, citizens are more engaged with city officials and feel like they’re directly contributing to making their city a better place to live.
By the same token, cities are able to be more responsive and provide a better level of service to their citizens. It shows residents that cities are listening to their concerns and working to more quickly solve problems. And cities can also immediately learn about infrastructure issues they might not have discovered for another day or two.
Driving new efficiencies
Mobile Citizen is also helping cities drive new operational efficiencies. Instead of relying on aging systems that required manual intervention, city departments can take advantage of the integrated workflow in our service management system. Every new incident report that comes in can be automatically processed and tracked, without any city employee needing to do a thing.
Cities can also use the data they collect through the app to be proactive about infrastructure. For instance, they can track how many potholes were reported during a fiscal year, so they can better concentrate their resources on looking for and fixing roadways going forward.