Episode 34: Automating City Services Requests to Empower Richmond Residents

Peter Breil hsTina Haney hs
Peter Breil and Tina Haney06/09/2021

In this episode of #shifthappens, we sat down with Pete Breil and Tina Haney to discuss their project called RVA311, an online portal and mobile app allowing residents to reach city government 24/7 with a tap or a click. RVA311 was developed with AvePoint Citizen Services, and enables citizens to report concerns across the city, such as a tree that needs maintenance or a pothole that needs fixing. Since the city officials took over in 2019, they have been working to make ongoing improvements to the system in partnership with AvePoint.

Breil highlighted the city's commitment to being responsive to citizens' needs and their interactions with the government on a daily basis. The city's investment in this project is a demonstration of their commitment to providing prompt and transparent responses to citizens' requests. In the past, citizens had to look up the number of the relevant department in the phone book, which was a headache. The era of elevated expectations for customer service also extends to the government, and the RVA311 project aims to meet those needs by making it easy for citizens to submit requests and for departments to respond to them in a structured way.

Breil and Haney discussed the need for technology in government to make public services more accessible and efficient. They highlight the importance of transparency and democratizing access to government services, which can be achieved through phone apps, portals, and other digital platforms. They also stressed the importance of creating inclusive solutions, acknowledging that not everyone has access to or is familiar with digital technology. Therefore, citizens can still use traditional means like the telephone to access government services.

During the pandemic, the system proved helpful as it provided an alternative channel for reporting issues and requesting services when in-person interactions were limited due to restrictions. The cloud-based nature of the system allowed for a smooth transition to remote work for the call center. The system also eased the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) through a partnership with non-profit organizations. It was also vital to have proactive communication in setting and adjusting expectations as situations change, such as during the pandemic – this highlighted the ongoing effort needed to support the effectiveness of the system, and the value of incorporating new features to improve functionality.

The discussion then moves to the new iteration of RVA311, which aims to increase the percentage of self-service requests, improve responsiveness and shift volumes of requests to meet changing needs. The solution also offers the ability to develop pieces that can help shift the status of certain things, such as transitioning a pothole repair request to a capital improvement project request.

One of the exciting features of this solution is its graphical upgrade, which positions requests on a map, making it easier to reduce duplicate requests and administrative overhead. Finally, Breil and Haney discuss how the technology is familiar to users through concepts such as upvoting, tagging, reporting, and tracking, which are all familiar in other apps. They acknowledge that some generations are more comfortable with technology than others and that it's important to service through multiple channels.

Looking ahead, they see further improvement by infusing Artificial Intelligence and other technologies into the platform to predict the future and prevent issues before they arise. Breil and Haney are also excited about the possibility of sharing their experiences and learning from neighboring counties to improve the overall effectiveness of the system.

Based on their experiences, Breil and Haney share lessons from which other municipalities can learn as they embark on similar journeys:

  • Listen to the needs and desires of citizens and internal constituents. This was achieved through focus group work and analysis of requests to ensure they are providing the necessary information to the department.
  • View the implementation as an investment and a process that requires time and effort. They suggest that stakeholders must be prepared mentally for the journey and that it is an iterative process that evolves over time.

At the end of the day, it’s about greater efficiency and access to government services. Listen to stakeholders, analyze data, and iterate on the system to ensure it meets the needs of citizens and internal departments.

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