Data documenting over 65,000 non-emergency requests for government services from 76 Massachusetts cities and towns between 2013 and 2015 is now available from the Boston Data Library and the Boston Research Map. In addition, the data is featured on the February 2016 page of the annual “data calendar” produced by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), greater Boston’s regional planning agency.
The data – which cover issues that range from “Abandoned Property” to “Yard Waste” – come from Commonwealth Connect, a state-wide program overseen by the MAPC that is modeled on the city of Boston’s highly successful Citizens Connect app (now known as BOS: 311). SeeClickFix, which hosts the service, provided the Commonwealth Connect data as well as data on about 10,000 additional requests for services made via SeeClickFix in almost 200 additional Massachusetts cities and towns.
In addition to information on types of calls, the data also include measures showing the distribution of different types of reporters, or “custodians,” across the communities using Commonwealth Connect. These metrics were developed by BARI Research Director Dan O’Brien and Matthew Blackburn, a masters’ student at Northeastern University. As note by MAPC in its calendar, they show that “not all municipalities have [had] the same success with the tool.” MAPC added, “It turns out the best predictor of widespread adoption isn’t income, housing tenure or other demographic characteristics, but whether municipal staff use the tool internally. Using the tool to communicate across departments and to track response times seems to create a virtual feedback loop that encourages resident utilization.”
These findings, MAPC noted, show that “Commonwealth Connect is an important example of how technology can radically transform and improve the relationship between residents and government. But it also reminds us that taking full advantage of these opportunities requires institutional changes, which may be more difficult than programming a new app.”