How can cities turn complaints into conversations?

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The following article is an excellent interview with Cote Saint-Luc resident Andee Shuster that recently appeared on a blog ( Kudos to Andee for emphasizing positive, forward thinking and by turning a complaint into a dialogue for change. This was the thinking behind our city’s purpose in implementing the SeeClickFix app. Please read and comment:

How can cities turn complaints into conversations

By: Caroline Smith

If we’re binge watching Parks and Recreation or Gilmore Girls, it seems like the common cultural understanding of the “concerned citizen” is someone who is complaining.

Or, as Leslie Knope says:

“What I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me.”

Andee Shuster, citizen of Cote Saint-Luc and active user of SeeClickFix, looks at things a little differently:

“Look, people don’t enjoy complaining. And, the people that have to be on the receiving end also don’t enjoy it either.”

Shuster is a long-time community activist within Cote Saint-Luc, Quebec who uses SeeClickFix to report non-emergency issues to City Hall with her phone or computer. “There’s literally nothing fun about complaining,” said Shuster, “But [SeeClickFix] really turns that around, making reporting an issue not feel like a complaint because of the communication and interaction with my government.”

She first used SeeClickFix this past summer when she went with her friend to take their kids to the local splash pad. When they got to the splash pad, the ground was slippery and moss was growing right where their kids were running.

Shuster thought: “The city should really fix this because it’s way too slippery for our kids to be playing on — we could improve this!” Her friend asked if she had heard about SeeClickFix. He showed her how he could take a quick picture of the issue and tag it, and how the app knew exactly where they were in the city before they pressed “Send!” together.

“The next time we went to the splash pad, it was much, much better!”

The Splash Pad issue Shuster’s friend reported on SeeClickFix.

For Shuster, reporting the splash pad issue on SeeClickFix felt really good — and not just because it got fixed:

“It really didn’t feel like complaining to the city councilor or to the maintenance department. It was sort of a ‘Hey we’re here, this is what is going on, and I thought you should know’.”

Shuster felt like this kind of experience could have broader implications in her city:

“I think it’s about empowering your citizens. It’s not about an us vs. them or a management vs citizens. Instead it really brings people together around focusing on helping rather than complaining.”

But how does this happen? Shuster explains a bit more:

“It’s inclusive. It’s easy. It’s interactive. It’s fast and with very little effort you’re able to make a difference…I made an impact by saying that we could be doing something better.”

Plus, it’s kid-friendly:

“It’s something that easily be shown to other people, including teaching your kids — you can show them how to make a difference, that there are apps out there that help you to do good deeds.”

Lucky for us, Shuster’s experience is not an isolated one. Civic technology tools like SeeClickFix are being used across the country to create better, more productive and friendly conversations between citizens and their governments.

In particular, SeeClickFix was built to be a platform that is both high-tech andhigh-touch. In other words, it not only provides a space to have some of these conversations online, but enhances the offline conversations that will always (hopefully!) exist.

Help keep CSL beautiful with SeeClickFix

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SeeClickFix is a web tool that allows citizens to report non-emergency neighbourhood issues, which are communicated to Public Works, as a form of community activism. It has an associated free mobile phone application.

The tool centres around a web-based map that displays all user comments. All users may add comments, suggest resolutions, or add video and picture documentation. Anyone can elect to receive email alerts based on “Watch Areas” by geographical area and filtering reports by keyword.

SeeClickFix covers more than 25,000 towns and 8,000 neighborhoods, in the United States, Canada and abroad. The site allows for anonymity of reporting as a way to encourage more people to report issues, hoping for transparency that keeps civic agencies accountable. In Côte Saint-Luc, users can select from categories such as pothole, streetlight, graffiti, sidewalk damage, damaged sign, debris in the road and more.

Councillors Ruth Kovac, Sam Goldbloom and I attended a conference a couple of years ago and were very impressed with the demo of this app and the experience of other municipalities. We recommended its implementation here in CSL.

The app is now fully functional and available from the city’s website. Please let us know what you see that needs attention.

Gardez notre ville propre avec SeeClickFix

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SeeClickFix est un outil Web qui permet aux citoyens de souligner des problèmes non urgents dans leur voisinage, en les communiquant aux Travaux publics.

Il s’agit en fait d’une nouvelle forme d’engagement communautaire. Une application gratuite pour téléphone portable y est associée. Cet outil fonctionne à partir d’une carte accessible sur le Web qui permet d’inscrire les commentaires de l’utilisateur. Tous les utilisateurs peuvent ajouter des commentaires, suggérer des solutions, ou ajouter de la documentation sous forme de vidéo ou de photo. Il est possible de recevoir des alertes par courriel, par « zones de surveillance » et selon des secteurs géographiques déterminés et des critères de recherche par mots-clés.

SeeClickFix couvre plus de 25 000 villes et 8 000 quartiers, aux États-Unis, au Canada et à ailleurs dans le monde. Le site permet de conserver l’anonymat, de manière à encourager les utilisateurs à rapporter des problèmes, en misant sur la transparence qui permet de préserver la responsabilité des organisations municipales.

À Côte Saint-Luc, les utilisateurs peuvent sélectionner une catégorie à partir d’une liste, comme nid-de-poule, lampadaire, graffiti, trottoir endommagé, débris dans la rue, etc.

Les conseillers Ruth Kovac, Sam Goldbloom et moi avons assisté à une conférence il ya quelques années et ont été très impressionnés par la démonstration de cette application et de l’expérience d’autres municipalités. Nous avons recommandé sa mise en œuvre ici en CSL.

L’application est maintenant fonctionnelle et disponible à partir du site Web de la ville. N’hésitez pas à nous informer si vous décelez un problème.