Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union

The Web Site, 311, Surveys and Focus Groups

Taking the Public Pulse
--Gail Robinson
Beyond 311: Listening to New Yorkers
--Diana Fortuna
What Residents Can Tell Government
--Douglas Muzzio
Parents Grading Schools
--James Liebman
The Way in San Jose
--Brooke Myhre

How do you give New Yorkers a voice? How do you bring them into the system? How do you find out what they want? And then once you collect that data, how do you turn it around and how do you produce results?

nyc.gov is sort of the front line. Right now, every city agency and dozens of independent offices are included on the nyc.gov web site. They have their own links. Four hundred and ten forms are available. Fifty-five thousand online forms are submitted for use. People are obviously using the system. There are over 250,000,000 hits or page views. It's been ranked number one in usability for city government services and number two in digital governance.

You can contact agency heads. You can contact the mayor. There are 16 comments and feedback forms. Over 730,000 forms are submitted to nyc.gov annually. That's a significant amount of interaction between the citizens and government. And at the bottom, it provides easy access to the performance data in many different formats.

311 is a great base. It's taking 46,000 calls a weekday. To date, over 35 million calls have been made to 311. You can request information. You can ask easy questions. You can make a recommendation. You can also say, "I just passed a pothole" and that information goes directly into the system.

The average call waiting time is 15 seconds. Eighty eight percent of the calls are picked up within 30 seconds.

Now that begs the next question: Are we just seeing how quickly the call is picked up, or are we looking at the quality of it. Is there follow-up? Are you getting the right answer?

In terms of citizen surveys, we don't have a citywide strategy, but different agencies are doing different things. Our Department of Buildings has focus groups in each field office. The Department of Finance has a huge amount of customer survey data as does the Department of Parks. The Human Resources Administration has ongoing surveys in their walk-in centers: "Do you feel you got what you needed while you're here?" The Department of Aging has a senior advisory council.

Once you collect the data, once you go after what the citizens want, how do you turn that into producing results.

You can do it by holding agency and managers accountable for collecting this data. If they collect it, at least they have the information. That's the obvious first step.

Then you need to present it to the public. And you need to always refocus and always try to get a new sense of what people want.

Jeffrey Kay is director of the New York City Mayor's Office of Operations 










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