311 Open Data in US Cities


A brief History of 311: Once upon a time in BALTIMORE...

What began as a means of diverting non-emergency calls from the 911 hotline  in the city of Baltimore in 1996, revolutionized city services through the 311 hotline.  Its success paved the way for the 311 number to be made available nationwide on a voluntary basis the following year. By 1999, Chicago launched the first comprehensive system and other major cities soon followed - Los Angeles in 2002 and New York in 2003. In 2008, the first free non-emergency reporting mobile app, SeeClickFix was launched in New Haven, Connecticut.  The app has since expanded making 311 urban service requests available to over 300 cities across the the country and internationally including Houston, Detroit and Oakland (source).

What are the differences in how the data is presented? The story of Good, Better and Awesome!

To manage and publicly share the millions of calls logged daily, cities use cloud-based open data platforms such as Socrata, ArcGIS, DKAN and CKAN.  Each portal offers different advantages while providing a standardized interface to present the data. Based on our survey of the biggest 311 cities, Socrata is the most robust and is used by major cities such as New York City, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Socrata provides the option of creating a standard "data lens dashboard" similar to one showcased by Miami to something more advanced like  the City of Berkeley and San Francisco.  The majority of cities; however, do not have a dashboard leaving it up to the user to create their own "views".  The Socrata interface allows the user to filter, visualize and export the data, which could received either as welcoming or intimidating depending on the user's familiarity with these features.  

ArcGIS, on the other hand, is a more straightforward interface with a simple map and description of the data and more importantly, the ability to export.  Cities using this type of portal are: Washington DC, Sacramento and Minneapolis.  Although lacking in visualization tools and other features, the clean streamlined template is less intimidating for the less tech savvy. Similarly, DKAN and CKAN are open source open data platforms that give cities the flexibility to provide a simple data download feature as exemplified by BostonDenver and Louisville.  But it can also be customized such as dashboard found in BirminghamPittsburgh and Philadelphia

What about SeeClickFix and Other Data Sources?

Additionally, smaller cities such as Ann Arbor, Jersey City and Albuquerque have found great use for SeeClickFix to provide the 311 service to their communities while bigger cities like Oakland offer both a Socrata and a SeeClickFix portal. The SeeClickFix app offers a seamless interface for users to both report and view complaints on the map.  The disadvantage; however, is that the data is not as readily available for download.  US Cities Open Data Census and Data.World are helpful resources that compile open data from various cities across different platforms.

To explore 311 data in different cities, feel free to browse our directory and resources page.

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