Weather Updates

City aims to make 311 a 2-way street

Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel

storyidforme: 55833479
tmspicid: 4149663
fileheaderid: 679991

Updated: November 3, 2013 6:23AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already implemented a tracking system to make calling 311 to get a pothole filled or a tree trimmed more like using FedEx to send a package.

Now, he wants to take it to the next level — by turning the non-emergency number that fielded 3.4 million calls in 2012 into more of a two-way street.

City Hall has issued a request for proposals for what it calls “constituent relationship management modernization software and implementation” for a 311 system that hasn’t been overhauled since its launch nearly 15 years ago.

Respondents are asked to “identify bi-directional channels to collect and process feedback and develop tactics to build common ground” with residents. They’re also required to use “predictive analytics” to improve service delivery, help managers spot trends and allocate shrinking resources.

“Whether residents prefer using phone text, tweet or web self-service email, they can submit their ideas, questions, requests, suggestions and feedback through any channel and know that the city is listening and will respond,” the city’s RFP states.

“The city wants a 360-degree view of the resident while ensuring that all relevant privacy and security guidelines are followed.”

Last year, 311 fielded more than 1.7 million requests for 502 distinct service types. The Department of Streets and Sanitation topped the list with 647,739 requests. That was followed by Transportation (345,435); Water Management (216,546) and Family and Support Services (204,976).

Three out of four requests were made on the phone. Seven percent were self-service requests made from mobile devices or on the city’s website.

The 311 system has a staff of 74, including 69 call-takers. The city “has no plans to replace the telephonery” but anticipates a steady shift to self-service requests and want to “ensure consistent service delivery across all communication channels,” the document states.

“The city believes that by understanding more about the unique needs of its residents, they will be able to provide an elevated level of service by anticipating resident needs instead of merely reacting to them,” according to the RFP, which anticipates a phased implementation of the revolutionary changes.

In 1998, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley created the 311 system — at a cost of $4 million — to take the load off 911. At the time, 911 was handling 3.7 million calls a year, as many as 40 percent of them non-emergencies.

The non-emergency number was launched after a massive campaign to persuade Chicagoans to stop doing what 4,000 people did every day: call 911 about routine problems.

Emanuel’s transition report called for an “Open 311” system to provide an “easy and transparent way” for Chicagoans to submit and monitor their service requests on the Internet.

The Civic Federation has proposed privatizing 311. A report commissioned by Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle proposed merging 311 with Cook County’s main information number.

The mayor’s decision to turn 311 into more of a two-way street comes just two months after a pair of independent aldermen breathed new life into an idea Emanuel once floated himself: cutting the nation’s second–largest City Council in half.

The more feedback the city gets directly from its residents, the less influence Chicago’s 50 aldermen will have.


Twitter: @fspielman

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.