The initiative was born out of the necessity to reduce spending across city government in response to the economic collapse in 2008-2009. As such, financial resources were limited in availability and application. The core element to the 311 initiative was the development and deployment of 311 Online, the centerpiece of the self-service option. Designed and built by internal city agency resources and a contracted vendor, it was achieved through a capital investment of less than $10 million. The remaining components of the self-service strategy required minimal capital investment and leveraged existing technology and city agency resources, as well as no-cost social media channels or low variable rate cost channels to expand the reach of 311 service delivery.
Given the lack of available financial support the bulk of the effort relied on human resources. To establish multiple new channels while re-working existing processes required the re-distribution of resources and personal commitment from the major stakeholders. The first step in the process was to commit to the strategy of 311 as a “multi-access, multi-channel source for information, services, and assistance”. This was a departure from the original mission, centered solely on the call center, and challenged the operations structure, personnel skills and abilities, and organizational culture. The senior staff at 311 challenged conventions and diligently addressed resource-allocation, particularly how to re-commit resources from their existing work to new projects, without suffering degradation in the existing services. By challenging individuals, setting the direction and setting the example, and tackling “change” these shifts were realized. Resources were re-positioned to work on lean language, IVR messaging, and Twitter responses, rather than call center tasks. The Quality Assurance department shifted its mode of operation, initially to ensure performance did not suffer during these shifts, and subsequently to expand their ability to evaluate performance of channels outside the call center.
Another element of resource impact was also a major factor. Research and analysis, performed by employees on their own time, was a key element for decision-making and implementation. While not required, and not compensated, employees took ownership in response to this business challenge and their desire to increase service to the public. As such, many used their personal time and energy to research industry trends, understand best practices, and perform “mystery shopper” experiments on private and public sector websites and social media outlets. This knowledge-gain was beneficial in design as well as operations, ranging from the look-and-feel of 311 Online to the process for responding to customers via Twitter.