The Boston Way

Chris Osgood, Bill Oates, and Claire Lane from the City of Boston demonstrate how GIS applications are being used to engage citizens and improve the City's efficiency and effectiveness.

Jul 11th, 2011

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00:01Good morning everyone.

00:02We're honored to be speaking with you all here today.

00:05You know, we're in the midst of some powerful change in government and GIS is playing a critical role in that challenge.

00:12So I'm pleased to be speaking with you today about the Boston way…

00:17…our city's efforts to transform government through constituent engagement.

00:23Now, some of you may know Boston as a cradle of liberty or a hub of innovation…

00:29…and I'm pretty sure that some of you know Boston as the very proud home of some championship-caliber sports teams.

00:38The Red Soxs are in first place going into the All Star break.

00:43But for us, Boston is about these guys, a city of 620,000 passionate people.

00:51And we take a very human-centered approach in dealing with the day-to-day challenges…

00:56…that governments all over the world face today.

00:59We need our engagement efforts to be real and we need them to be personal.

01:04In our city, that comes from the top.

01:07Our mayor, Thomas M. Menino, has personally met 60 percent of our city's residents.

01:13Think about it. Everybody in this room, 30 times over. That's engagement.

01:20So he challenges us to engage all of our residents to build…

01:24…to understand how we can build a better Boston for them, and more importantly, with them.

01:32Today, our team is going to show you a few examples of how we are answering that challenge.

01:39We start that with our story of the new urban mechanics.

01:43We created the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics in January of last year.

01:49Why? It was pretty simple.

01:51We needed some dedicated space for taking risks, space in local government for trying new ideas.

01:59Acknowledging that while some of these ideas may fail, many more will flourish.

02:06You see, for us, local government is the proving ground in this rising tide of government innovation.

02:13It's where we teach your children, patrol your neighborhoods, plow your streets…

02:17…and given the economic climate, we realize that stepping up to that challenge of service delivery…

02:23…is going to require new and innovative solutions. So we're going to show you a few.

02:28And to do that, I'd like to introduce Chris Osgood, the cochair of our Office of New Urban Mechanics. Chris?

02:34Thank you so much Bill.

02:36Today I want to highlight three projects that we're piloting in the city of Boston.

02:40The first focuses on food trucks. Food trucks are increasingly popular.

02:44For those of you who don't know, a food truck is like a mini, mobile restaurant that serves wicked-good food, at really low prices.

02:52The challenge is in siting a food truck.

02:55It can take a blue-ribbon panel or a team of legal experts to wade through all the logistical and permitting issues on every street…

03:02…in every neighborhood, and across an entire city.

03:05So in Boston, we took a different approach. We said, Why look at every street?

03:10Let's just focus on those places our residents want a food truck most.

03:14So a few months ago, we designed an app that asked one simple question.

03:21People could go to our website and drop a pin on a map about where they wanted a food truck most…

03:26…and leave a note if they wanted about the type of food they want to eat when they got there.

03:30Over a thousand people used this app and soon food trucks would be pulling up to some of those streets our residents wanted most.

03:37The second app that I want to talk about today is Citizens Connect.

03:41Citizens Connect is the City of Boston's 311 mobile phone application.

03:46We designed Citizens Connect, however, with a bit of a twist.

03:50We wanted to see if this app could not only connect citizens with government, but also citizens with each other.

03:56And to facilitate this, we allowed residents to be able to post publicly on a map, the reports that they had submitted.

04:04This is having some really interesting impacts.

04:06For example, recently a resident reported that a possum had crawled into her trash can.

04:11She wasn't sure whether it was alive or dead or what to do in either circumstance.

04:15A neighbor though, saw this report, didn't know this constituent, but saw that it was just three blocks away.

04:21So she walked from her house to her neighbor's house, saw the trash can, saw the possum…

04:27…tipped the trash can over freeing the possum, and then tweeted out that the case had been resolved…

04:31…wishing "Goodnight Sweet Possum."

04:35We think this is just the tip of the iceberg, for the use of mobile phone devices to engage constituents.

04:40To test the next generation of apps in this space, we're working on a project that we call Street Bump.

04:46The idea behind Street Bump is that your mobile phone can actually sense when your car has hit a pothole or a rough patch of road.

04:55To give you a sense of how this works, take a look at this quick video.

04:59So what you're seeing here is a drive down a particularly bumpy street in the city of Boston.

05:05The Street Bump app is picking up two critical pieces of information from your smartphone.

05:11First, from the smartphone's accelerometers, it's getting a sense of the magnitude of the bumps…

05:15…that the car is actually experiencing.

05:18And from the smartphone's GPS, it's getting the locations of those bumps.

05:22Put together, this sort of information can build for our public works department a map of the road conditions…

05:28…in the city of Boston, so they can understand where they need to dispatch a pothole repair crew or do some longer-term capital work.

05:36All three of these projects that I've talked, yes.

05:43To note, we hope that once we've actually developed this app, we'll be able to give it away to anyone who wants it.

05:52All three of the apps that we've talked about today are ways in which we're using maps in the city of Boston to engage residents.

06:00But engagement is about far more than simply getting feedback from constituents.

06:04It's about acting on the information that they provide and Claire Lane, the city of Boston's GIS manager…

06:09…will talk a little bit about the tools we are building in Boston to make good on this promise of engagement.

06:15Thank you, Chris. Snow shoveling and plowing are a fact of life in Boston's winters.

06:19Total snow accumulation this past winter was 85 inches. That's seven feet.

06:25Many a city manager has seen their career halted by poor handling of a snowstorm.

06:29This is Snow Cop. It has become an essential part to managing a snow event in Boston.

06:35Snow Cop is a collaboration tool for city departments to respond to constituents' requests during a snow emergency.

06:42But we also want to be proactive and address problems before they occur.

06:46In the early parts of a storm, we can get a dense warning of potential hot spots and know the places we need to direct our resources.

06:54As the storm progresses, Snow Cop becomes a tool to respond to citizens' requests for services.

07:01Let's zoom into the north end.

07:04Here the constituent calls related to this snow event…there can be hundreds of calls at the height of a significant storm.

07:12Here we can see the tracks of the snow plows.

07:15The red dots mean that it has been three hours since the plow has driven by.

07:21Let's move to east Boston.

07:23We can see that there are a lot of calls, but only a few plows servicing this area.

07:28Another way to visualize this activity is to create a heat map.

07:32This heat map takes several factors into consideration, such as CRM call density, plow history, and calls per road mile.

07:40I can run an exception report, which brings to my attention things that are out of the ordinary.

07:45I see a list of streets that have the highest number of calls and when they were last serviced.

07:51I can get contact information for the closest plows and call either the…

07:54…supervisor or the plow driver and quickly direct them to the trouble spot.

07:59The success of Snow Cop has led us to a bigger vision for this kind of actionable intelligence, The Mayor's Dashboard.

08:06I'll hand you back to Bill, who can tell you the story behind that.

08:10Thank you Claire.

08:12City government and its residents can view the same city block in very different ways, a flickering streetlight…

08:20…a broken swing, an abandoned car.

08:24For city government, these might be problems for three totally different departments, but for that resident…

08:29…they're likely to be one issue, public safety.

08:33As we further our efforts to engage constituents, we are also developing tools that help us…

08:38…see the city in the same way our residents do.

08:43The first product that we are developing is the Mayor's Dashboard.

08:47The dashboard allows us to see the city, not by department, but by issue, public safety, transportation, quality of life.

08:57And from this view, we can look for, identify, and drill in to a hot spot.

09:03And then, at the neighborhood level, we can see the key indicators for that area…

09:08…and we can compare those indicators against other neighborhoods, or see how those indicators are trending over time.

09:16And then, based on that information, we can use the tool to communicate directly to the departments that have to take action.

09:25We are piloting this product later this year, putting it in the hands of senior management to support our efforts…

09:31…to break down silos and to strengthen the connections between all of our agencies.

09:38Over the past five years, the City of Boston has laid the groundwork for exceptional constituent engagement.

09:45Let me show you how we got there.

09:47First, we built our information model to better understand and organize our city data.

09:54Then, we built connections from that data to our key constituent-facing systems, CRM, permitting, public safety.

10:03And now, we're building a community.

10:06A community of people who are developing applications on top of that platform.

10:11Now everyone in this room truly gets the power of GIS.

10:16But we all know there are people outside this room that don't get it.

10:20And so our team actively works with frontline agencies and outside partners…

10:26…like Code for America to expand our reach and our impact.

10:31So, from freeing possums to plowing snow, the City of Boston has taken a geographic approach…

10:39…to re-envision how we engage our citizens and how we marshal our resources.

10:44And though these efforts are still early, we believe that this work is leading to a new type of partnership…

10:50…across the public sector and the general public, a true public/public partnership.

10:57We look forward to working with all of you, to share and to grow these new applications and innovations…

11:04…and to truly change the way government operates and engages.

11:09Thank you so much for your time this morning.

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