Chicago has become a hub of technology, led in part by the efforts of their CTO, John Tolva. In 2012, Chicago was also home to Code for America fellows, who were asked to transform the city’s telephone-based 311 system into a friendly digital platform that could handle nonemergency situations. The challenge was difficult in itself and the Code for America team had just one year to accomplish their goal.
Tolva was appointed CTO in April of 2011 and made open government a priority for Chicago. The 311 project aligned neatly with that goal, making data about service requests available to anyone with an Internet connection. Early in the project, Tolva voiced his excitement for the upcoming year and the work the city and Code for America would tackle together:
What excites me about Code for America is the community. The spirit of Code for America is really what is transformational about the work they do.
Our specific project is called Open311 but really it’s about a model of working and innovating in a culture that’s bound by a lot of rules. It’s kind of a culture virus for innovation in government.
The service launched in October of 2012 and is already processing requests. According to 311 Service Tracker Chicago, at least 50 requests have been submitted in the last 24 hours. Chicago’s 311 phone service receives about 3.9 million calls annually, and 40 percent of those are duplicates (cityofchicago.org). The new system will relieve the overworked phone system, streamline processing and cut down on duplicates.
It’s too early to call the project an overwhelming success, but Tolva’s initiatives, with Code for America’s help, are driving Chicago to a smarter future.