Open311 is revolutionizing the face of city-wide civic engagement and communication in its efforts to transform 311 services into an open platform for public users to share information not only with city officials, but also with one another. The Open311 model encourages multi-person conversations rather than the standard one-to-one dialogue in a 311 call center and allows many voices to contribute to a discussion centered on public spaces and public issues. According to the Open311 website, “this open model allows people to provide more actionable information for those who need it most and it encourages the public to be engaged with civic issues because they know their voices are being heard.” For example, in its current use, people can participate in a conversation about a city street laden with potholes simply by reporting the issue and providing updates for the public. Using a computer or a mobile device, anyone can enter the necessary information (preferably with a photo, although not required) about the issue; the report is then made public and is available for people to view and contribute more information. The report is also automatically sent to an authority tasked with addressing the concern. With the information made public, transparency and accountability increase and charge those responsible for fixing the problem to take action.
While Open311 is currently only used for reporting and tracking (typically) nonemergency situations in public spaces and infrastructure, it has the potential to be used as a medium for conversation about the health and sustainability of a city or community. People can engage in dialogue about suggested improvements for the community, recruit volunteers in a virtual space, or find out local information traditionally received from a 311 call center. More people will further be encouraged to share their voices and participate in the platform once they see responses and action on the part of city and community officials.
However, the Open311 platform is still in its developmental stages. Cities have created their own apps and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) independent of one another, and thus the applications are unable to work together or be used in other cities. A protocol is currently in the works to standardize the platform and create a “multitude of Open311-compliant apps that work with a multitude of Open311 API implementations.” This way, everyone can benefit from new developments built from a single foundation and will have the opportunity to choose the application most suitable for their system.