City launches app to report non-emergencies

Marshall Cohen


Evanston residents can now report nonemergency issues to the city through a new mobile application and web interface launched Friday.

The program, SeeClickFix, allows citizens to report and track problems in Evanston via a free mobile application available to iPhone, Android and BlackBerry users.

Eric Palmer, Evanston’s community information coordinator, said the new initiative is all about simplicity.

“We adopted this as an easy piece of technology for residents who have smartphones to better communicate with the city and help point out issues that might exist in the community,” Palmer said. “Whether there is a traffic light out, graffiti on a wall or a new pothole in the road, residents can now easily report it.”

In addition to the mobile application, residents can report issues through the SeeClickFix website. With a few clicks of a mouse – or taps on a touchscreen phone – users can create a detailed report summarizing the problem and identifying its exact pinpointed location. Users can also snap a picture of the problem and upload that with the other information.

Workers at Evanston’s 311 call center, which opened this March,will respond to all issues posted online, Palmer said. The staff will monitor the site, create work requests, alert proper municipal departments and then post updates on the site.

“The two programs are interconnected,” Palmer said. “This is yet another avenue for the community to access 311 services.”

Evanston 311 supervisor Sue Pontarelli declined to comment Tuesday.

Megan Dalton, community manager for SeeClickFix, said this service facilitates a more active civil society.

“What makes us different is that every issue that is reported through our system is all publicly available, so everyone is kind of held accountable – even local government officials and departments, the citizens they serve and the local media outlets that report on it,” Dalton said.

Dalton added that SeeClickFix offers additional channels of communication, such as a Facebook application, Twitter integration and other online widgets that further connect citizens with their local officials.

“We actually have a pretty expansive service,” she said.

However, Palmer said SeeClickFix is less about accountability and more about solving problems around Evanston.

“We have a limited staff and they can’t be everywhere at once,” Palmer said. “This is a tool for the residents to help us and make sure we deliver the best service in a timely manner.”

Evanston resident Donald Westphal used SeeClickFix to report graffiti near the bicycle racks at the Evanston Public Library last week.

“I went to the city website to find a way to report the issue and I found SeeClickFix, so I signed up and just posted it,” Westphal said.

The city responded on the SeeClickFix website just a few hours after Westphal’s initial post was published. In its brief response, the city said a service request was created and the issue was officially forwarded to 311.

“The city is on top of things with this new system,” Westphal said. “There is a third party involved now, so the information is posted and the problems are now publicly listed.”

In addition to Evanston, nearby areas including Rogers Park, Edgewater and Andersonville use SeeClickFix. Dalton said many Chicago aldermen receive alerts and local government agencies have been responding on the site about resolving issues within Chicago.

“Much of Chicagoland has gone through a bottom-up process,” Dalton said. “We’re trying to remove that barrier between government and citizens and allow for open and direct communication between the two parties.”

SeeClickFix was founded in 2008 in New Haven, Conn., and currently 70 municipalities throughout the country pay for the service.

Evanston residents can report problems on or through the SeeClickFix mobile application.

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Graphic by Tanner Maxwell