Cleveland's 311 call center hopes to start implementing system upgrades in March
The City of Cleveland says it hopes to start implementing upgrades to its 311 helpline beginning next month in a phased-in approach that will be completed later this year. The update of technology at its 311 call center is going to allow residents to more easily get help on a wide array of non-emergency assistance – including reporting pot holes and making tree trimming requests.
“This is one of those really critical levers to serve our residents better,” said Liz Crowe, the city’s Director of Urban Analytics and Innovation.
City council last week approved $4 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for the upgrades, which will primarily cover the cost of purchasing and implementing the new software.
Crowe said the city is close to finalizing an agreement with a software vendor.
The company that was previously responsible for the software for the helpline went out of business in 2021, leaving the software unsupported. Crowe said that made tracking requests and keeping tabs on city services more difficult.
“Our teams especially in public works are really excited for this,” Crowe said. “They are so ready to streamline a lot of those requests into a queue for themselves.”
The new technology will make what Crowe calls “multi-channel requesting” available. So, in addition to being able to make phone calls, residents will soon be able to reach 311 by using web and mobile devices to send photos to 311.
Crowe gave a hypothetical scenario of a resident finding a dead animal in a street. The picture will help 311 decide if its a matter for the Division of Animal Care and Control, the Division of Streets or any other city entity.
“If you can take a picture and you can send it to us, then our teams can react to that picture pretty proactively,” Crowe said.
Crowe said it’s currently difficult for residents to track requests, something the new technology should improve. Residents will be able to log into a website or app and track requests, which will be assigned ID numbers. Crowe added that residents will be able to get status updates throughout the process.
Crowe said the new technology will be intuitive and will have the ability to automatically triage 311 requests based on information given by residents.
“Because this is a new implementation, we’re going with the best tech that we can,” Crowe said.
Some of the approved funding will go toward a communication plan to make Cleveland residents more aware of 311, which has been around since 2009.
“That call center was never formally launched. So, this project is not only to get the call center the right tech, but it’s also to formally launch them as sort of the front door to the city,” Crowe said.
Ward 12 councilwoman Rebecca Maurer, a big supporter of improving 311, said last week that funding for 311 wasn’t enough and that a public information campaign reminding residents that 311 exists was crucial.
“Residents don’t even know they can call 311. They call their city council office instead, or worse they end up on the main phone tree at city hall and are bouncing around between departments,” Maurer said.
Cleveland’s 311 is looking for additional employees. Money for those positions is coming from the city’s general fund rather than ARPA funding.