A new way to report those pesky potholes

Tisbury launches SeeClickFix portal to make it easier for citizens to track progress.

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Selectmen chairman Larry Gomez, left, and Heidi Rydzewski, the town's IT director, explain how the town's new app, SeeClickFix, will work. — Gabrielle Mannino

The town of Tisbury is launching its new online portal this week that gives residents an easy way to report issues like potholes, and then track the town’s response to those issues.

SeeClickFix can be accessed through the town’s website, but also has a smartphone application that provides mobile access. The SeeClickFix site was launched Tuesday, a week after Heidi Rydzewski, the town’s IT director, demonstrated it for the town’s board of selectmen.

Not only can residents report issues like potholes to the DPW, pest infestations to the board of health, or barking dogs to animal control, but they can track issues reported by others.

“This will help departments get a workload for days, weeks, and months,” Larry Gomez, chairman of the board of selectmen, said Wednesday. Mr. Gomez said he expects the DPW to be the prime department, but added it could be a way to alert the harbormaster and shellfish constable to issues, as well.

Ms. Rydzewski said the program cost $10,000, which includes licenses for every town department head. If someone calls in a complaint, instead of using the online portal or a smartphone app, the department head can enter the issue so progress can be tracked.

The town originally heard about SeeClickFix from its web-hosting company, and is the first on the Island to give it a try.

“This is about government transparency,” Ms. Rydzewski said. “We’re trying to fix the problems the public reports.”

Selectmen, who tend to hear complaints from constituents, will now have a place to direct residents, Mr. Gomez said. “Then they can see how it progresses,” he said.

SeeClickFix was launched in 2014 in Salem, Dominick Pangallo, chief of staff for the city’s mayor, wrote in an email. Since then, the city has responded to 9,068 service requests, and has roughly 2,000 that are pending as either recently opened or long-standing issues, he said.

“From a positive perspective, the tool has greatly improved our ability to integrate data into decision making,” he wrote. “For example, we used the tool to provide evidence that a previous trash-collecting vendor had failed to perform to the requirements of their contract; reports from residents of consistent and escalating numbers of missed collections helped us make our case.”

The data has also helped the city identify nuisance properties,” Mr. Pangallo wrote.

“Data on service requests like graffiti, rodent infestations, and dumping are fed into our property database and contribute to identifying, proactively, properties that are at risk of becoming substantial problems. We also use SeeClickFix data in our SalemStat program, which tracks metrics and performance for specific departments on a monthly basis for things such as customer service and response times. The mapping tool and geographic data from reports has helped us plan sidewalk inspections, pothole repairs, and tree plantings, maximizing the efficiency of staff time and resources.”

Heidi Rydzewski, the town’s IT director, demonstrates the new app, SeeClickFix.

Staff preparation and managing constituent expectations were among the challenges reported by Mr. Pangallo. “From a staff preparation perspective, I would strongly advise Tisbury to work closely with not just department heads, but frontline staff, so they all have an understanding of what the tool is, how it is integrated into the business processes of the town, and how, in fact, it can make their work easier, even if it means there may be an increased number of service requests as a result of its use. From a public-facing side, the use of a tool like SeeClickFix runs the risk of giving people an unreasonable expectation of how rapidly a problem can be fixed; it’s important for staff to help address this by responding and acknowledging service requests with a realistic assessment of the timeframe it may take for a problem to be resolved,” he wrote.

Another challenge is that some neighborhoods are less apt to use the service, and others may not use it because of language barriers, Mr. Pagnallo wrote. “The end result can be a disproportionate amount of resources devoted to those neighborhoods or places where the tool is used the most — but those may not be the only places where there are service needs,” he wrote. “We tried to overcome this in Salem by instituting something we call City Walks. A team led by the constituent services director in the mayor’s office periodically canvases streets or neighborhoods where we see a disproportionately low number of SeeClickFix service requests; the team has a tablet with the tool on it, and they log issues as they walk so that departments can respond and resolve them.”

On the town’s website, SeeClickFix is located under the “citizen action center.” The app is available free on mobile devices; users just select Tisbury, Massachusetts, as the town where they want to use it.