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The Non-Tech Problems with Public Sector Apps

With the advent of mobile apps and easily accessible web portals, there’s growing potential for improved communication between governments and residents. They can also help to foster improved customer satisfaction, if residents find it easy to voice complaints, seek service improvements and get some idea how long their neighborhood is going to have to wait for that (expletive deleted) axle-twisting pothole to be fixed.


That potential is diminished, however, if the app, itself, provides yet another reason to be frustrated with the government. Obviously, technological glitches can be a problem. But sometimes it's the non-tech details that are the issue, as an October performance audit about San Diego’s Get It Done mobile app and web portal showed.

Get It Done was intended to provide people with an easy way to report City of San Diego problems and ask for fixes. Their 2021 requests for assistance most commonly connected to parking, encampments, graffiti, missed collection, illegal dumping, potholes and “shared mobility devices,” which include motorized scooters and bicycles.


The biggest problem with the app, was summed up nicely in the audit’s finding No. 1: “While Get It Done has greatly expanded customers’ access to request services, many customers receive limited, confusing, or inaccurate information about their service requests.”


In fact, according to the auditor, in 19% of service requests, residents received “inaccurate or misleading closure details.” The office criticized the practice of marking a request “closed” even when the problem was unresolved but had been referred elsewhere to find a solution.


Other issues included Get It Done’s lack of communication about target and estimated completion times, and a lack of progress reports. These features were characterized as part of an “Ideal Process” as opposed to the “Current Process.” In addition to these recommendations, the auditor suggested updated training for staff and also developing a central 3-1-1 phone call-in system, a common communication device that San Diego does not have, in contrast to most large cities.


The Performance and Analytics Department, which manages the app, has already been working on fixing the problems addressed by the audit. City management agreed with all but one of audit recommendations, disagreeing only with its suggestion of developing a 3-1-1 call-in option.


Among the organizations that the city auditor mentions for guidance on centralized customer service portals are: The International City/County Management Association (ICMA), The Leadership for a Networked World Program (LMW) and Harvard Business Review.

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