One Year Of Using 311 in San Francisco

Beginning in late 2014, I started doing something about the things I saw in my city that were broken.

I Tweeted about them.

But, I tried not be to just another person complaining on Twitter. Instead, I addressed each Tweet to @ SF311.

Just over a year in, I was curious if there was anything to be learned from all this Tweeting to SF311. Was anything fixed as a result? How long did it typically take to resolve? What types of things did I report most often?

The 311 Reports

Here are all the conversations between myself and SF311 on Twitter.

  • There are 21 reports.
  • Graffiti (6) and Trash (6) were my most common reports, followed by Lights Out (4). Others include Pedestrian Signal (2), Tree Removal (1), Structural Removal (1), and Street Signal (1).
  • The response time by the SF311 Twitter account is superb — usually within a few hours, never more than 24 hours.

The Outcome

  • All 21 reports are currently “Closed” within the 311 system. However, a few of them have not actually been resolved (example: a street light is clearly still out). Perhaps “Closed” means it has been assigned internally to be fixed, but more clearly defined labels would go a long way.

My Favorite 311 : The Vanishing Flower Stand

I was always frustrated by an old abandoned structure on the corner of 5th and Market. It was an old flower stand that had clearly been out of service for many years. It was unsightly and frankly, embarrassing to have on a city’s main boulevard. Figuring, “what the heck,” I fired off a Tweet:

Not expecting much, I went on my way.

I was shocked to walk by the spot a few weeks later and see this:

It was gone!

As far as I can tell, a simple Tweet was the impetus for this to come down. Millions of people had walked by it, yet, it may have never been reported the right way before.

Here’s the shocking part: Using Google historical street view, I found out that the defunct structure had been there since at least 2008!


Taking 311 To The Next Level

After a year, I’m convinced that 311 works. It’s a fantastic city service that enables everyday residents to turn their frustration into productive reporting.

But, since things can always be better, what might an improved 311 service in San Francisco look like? Some quick ideas:

  • Add more detail to responses — What does “closed” mean? I’d love to know the name of the person who fixed or inspected the issue, and pictures to show how it was fixed.
  • Periscope 311 responses — This would be fun. Live stream actual fixes, and call out the people who reported them.
  • Reward top 311 reporters — Put together a leaderboard of top 311 reporters, overall and by neighborhood to encourage further use
  • Share stats — It’s hard to understand much from the Reports page on SF’s 311 site. I’d love to see a a data visualization challenge to clean the raw data up, similar to what was done with SF’s Bike Share program.

After using it for a little over a year, 311 has begun to feel like a magic wand for my city. On most days, I see it as a perfect example of the good that can happen at the intersection of empowered citizens and an informed government.

It’s up to us now to use it wisely. The next time you see something broken in your city, please take a few seconds to report it to 311. Most cities have 311 services, and many service request via their own app or Twitter account in addition to old-school calls.


p.s. — Want to see a true 311 power user in action? SidewalkSF has tweeted over 1,200 times to SF311. Mostly, you guessed it, about sidewalk repairs. Someone’s gotta look out for the sidewalks!

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