News Article: Code experts take a crack at upgrading Chicago’s 311 system

Here’s an article from today’s Chicago Sun-Times about the Code for America project:

Code experts take a crack at upgrading Chicago’s 311 system

BY SANDRA GUY Business Reporter/ February 2, 2012 7:02PM

Chicagoans should be able to more extensively track 311 calls and the city’s responses online, thanks to a team of software coders here to upgrade the system.

Chicago is one of eight cities nationwide that won the coders’ five-week consultation in a competition. The competition’s sponsor, Code for America, is a San Francisco-based non-profit whose mission is to “help governments work better” with the power of the web.

The coding team spent Thursday in class learning how 311 center operators do their jobs.

The team members are visual and user experience designer Angel Kittiyachavalit, web developer Ben Sheldon, software engineer Jesse Bounds and user interface designer Rob Brackett.

Daniel X. O’Neil, executive director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, which is funding the Code for America Project, said the effort will give local software developers access to a much greater array of data that should make people’s lives easier.

John Tolva, the city’s chief technology officer, said the coders will deploy an “Open 311” standard that will allow the developers to create mobile and web-based apps that do things the Open 311 system cannot do today, such as verifying addresses to more easily track city services and view 311 responses across a number of different city departments.

“Many requests, such as filling a pothole, have multiple stages and involve more than one agency, such as both the water department and the city’s transportation department,” he said “Just stabilizing a programming interface will let developers come up with apps to track those kinds of services.”

“We will eventually get an ecosystem of apps, and the individual developers will make money because they sell the apps in app stores,” Tolva said. “It will become an index of what a neighborhood cares about, and everyone, including the alderman, can see it.”