Lake Oswego has an app for that

City to offer new technology for reporting public works problems
by: vern uyetake

So you want to report a pothole yawning in the middle of your street, or maybe there's a growing streetside puddle threatening to rival Oswego Lake.

The city will soon offer an app for that.

Lake Oswego is fine-tuning a program that is about to go live citywide. Starting Aug. 1, residents will be able to snap pictures of public works problems using iPhones and submit reports on the fly. The program, which will automatically log their locations, works with the iPad and iPod touch, too.

For residents without those Apple products, the city will offer a website with the same round-the-block reporting service.

Another app - short for application - will be available on Facebook.

'We're enabling citizens to become the eyes and ears of the city,' said Anthony Hooper, a city management analyst. 'This product will allow citizens to access government wherever they are and whenever they want to, whether they are waiting in line at the bank during the day or they notice something at 9 at night.'

The idea took root at a meeting of the city's innovation group, roughly 30 employees from across departments who voluntarily come together about once a month to brainstorm ideas for making the city work more efficiently and effectively.

Hooper accepted the task of researching possibilities for a citizen request tracker.

'Once I started looking into it, I found it was very cost-effective,' he said. For about $1,124 annually, Lake Oswego could offer the same high-tech service being offered by more and more larger cities.

The city signed on for a pilot program from CivicPlus, a company offering software called Citizen Request Tracker Plus.

A one-year trial will help Lake Oswego manage service requests in eight areas: Draining, unplugging or cleaning catch basins; fixing leaning, missing or detached street signs; making pothole repairs; making streetlight repairs; removing flooding, ponding or standing water; removing overgrown vegetation blocking street signs; street sweeping; and water pressure tests.

Hooper isn't worried that the new offering will overwhelm public works crews with complaints and requests.

Instead, he hopes to simply shift some of the in-person and phone reports to the new program, saving citizens time and refreshing civic engagement for a younger, more tech-savvy crowd. That's what has typically happened in cities already using the service, Hooper said; he has spoken with staff members in five other locations offering the same or similar products.

'It has shifted the workload from the phones and people coming in to make requests, which actually saves time, because we don't have to pick up the phone call and can just look at a database and transfer it,' he said. 'We're looking for 10 percent of our total service requests, or about 200 to 300 people, to use it.'

Although for now the phone app will only work with iPhones, plans are in the works to offer it on Android phones in the future.

If successful, the city might expand its use of the program beyond public works, such as non-emergency police reports and other public services.

'Usually this type of product is branded as a pothole-reporting type of program,' Hooper said. 'But the possibilities for this are vast.'