SimpliCity: Asheville’s answer to citizen questions

SimpliCity: Asheville’s answer to citizen questions

With Google and setting customer-service expectations, Asheville, N.C., CIO Jonathan Feldman knows that governments must modernize. “We have got to start designing for the people who pay our salaries,” he declared at the recent Code for America Summit in Oakland, Calif.

Asheville’s contribution toward consumer-friendly, government service delivery is SimpliCity, a one-stop-shop for city data, with a citizen-centric focus and a Google feel.

The application aggregates data from the city’s agencies and GIS systems, providing citizens with information on crime, property, development, trash and recycling collection, zoning, street maintenance and mailing lists of property owners. It pulls data from many different systems but presents it in a simplified, mobile-friendly design that guides users to information by presenting a series of questions. Citizens can simply type in an address or business name and browse for additional information. Data can be viewed in map form, or downloaded for offline analysis.

Feldman and his team are hoping Asheville’s success with SimpliCity will encourage other municipalities to redeploy the tool. The code is available on GitHub, and additional collaborators would make SimpliCity easier to improve, help to expand the application’s virtual team and provide better services for citizens of all cities involved.

Next up, Feldman wants to focus on SimpliCity’s metrics. Specifically, he said, he wants to measure its success in leading citizens to relevant information, rather than just knowing the bounce rate and how many people abandon a webpage. Measuring success that way will allow Feldman to gauge the application’s impact on call centers. When a task is fulfilled through SimpliCity, he noted, it means one less call to the city’s call center, reducing call volume and saving staffers’ time.

Creating SimpliCity for Asheville’s community was a way of expanding the overall role of the IT Services department, which formed a new Business and Public Technology team to bring IT out of its “monastery” and introduce the apps and services government should be using, such as open source technologies and GitHub.

“You can order something on Amazon 24/7, that’s the expectation, and I think government needs to modernize to meet that expectation,” Feldman said.

Governments should tackle creating resources and tools for its citizens, making customer-facing services a part of government IT, Feldman said. “SimpliCity is the tip of the iceberg. We went legit."

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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