Princeton is known as "Einstein Alley", "Tree City USA" and home of the prestigious Princeton University. Princeton is small in nature and very diverse in its population. At one time, not long ago, Princeton was divided into two sections. One being Princeton Township, mostly residential; and Princeton Borough, more commercial and having Princeton University mostly located in the Borough. The Borough was considered to be a "donut hole" town, one square mile located smack in the middle of the Township. In 2012, the two towns were consolidated into one Princeton, now known as the Municipality of Princeton.
Both towns were different in culture, yet provided mostly the same services to its residents; however, there were major differences in the way the services were presented in each town. One town paid for garbage pick-up, the other did not. One town had a fulltime paid Mayor, the other did not; one town had daily brush pick-up and the other was on a scheduled pick-up system.
The towns were coming together: offices were moving, there were 2 municipal buildings, different offices in each; the residents were confused. No one knew where to go anymore, the familiarity of employees in their hometown were now gone. Services that were provided to the residents were now different and in some cases were eliminated.
In a time where the top buzzwords are "Citizen Engagement" and "Open Data", administration knew they had to do something to make all of this clear to the residents. The residents needed something or somewhere to go to get help with the many issues that often plague towns. The idea of an information center and reporting system for the residents was conceived. It was researched, many meetings were held, and concepts were bounced back and forth as to what to do.
The ultimate decision was to create an "information center" that residents could do a variety of actions: including visiting or calling to get their questions answered and have service requests reported. In time, the information center became known as "Access Princeton" (AP) and AP would be using an online reporting system called SeeClickFix.
Access Princeton worked hard to sell the idea to staff, residents, businesses, schools, and the media. It took time for the residents to catch on, but once they started seeing SeeClickFix on the town's website, mobile app, Facebook page, and advertised on its Twitter feed, they became curious and starting using the program. We now have residents reporting everything from a tree that is down to potholes to environmental hazards that the town needs to address. They can see when the town "acknowledges" the issue (indicating that they received the issue and will be addressing it); they can then see how the town addressed it and eventually that the town "closed" the issue because the issue was resolved. People want to be heard; they want to know that the town is listening to them and their concerns. SeeClickFix is a great way to do this, people become "engaged", they feel part of the "team" and most importantly they can see their tax dollars at work.
SeeClickFix is a wonderful reporting system; every town should be using it. It's user-friendly and there are parts of the program that can be customized according to the needs of the city or town that is utilizing it. Having said all this, it should also be known that SeeClickFix is more than a citizen engagement, reporting program; there are many additional services that can be added to the program.
For instance, I believe Princeton was one of the first towns to use the system to track "internal issues", that being incoming calls, walk-in inquiries, notary services, birth certificate requests and the list goes on and on. While citizens and town "users" have the ability to report and track issues, the town can also use the system to track just about any internal issue they would like. Princeton has set up many internal issues that it tracks and plans to expand those items as time goes on. SeeClickFix also offers an open API which will allow towns to expand its services and programs through the SeeClickFix software. For instance, if you want to offer online animal licensing, a payment company can be linked with the SeeClickFix software to allow that to work. SeeClickFix can be utilized for so much more than just reporting issues and it would be up to the individual town to develop its own uses of the program.
SeeClickFix employees are some of the most knowledgeable and customer service oriented staff there is. SeeClickFix offers an intensive training program with its customers – making sure all questions are answered and the customer is comfortable with the program and how it operates prior to implementation of the program. Everyone at SeeClickFix is approachable and willing to go the extra mile to help a client familiarize themselves with the program and this new concept of citizen engagement.
Access Princeton is now working with the Atlantic County Utility Authority to regionalize the use of SeeClickFix. We would like to see neighboring towns, counties and state agencies using this program, to make it easier for the municipalities to transfer issues from town to town, or agency to agency.
The responses that we have received from citizens have been incredible. They love the SeeClickFix program, they feel like the town is really doing something and as stated before, their voices are being heard, and that's what we all want, we want someone to hear us!