Remember the blue pages of a telephone directory? The blue pages had government phone listings for numerous federal, state and city services. As you can imagine, it was confusing and frustrating to locate the right department and/or agency for your particular issue. Nowadays, it’s hard to find a phone book, let alone the correct number in that book.
If you want to report a pothole, which agency do you call? A stray dog is wandering your neighborhood, who do you contact? You want to check if your massage therapist is licensed, where do you turn? The City and County of Denver’s 311 hotline and website have made finding the right place much easier. Instead of trying to figure out which city agency or department handles a particular issue, you contact 311 and you’ll be directed to the proper authority.
Denver’s 311 service started on July 6, 2006, and was a priority of then-Mayor John Hickenlooper. Currently, you may call 311 during the business hours of 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday - Friday and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Or, you may send an email anytime from Denver’s 311 website. The website is simple and uncluttered, guiding you to categories such as Abandoned Vehicle, Graffiti, Illegal Parking, Trash & Recycling, and Animals & Pets. There’s even a feature to upload a photo when filling out the “Report a Problem” section on the website. You’ll receive a response to your question either by phone call or email message. The website states you must allow 24 hours to process the request.
I emailed 311 about the number of questions the service fields and 24 hours later had an email response. The message directed me to the city’s website and to click on the link, “Open Data”. I searched “311” and received links to massive Excel spreadsheets with detailed 311 information. In 2016, 311 received 479,627 inquiries on a myriad of topics. Among the most frequently asked questions are those regarding standard issues such as vehicle registration and renewal, property taxes, Clerk & Recorder records, and marriage license inquiries.
Most large cities in the U.S. have 311 answer services. The hotline first originated in Baltimore, MD, in 1996 as an effort to limit people from overwhelming the 911 number with non-emergency calls. It also served as a closer connector between citizens and the public sector: residents were helping report problems instead of the city seeking them out. Technology has developed, and now many cities offer 311 access in a variety of digital options. For an interesting (yes, really) timeline of 311’s history around the country, check this article: 3-1-1: A City Services Revolution. New York City provides 311 services in a staggering number of languages, and in San Francisco, you may contact 311 via Twitter.
If you'd like to read the 2006 articles introducing Denver's new 311 service, the links below take you to those stories in the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post:
Got questions? Ask Us online or call Reference Services at 720.865.1363.
That's some great information! Thanks for the post. I'll have to take a look at more of the open data information. I think we once used it to find GIS files to create a map showing playgrounds in the city. I checked the last 12 months of 311 data and there were 316 instances of requests for or about quit claim deeds. Definitely a popular request.
This is great information, Veronika! Thanks!