Gilbert, AZ, is bringing its community together around twinkling lights this holiday season. The town has invited residents to submit a photo of light displays at their home or business to a Holiday Lights Map through their 311 CRM mobile app. This interactive feature allows families to plan a holiday lights tour and encourages residents to participate.Gilbert uses the CivicPlus® SeeClickFix 311 CRM, which it has branded Gilbert 311. Residents can download the app and use it to report problems around town, such as potholes, graffiti, or public utility issues. Now they can also use it to make some holiday memories with friends and family. While this may not be an essential civic interaction, a unique and inclusive activity like this sets the town apart and creates joy and satisfaction among residents.
CivicPlus spoke with Derek Konofalski, Data and Technology Analyst for Gilbert, AZ, about how this idea came about and what the resident response has been to this exciting program.
Starting With an Idea
Q: How did this idea come about? Was it staff-driven, or did it come from the community?
A: This idea came about from a conversation I was having with our Data Content Strategist at the time. We were looking for ways to test some crowdsourcing of data and, at the same time, venting about how negative some of our requests in Gilbert 311 were. I was throwing around the idea in late September or early October of adding in a category for people to submit their houses and when they’d be handing out candy for trick-or-treaters for Halloween. I was hoping to give residents a positive jumping in point for Gilbert 311. Ultimately, we decided that we wouldn’t be able to get it to the stage where it met our standards before Halloween, and so we tabled the idea for a later discussion.
We quickly came back to it, though, after receiving a request from a neighborhood HOA that wanted to get help from our PD for directing traffic to the light displays that they were helping to set up on their street. Every year, the entire street does a synchronized lighting display and it gets a lot of attention. We immediately connected the idea of our positive jumping in point with neighborhood displays, and that’s where the idea started to come to life.
Getting Set Up
Q: How do you set up an interactive map like this inside the SeeClickFix 311 CRM?
A: We only collect the requests via SeeClickFix. The map on our Open Data Portal uses the SeeClickFix API to pull the requests that come in, so those steps look like this:
- Residents submit their requests, and they come in as “Open” requests.
- Our team reviews the request and then changes the status to “Acknowledged” once we’ve verified the submission and confirmed that it’s not inappropriate or spam.
- Using the SeeClickFix API, we pull the holiday lights requests in the “Acknowledged” status, as well as the corresponding secondary questions, the image URL, and the address or location.
- Using the Google Maps API, we load each location onto the map, parse the secondary questions into the corresponding fields, generate the buttons for the request info and driving directions, and then add the associated image to our gallery at the bottom of the page.
- Once the season is over, we close out the requests. The map automatically clears since it’s only pulling requests that are “Acknowledged”.
Q: How have you promoted this program to your community and successfully fostered engagement and submissions annually?
A: The Office of Digital Government primarily promotes the site on social media through a raffle where we choose a random person who has submitted their display for some swag items. We have a Gilbert Goodies store, so prizes range from tree ornaments to doggie bandanas to t-shirts. We also heavily promote the contest and map on our Open Data portal, our main website, and, depending on the timing of other events, through Notices on the Gilbert 311 app.
Q: Have there ever been any difficulties or barriers you faced that would be valuable for another community to consider when launching an interactive map such as yours?
A: Definitely. The biggest issue is always resources. My background is in web development and UX, so I was able to set up the page with the API requests and compile the map. To be honest, though, it’s thrown together a bit and has plenty of room for improvement. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. We chose to do a custom page, but SeeClickFix allows you to embed maps directly into your site. The goal is to get people to see the Gilbert 311 app in a positive light rather than having their first experience be because of an issue that they’re seeing in their community.
Engaging with the community
Q: What has been the feedback about the program from the community?
A: The feedback has been extremely positive. We get comments on social media all the time about how much people enjoy seeing the pictures and how helpful it is for them to get driving directions for their favorites. In November I got 2 or 3 requests from people asking when the submission and site would be live again, so I think people are excited to post their displays.
Q: What has made this program a success?
A: The success of the program has really come in from both sides – staff and residents. Our team works hard to promote the map with contests and big pushes on social media, and residents seem to really respond to the idea. They’re very willing to share their displays, and the way that we’re presenting the information makes the feedback very quick on both ends. We really tried to make it easy for residents to submit their displays, and then immediately tie it back into the Gilbert 311 system so that they can see how it’s useful for actual service requests.
Q: How would you describe the impact of this program and programs like it have on the civic experiences of your community members?
A: I think it’s had a huge impact on creating a small town feeling, despite the size of our community. Gilbert is a pretty big area geographically, so using online tools like Gilbert 311 and our map to bring people a little closer to their community and their local government has a positive impact – whether we can directly measure that or not. We know how many people use the Gilbert 311 app and how many submissions we get during the program period, but reducing the barrier to entry has a positive impact even if it’s not directly measurable.
Going Above and Beyond
Q: How else have you commonly utilized SeeClickFix?
A: We spend a lot of time refining our use of SeeClickFix and making sure that we’re looking at the most common requests. We’ve crowdsourced more data since the start of our holiday lights program, and we try to look for opportunities to connect our goals to the tools we have. During COVID, for example, we used Gilbert 311 to start collecting promotions and “lockdown specials” to help nonprofits and small businesses weather the impacts to their businesses when the COVID-19 pandemic was new and at its peak. We eventually transitioned to a GIS-focused solution, but having SeeClickFix as a tool let us ideate and get it live quickly.
Gilbert has gotten creative with its SeeClickFix 311 CRM tool to engage and support their residents, and you can, too. Local celebrations or national holidays present opportunities to strengthen community spirit. Gilbert originally conceived the map as a trick-or-treating map for Halloween before deciding on holiday lights, and that could be a great way to engage parents. You could create your own holiday lights map, or give your local economy a boost by showcasing small businesses.
Whatever you choose, you’re likely to get more app downloads when you use the SeeClickFix 311 CRM to create something special for your community. It’s a way to generate interest in the app and may appeal to residents who would not have downloaded it otherwise. Everyone will want to get in on the fun, and they’ll be much more likely to report issues once they have the app and know how to use it. The more users your 311 CRM has, the better you’re able to see and respond to issues in your town or city.