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City of Burlington, VT Meets Spike in COVID-19 Requests with Creativity, Empathy & Civic Tech

Burlington, VT, USA

At a Glance

To avoid public service disruptions, the City of Burlington quickly adapted its administrative workflows to accommodate a now remote workforce. This included the overnight redeployment of Electric and Economic Development staff to field an influx of service requests from concerned citizens.

Problem Addressed

With a sudden switch to a mostly virtual world and an uptick in COVID-19 cases, Burlington needed to act fast. As a result of the pandemic, the city had to quickly and smoothly reassign city staff to crisis-related duties, transition office staff to work-from-home employees while mitigating city service interruptions, communicate with nervous citizens, crowdsource citizens and volunteers to better identify pandemic-related issues and track the city’s COVID-19 response.

City of Burlington, VT used/is using SeeClickFix to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

During the COVID-19 crisis, the City has needed to stay flexible while responding to a variety of new concerns like virus testing and reporting and shifting priorities. All while turning into a remote workforce virtually overnight. The City has relied on its existing service request management solution, SeeClickFix by CivicPlus®, to help manage the influx of inquiries and to redeploy City staff.

SeeClickFix has served as a critical element of the City’s citizen engagement and response solution suite during its COVID-19 response. “Early on, our Mayor created a Resource Recovery Center, and we decided to run it through SeeClickFix,” said Ward.

While many of the categories citizens typically use to report non-emergency concerns within SeeClickFix are marked “public”, like pothole repairs and downed power lines, COVID-19 related issues like housing and food needs, or positive diagnoses, are marked “private” with the information only being visible to City staff managing those requests.

As evidenced by the City’s all-hands-on-deck approach, the City’s Electric Department has been converted into a temporary call center. That department, along with the City’s Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO) is now fielding phone calls and emails and entering those inquiries into the SeeClickFix for reporting, tracking, and resolution. Ward says that SeeClickFix has been easy to learn for those using it as part of their temporary work assignments.

“Between the Burlington Electric call takers and CEDO, none of the staff had any previous experience using SeeClickFix, and they all took to it like fish to water,” said Ward. “We’ve had roughly 750 issues entered since March 23.”

Ward tells the story of personally responding to a woman waiting for her COVID-19 test results, who was fearful that she contracted the virus when it was reported that there might be an outbreak in her housing unit. Thanks to comprehensive testing of building residents from the City’s Health Department, and the data visible in SeeClickFix, Ward was able to reassure the caller that only two people out of the 150 residents in her building had tested positive.

“I told her, ‘I can’t tell you your test results, but if I were you, I would feel comfortable that my test results will be negative.’ She immediately started crying. She had been worried to death. She thanked me for everything we were doing and said it was just such a relief to talk to someone. It’s a challenging time, so I’ve been telling my staff, ‘Don’t underestimate the impact you’ll have simply by talking to someone and getting to the heart of their concern.”

Outcomes

  1. Reassigned (and now remote) staff could perform their new 311 duties with just 15 minutes of training in SeeClickFix
  2. Citizens were crowdsourced to identify pandemic related issues e.g. price gouging, large gatherings, and requests for help
  3. Citizens were enlisted to volunteer from mask making and distribution to picking up prescriptions
  4. Data collected from SeeClickFix is being used to measure the City's response
  5. Providing a shoulder to lean on for citizens that are scared and feeling alone builds trust in local government

Lessons Learned

  1. Designing systems with resiliency in mind allows local governments to adapt and serve in a crisis
  2. Staff can and will rise to a challenge - choose systems that are easy to use so staff can quickly come up to speed when needed
  3. Local governments need to be compassionate as well as effective in a crisis

Who Should Consider?

Local governments that still need to provide services during a crisis.

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