Devil’s in the details: Redesigning citizen service request apps to improve government responsiveness – US study

By Si Ying Thian

Comparative research on two US cities shows that incorporating citizen-to-citizen interactions in service request apps led to doubled probability on request closure and five days faster than average on resolution.

US study has found that incorporating citizen-to-citizen interactions in service request app could help improve government responsiveness. Image: Canva

A new study, published in Public Administration Review this month, challenges governments to expand the potential of citizen service request apps to enable citizen-to-citizen interactions, beyond just request submissions. 


This means enabling citizens to comment, like, or follow to “build on” other citizens’ existing requests. 


Since 2015, Singapore’s OneService portal has allowed users to report a municipal issue by submitting a form and photo. They can then track the status of the reported issue in their inboxes.


The OneService chatbot was later launched via WhatsApp and Telegram in July 2021. Users would select from a list of issues, and fill in information fields such as date, time and location in a "structured manner."


However, users would not have visibility on the issues reported by others. That said, every request submitted gets looked into.


According to Channel Newsasia, the number of reports hover around 1.7 million.

Sample interface of the OneService chatbot on WhatsApp. Image: Municipal Services Office and the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group

Most of the talk around public service coproduction centers around government-to-citizen channels, at most only incorporating individual citizens' inputs. However, this research shifts the lens to explore the impact of collective citizen input on the efficiency and quality of service delivery. 

How far does a like, comment and follow function go?  


The researcher explored the difference between Oakland and San Francisco in how likely and how quickly citizen requests were resolved, depending on whether an interactive function was included in the citizen service request mobile app or online platform. 

Example of collaboration on the SeeClickFix citizen service request app. Image: Schiff, K.J.

The same citizen service request app, SeeClickFix, was used across the two US cities. The only difference was that city officials in Oakland could see the comments and follow on requests, while city officials in San Francisco could only see the number of submissions.    


The study found that service requests in Oakland were two times more likely to get closed and five days faster on average to be resolved than that of San Francisco. 


Interviews with the local US government officials highlighted that enabling citizen-to-citizen interactions in such apps had helped them to identify the most severe issues to address first, and kept them on their toes when it came to the progress of these requests.  

Economic and social benefits 


A collaborative approach to filter the issues to address could help save up city officials’ time and resources and improve government responsiveness. 


“Time and resource constraints frequently lead cities to turn to residents for assistance. The logic is that “supplementing—or perhaps supplanting—the labors of paid public officials with the service-directed activities of urban dwellers” can “raise both the quality and the efficiency of municipal services.”  


“In this way, residents serve as volunteers or watchdogs to aid the work of public officials.” 


Aside from economic motivations, the paper also pointed to social motivations to incorporate collaboration in citizen service request apps. 


“Local governments value citizen participation in service provision not only for enhanced efficiency and customer satisfaction, but also for democratic values such as transparency and accountability. 


“All of these considerations have shaped the trajectory of forums for public input in service provision, culminating in the recent rise of digital platforms and mobile apps to attend to citizens requests,” the researcher explained. 


Highlighting the policy implications from the research, she said: “The findings suggest that citizen-to-citizen interactions in coproduction can generate information that impacts bureaucrats’ job performance and that technological advances can shape service delivery rules by providing such opportunities for citizen-to-citizen interactions. 


“Importantly, the study highlights the value of prospective and concurrent collaborative crowdsourcing for improving information accuracy and quality in service delivery. 


“Furthermore, the findings extend scholarship examining how new technologies are changing public managers’ decision-making processes and expanding collaborative governance and innovation opportunities.” 


Source: Public Administration Review 

“Does collective citizen input impact government service provision? Evidence from SeeClickFix requests” 

Authors: Schiff, K.J.