Three years ago Boston Mayor Thomas Menino created the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. Mayor Menino’s goal in creating the Office of New Urban Mechanics was to encourage innovative approaches that improve service delivery and encourage citizen engagement. Boston tracks the performance of its city departments and as such, city officials know:

-Time to deliver recycling bins has dropped from 30 days to 7 days.
-Burned-out streetlights are replaced in 7 days, down from 17.5 days.
-In January 2013, 96% of reported potholes were repaired — up from 48% in February 2011 — and potholes typically are filled within 0.6 days of being reported, down from 3 days in 2011.
-Sidewalk repairs take place within 1.1 days of a report, down from 5.4 days.
-Park maintenance requests are fulfilled in 6 days, down from 10 days.
-In 2013, 75% of constituents say they are satisfied with the city’s customer service system, up from 54% in 2011.

Prof. Susan Crawford has completed a case study of Mayor Menino’s efforts and makes the following points in her study:

1) Key Boston City Hall staff built relationships across City Hall and out into academia and the private sector that led to the creation of apps such as Citizens Connect (mobile app for constituent requests, soon to be updated to allow for civic engagement points) and City Worker (app for use in the field to manage queues of requests and close them when finished).

2) It seems critical to have staff tasked with encouraging innovation physically and virtually located in the mayor’s offices rather than isolated in a particular department. Even without substantial budgetary authority or staff resources, the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics succeeded in cajoling and facilitating useful cross-City Hall efforts as well as collaborations between people inside and outside government.

3) The focus of technology-oriented staff members has been on constituent engagement and the personalization of services. Mayor Menino’s leadership in this regard has been crucial. He does not want to allow technology to be used to keep constituents at a distance.

4) The launch of Boston’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system triggered the creation of trustworthy data about departmental performance. (In the past, departments didn’t believe in the data.) It also required service-providing departments (Public Works, Parks) to work much more closely together. The CRM system has helped people who hadn’t been data-focused became much more so, and a fractured bureaucracy became less fractured.

Successful people and successful organizations track how well they are doing. Most local governments do not know how long it takes for someone to obtain a permit or license. Nor do they monitor or track in any way whether services being provided are being done better, faster and cheaper.

The approach being done in Boston can be replicated elsewhere. Professor Crawford’s study provides useful information that other communities can utilize.