New Orleans selected as 2012 Code For America city; Fellows to address 311 reporting system

Code for America is a national non-profit organization that helps governments become more transparent, connected, and efficient by connecting web developers with people who deliver city services. Through that process, they also foster the growth of tech-savvy citizens working to better communities.

Yesterday, Code for America announced that the City of New Orleans has been selected as one of eight cities for its 2012 national fellowship program. Fellows will work on a project that includes developing a “Batch 311 Reporting System” where neighborhoods can submit lists of complaints and get back results that show the status of each, sending those that are not already being worked to the appropriate department to fix the problem.

New Orleans’ selection for Code for America demonstrates cutting-edge thinking and a willingness to invest in long-term change through the development of new web-based technology.

“This competitive award and support will to allow us to enhance our work with neighborhood groups and individual residents in the fight on blight,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “I’d like to thank Code for America for choosing our city on this initiative. As we roll out 311 next year, the tools these fellows develop will continue to improve our customer service interactions and responsiveness with residents.”

Based on Teach for America, the program recruits the top talent from the technology industry to give a year of service to build innovative web applications that make city governments more open, participatory and efficient. Through a competitive process, Code for America chooses cities whose proposals reflected a deep understanding of the power that technology can bring to local governments. In 2011, Code for America hosted inaugural projects in Boston, Philadelphia, and Seattle. For the 2012 program, over twenty governments applied, and New Orleans is just one of eight selected to participate.

New Orleans’ project is being supported by the Open Society Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Greater New Orleans Foundation.

The Code for America New Orleans Fellows will build an application that allows residents to upload lists of complaints. The focus will be on reporting lists of blighted properties, but the application will be adaptable to take in reports of broken street lights, abandoned cars, clogged catch basins, and more. Once the list of blighted properties has been uploaded, the addresses will be compared to addresses already in the pipeline for blight remediation. Those addresses not already in the system will be routed to the Code Enforcement & Hearings Bureau for inspection. The resident will receive back from the application the status of each property in their list.

The ability of the City to take in lists of blighted properties has long been requested from neighborhood leaders, but the City has not had the capacity to manually research and respond to neighborhood lists. Code for America Fellows will interview neighborhood leaders to understand what type of tool will be most helpful, and they will work closely with City Hall staff to ensure that the information being delivered to residents is accurate and meaningful.

“New Orleans is an ideal partner for Code for America,” said Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America. “We’re pushing for a new model of citizen and government interaction, one where both work together to solve problems. The community in New Orleans has a long history of civic participation, and we are excited to work with them to bring new tools to support their neighborhoods.”

The 2012 Code for America New Orleans fellows will begin their fellowship in January 2012, and will be spending the month of February in New Orleans, interviewing civic leaders. Throughout the year, they will be based in San Francisco, with the other 20-25 CFA fellows, working together and collaborating, with frequent visits back to the city for research, testing and deployment