Public Works and Citizen Engagement: How Carbondale, IL is Doing More with Less

An effective, user-friendly communications platform for your residents to report non-emergency issues can move your organization out of the “Dark Ages” and significantly improve operations and citizen satisfaction.

ARTICLE | Oct 17, 2016

Sean C. Henry, P.E., is the Public Works Director in Carbondale, IL. He was challenged with improving communication between 26,363 citizens and government staff. After identifying an effective, user-friendly communications platform for citizens to report non-emergency issues, Sean has seen dramatic changes in the way he and his department work — everything from better workflow management to more positive citizen engagement.

The Need: Out of the “Dark Ages”

Carbondale did not have any kind of work order management or tracking software. The Public Works Department was doing everything by hand. Sticky notes were the most popular way of passing information back and forth, followed by phone calls and emails. Sean is quick to point out that it was not a very effective way of doing work. “That results in losing track of a lot of requests — following up on them was really difficult.” This led to lack of accountability and lots of challenges to provide the kind of customer service Sean wanted for Carbondale’s citizens.

“Our society has increased in pace and people expect to get responses right away and expect to get some feedback.”   To provide the best customer, the Public Works service staff had to call individual citizens about each specific pothole. Sean’s department did not have time for that.

What would have happened if Sean and his department did not identify a solution? According to Sean, “We’d be continuing on in the dark ages. We’re well beyond the time for having a solution, especially with all the technology out there. There is simply no excuse for a city of our size to be shuffling around papers in this day and age. It’s just not an efficient workflow.”

The Solution

Carbondale knew they needed a solution. And from the Public Works perspective, Sean pointed out five key aspects that were most important in finding the right fit:

  1. Cost and ease of implementation
  2. Ease of day-to-day operation
  3. Cost of ongoing maintenance costs
  4. A process of internal accountability
  5. Robust customer service features

Taking these considerations into account, Carbondale chose SeeClickFix because it would help them stay organized, provide feedback to citizens, and improve communication overall. Sean also noted that he knew it would help provide feedback internally — especially to city council — as a way to maintain accountability. They considered other options, but went with SeeClickFix, because among many reasons, “most [options] are very expensive and have cumbersome citizen engagement processes.”

Carbondale launched the service in the spring of 2016, with a custom-branded mobile app. Citizens can report issues anywhere, anytime - right on their mobile devices.

Carbondale also has a widget on the government website where citizens can report issues from their desktop.

The Results: Better Work, Better Engagement, Better Carbondale

Sean and his department have been very active on the platform, communicating internally and with citizens directly about issues and what measures Public Works is taking in real-time. “Getting information into the rights hands for action has never been easier,” Sean said. “The software provides us with a great way to interact with citizens and coworkers.” Being able to manage work and track issues has proven to be indispensable for Sean and Public Works. The ability to manage work orders and track the status of reports has transformed Public Works and its day-to-day operations, cutting out inefficiencies and confusing processes. “This alone has already saved us many headaches,” Sean pointed out.

Putting a city’s workflow out in the open, however, is a daunting task for governments. Sean understands the hesitation. What’s going to happen? What if they are bombarded by citizen submissions? Sean says he had the same fears. The truth of the matter is Carbondale hasn’t seen any of those fears come true. “We just have not had problems with any of that,” Sean said. “The interaction with citizens and coworkers have just been really great. There is nothing we do that we need to hide.”

Citizens in Carbondale have also responded well, according to Sean. “They’re really thrilled with the engagement they’re getting and the simplicity of reporting their concerns and keeping up-to-date on the status of their reports,” he said. “My department now has hundreds of eyes and ears working for us out in the field, helping us to make the place we live, work, and grow much better.”

Sean and his department can now respond back to citizens alongside everyday workflow. The result, as Sean has noted, is not just more engagement with citizens, but more positive engagement. “Citizens now have the chance to see Public Works in action,” Sean said. Citizens know and can clearly see the additive value of the police and fire departments, but the hard work of the men and women in Public Works often goes unseen and taken for granted. “We can show everyone what we do and how well we do it!” Sean said, adding, “We don’t do our work for the recognition, but it’s nice to have a thank you.

SeeClickFix is a 2015 Code for America Technology winner, as well as listed in the inaugural GovTech 100 list.  To learn how your community can benefit from this communications platform with issue tracking, workflow management and resolution replies, contact Caroline Smith at

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