a collaborative model and open standard for civic issue tracking

Learn More

Open311 provides open communication with public services and local government.

Show Support

Pledge support for the implementation of Open311 in your city or service.

Help Develop

Help us develop Open311 apps and refine the spec to ensure wider interoperability.

From the blog


Tackling the long-term strategy of Open311

by Philip Ashlock

The following post was written by Andrew Nicklin of NYC DoITT, a long time member of the Open311 community. It’s a cross-post from the original at The points Andrew raise about the challenges of scaling Open311 as an open platform are spot on and the whole post seemed important enough to re-post here. Andrew also thought it’d be best to get feedback about these issues here on the main Open311 website.

As Open311 adoption grows rapidly, with more endpoints on the way, it’s time to start developing a broader strategy to solve some new problems that will emerge. I think one of the first of those problems will be recognizing where someone is, and connecting them automatically to the right Open311 endpoints (yes, I do mean plural- more on this in a moment). In his Open311 Wish List, Philip Ashlock starts to tackle this:

As more cities stand up their endpoints, it becomes more of a challenge to know they all exist and make sure client applications can discover them. Several years ago we started thinking about an idea called GeoWebDNS that would essentially act as a geospatial lookup service for geographically bound web services. Ian Bicking, built a proof of concept and I later discovered that the FCC was evaluating a similar, albeit more robust, proposal called LoST (see reference implementation) to be used for the same purpose on Next Generation 911 services. So far, these are merely proposals, but we’re increasingly in need of one of these systems to be put to use as a real world pilot and eventually to act as a critical piece of civic infrastructure.

So with that goal in mind, here are a few issues that I think need to be tackled in order to have a sustainable future.

  1. API Keys. At present, 8 of the Open311 endpoints (Baltimore, Bloomington, Boston, Brookline, Grand Rapids, San Francisco, Toronto, Washington DC) have distinct API key request mechanisms and key management solutions. The rest of the endpoints leverage a common SeeClickFix solution. (SeeClickFix also offers a proprietary API). As more endpoints are added, having to manage an array of endpoint keys is going to become untenable for the developer community.
  2. Authentication/Authorization. Although there isn’t yet clear consensus from the members of the Open311 community about how authentication/authorization fits in to the drafted specifications, one thing that is clear is that having to manage a customer identity at each endpoint will not make it easy for a customer to request services.
  3. Terms of Service. Along with requiring the independent provisioning of API keys and customer identities, each endpoint also has different terms of service which a developer must explicitly agree to, and a customer must implicitly agree to. Having to comply with multiple, differing terms of service is going to become untenable for the developer community.
  4. Geographic overlap. 311 as a telephone service is constrained to one call center/answering point per geographic region; this is imposed by the very one-to-one nature of a phone system. While following the same model has served the Open311 mission very well to-date, this isn’t the reality of how service providers work in the real world, and I think it will reduce the long-term sustainability of Open311 to stay with a one customer-to-one provider model. A customer can only be in one location when making a request, but they could be making a request to their local town/city, to their local county, their state/territory, their nation, or even to the world (e.g. the United Nations). Each of those tiers offers a distinct set of services, and in the ideal scenario, all of those services should be presented to a customer in a unified manner, regardless of who is offering them. At the moment, we all get around that problem by providing information which, technically speaking, is really the responsibility of others to maintain. For example, you can contact NYC 311 and ask how to obtain a driver’s license, and you’ll get an answer - but that’s a New York state-provided service, and they should own it.Incidentally, tackling this issue might eventually drive official 311 systems to leverage Open311 to make calls to other overlapping service provider systems.

    A final note on this: neither GeoWeb DNS, nor LoST (IETF RFC 5222) seem to support returning multiple services per query.

The good news is that I believe there are solutions to all of these challenges. Before we start digging into those, however, I invite the community to comment on these and, more importantly, identify other challenges which I have missed or am unable to see from my perspective.

0 Comments Filed under Uncategorized 5:58 pm on February 1, 2012

An Open311 Wish List

by Philip Ashlock

The Open311 GeoReport v2 spec was finalized on 3-11-11. That date was historic instead for the heartbreaking Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. I think that disaster revealed a great deal of civic minded compassion and heroism in Japan so it all may be interrelated in the end. With dozens of cities now implementing the spec, Open311 has come a long way since last March and so has Japan. The transition to a new year is always a time of reflection and list making so I thought I’d make a wish list for Open311.

Throughout the course of the year we’ve seen many implementations emerge and more recently there have been impressive examples of cities and counties developing their own open source Open311 software stacks. To compliment their homegrown Open311 CRM, the city of Bloomington, Indiana has developed GeoReporter, an Open311 iPhone app which also works with other cities and Miami-Dade County has also developed a CRM middleware server which can be used with other governments. Yet even with all this activity, there’s always more that can be done.

In September, we started a substantial effort to identify how the next version of the spec would evolve, but feedback about the state of the current spec has led me to focus more on improving the documentation and infrastructure of GeoReport v2 before focusing on the next iteration. We’ve recently started discussing a redesign of the website, I’ve started working on an improved version of the docs, we’re trying to better manage bugs and feature requests, and also to track implementation issues. Even after all of that, a wish list has been emerging for things that I think would really give the current specification better footing and more reach: the documentation needs to be clearer and easier to use, we need to do a better job of ensuring compliance and interoperability, and we simply need to bring more diversity and scale to the ecosystem and demonstrate the value proposition of this platform. There’s more we can do.

The rumor is that this year Code for America will make a big impact on Open311 by continuing to build off of their already impressive contributions and by working with new cities. The Code for America fellows will be working with the city of Chicago as well as a number of cities who are interested in implementing the standard and the ecosystem of tools that come with it. With that on my mind, I thought I would lay out a wish list and invite the 2012 Code for America fellows and everyone else to help us build an even more solid foundation for the Open311 platform. What follows is that wish list.

Documentation & Infrastructure

An Open311 Validator
Build a web-based validator to test implementations

The easiest way to track compliance and interoperability of GeoReport implementations would be to have a web based validator that can be used as a simple web form much like the W3C validator, but for more complex API interactions rather than just validating a schema. From there, you might as well have it occasionally run tests on known endpoints to show the status of the all endpoints in one place. Over the past year or so there’s been some work on a validator. An early version was developed by DC OCTO in Python and SeeClickFix has more recently been developing one in Ruby. I’ve also recently started to play with an API testing tool called api-easy in node.js (Mark Headd has a node.js client library too). Currently, these are all just command line tools, but the next step is to make them web based and make it very easy to see how compliant an endpoint is when you’re building a client app or want to connect to it.

Interactive Documentation
Implement I/O Docs or similar interactive API documentation framework.

We’d love to provide a way for people to experiment with the API while they’re reviewing the documentation. This can be done with open source tools like iodocs and aided with web-based consoles like the one Twitter uses from Apigee. Setting up the configuration for iodocs could also go hand in hand with setting up the validator (iodocs and api-easy are also both node.js). Furthermore, making sure something like iodocs is working properly should also help us consider how to provide better written documentation.

Build off of the GeoWebDNS concept with an administration interface to manage new endpoints.

As more cities stand up their endpoints, it becomes more of a challenge to know they all exist and make sure client applications can discover them. Several years ago we started thinking about an idea called GeoWebDNS that would essentially act as a geospatial lookup service for geographically bound web services. Ian Bicking, built a proof of concept and I later discovered that the FCC was evaluating a similar, albeit more robust, proposal called LoST (see reference implementation) to be used for the same purpose on Next Generation 911 services. So far, these are merely proposals, but we’re increasingly in need of one of these systems to be put to use as a real world pilot and eventually to act as a critical piece of civic infrastructure.

More, More, More

More Cities
Help more cities implement the spec

There are currently over two dozen cities that are implementing the Open311 GeoReport v2 API, but there should be more. One thing that would be really helpful would be to identify what’s preventing a city from implementing and then help focus on solutions to address that. These reasons can span a wide range from the small towns that can’t afford a CRM offering to the large cities that have too complex of a 311 system to be able to easily integrate an API that works for the whole city (and which might benefit from starting with a more targeted pilot project approach).

More Companies
Inspire more companies to build and support apps

There’s currently somewhere between five and ten companies that provide support for the Open311 GeoReport v2 API in different applications and services, but there should be more. These companies range from the early supporters like SeeClickFix and Connected Bits to the well established CRM vendors like Motorola and Kana Lagan and even to companies like Mark-a-Spot and Joget which can support their open source offerings. In the next year, I look forward to seeing more support from the prevalent CRMs (including Microsoft, SAP, and others) and I also look forward to more entrepreneurial start-ups in the spirit of SeeClickFix and Connected Bits making a huge impact across numerous cities. There’s clearly an opportunity for people to step up and start new companies or provide support for the growing ecosystem of technology in this space and I think efforts like the Code for America Accelerator are on the right track to harness that opportunity.

More Apps
Help grow the ecosystem of Open311 compliant apps, particularly mobile apps

Between the supported apps & services and the emerging open source projects, there are currently about 20 different pieces of software that implement Open311 GeoReport v2. To my surprise, the majority of these have turned out to be more focused on the server side rather than the client side. I think we need more client apps, particularly mobile apps, as well as things that provide better visualization and contextualization.  Apps like the mobile app from SeeClickFix have been around for a while to hook into GeoReport APIs and Bloomington is releasing an open source iPhone app that can work with any compliant city, but I think there should be more choices on more mobile platforms. I also think it’d be great to see Open311 support as an added feature for an existing app. Perhaps an app that integrates with Twitter or Foursquare could also work with Open311 endpoints and know how and when to make that connection.

Open Source Ecosystem & Community

Open311 support for the Ushahidi web platform
Implement the GeoReport v2 API in Ushahidi to act as a server endpoint. For bonus points, also implement it as a client that routes to other endpoints.

I’ve often heard Ushahidi referred to as the “Wordpress of web mapping.” It has been used far and wide, especially after gaining attention for the major role it played in mapping the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. Because Ushahidi has developed as an international open source project, it is implemented in a broad number of places. Often times these implementations are ad-hoc unofficial systems that serve as the only reporting and coordination platform available. Other times they’re used in more of an official way, as we saw with NYC during Irene. In either case, there are problems with connecting the platform with those who need it. When it’s implemented only in response to a problem, it can be difficult to get people familiar with it and let them know it exists in the same way they might be familiar with a more permanent everyday 311-type of system. Even when used officially or permanently, Ushahidi instances are often not integrated with the established communication and response processes like any kind of 911 or 311 system. For all these reasons Ushahidi is an ideal platform to integrate the Open311 standards. Some of this has already begun with a proof of concept to connect the Ushahidi data model with the Open311 API and the beginings of an Ushahidi plugin. To learn more about what has already been developed, see this project page from RHoK. I’m happy to help coordinate this and Heather Leson has offered to help act as a point person for the Ushahidi Team.

An end to end open source stack
Mash-up an end-to-end open source stack by building off of existing mobile apps, CRMs, workflow tools, and visualization dashboards.

Bloomington, Indiana has single-handedly built out a substantial portion of an Open311 software stack with both a mobile app and a CRM, but a more complete open source stack has yet to be pieced together. Fortunately, there is a lot of code available out there, with projects like the Open311 Dashboard and Joget Workflow from Code for America as well as the code from Miami-Dade County, Mark-a-Spot, FixMyStreet, and even planned support in new projects like Shareabouts. There’s also a wiki page to highlight visualization libraries that you might want to put to use. Libraries like Raphael have been put to good use for things like the Birmingham Civic Dashboard.

Get Involved

That’s all I’ve got for now. If you’d like to hack on any of these projects please be sure to join the mailing list to ask questions, tell us what you’re thinking, and find out if there are others working on the same thing you’re interested in.

5 Comments Filed under Uncategorized 4:22 am on January 6, 2012

311 Pioneering Baltimore Continues to Lead with Open311

by Philip Ashlock

spacer The new 311 Mobile App allows citizens to have real-time collaboration with their government.
- Mayor Rawlings-Blake

The City of Baltimore has a long history of leading the way with 311. In 1996 they were the first city to deploy the 311 short code and unified call center and in 1999 the city launched CitiStat pioneering the use of statistics based performance management. Now both of these innovations can be amplified by a much more open and collaborative relationship between Baltimoreans and their government through Open311.

This week Baltimore announced that they have deployed the Open311 API placing them among the select cities which have implemented the GeoReport v2 standard. The city also launched a mobile app to provide its citizens with a much richer and more engaging interaction with the 311 system and, by extension, with their neighborhoods.

The new Baltimore 311 app can be found on the App Store for iPhone as well as on the Android Marketplace. There’s also a simple web app which provides a Twitter-like newsfeed of other reports.

With the Open311 API any developer can create an app that can integrate directly with the city’s 311 system. If you’d like to start building an app that connects to the Open311 API in Baltimore you can get an API key and get connected to their staging server. The Baltimore endpoints have also been added to the full list of Open311 GeoReport v2 Servers.

The launch of Baltimore’s Open311 apps and API was aided by the fact that they were able to leverage the Open311 compliant solutions provided by Motorola CSR and Connected Bits. Baltimore CIO Rico Singleton went as far as to say that their choice of software solutions was influenced by the interoperability provided by the standard.

With these moves, Baltimore demonstrated it is still at the forefront of urban innovation. I’m eager to see how the city leverages Open311 and continues to build on these successful and influential models for civic engagement and management.

This post originally appeared on the Civic Commons blog.

0 Comments Filed under Uncategorized 1:41 pm on September 10, 2011

Ushahidi and the Open311 Ecosystem

by Philip Ashlock

David Eaves wrote a great post today highlighting the opportunity for Open311 integration with the Ushahidi platform. I ended up responding with a long comment and figured I’d post it here as well - particularly since we’re long overdue for an update and because I’ve covered many of the cities, vendors, and companies working on Open311 implementation, but haven’t covered the recent wave of open source efforts. In any case, here’s my response to David’s post:

Thanks for writing this up David. I expressed a similar sentiment in a post I wrote last year called Reporting Issues for All Occasions and during the RHOK event you linked to I did in fact finish initial integration of the Open311 GeoReport v2 spec with Ushahidi. There’s a demo of it up at with familiar GeoReport endpoints being


This isn’t complete though and it’s not packaged in a way that integrates well with the rest of the Ushahidi codebase. I’m long overdue in better coordinating this with folks like Erik and others on the Ushahidi developer list where I’ve been lurking, but there are a number of efforts underway which will surely bring more of full Open311 support to Ushahidi. If there are folks interested in this, please let us know on our respective mailing lists:


It’s also worth noting that there are a number of other open source systems much like Ushahidi which have been working on support for Open311 GeoReport v2. These include two of the FixMyStreet codebases and Mark-a-spot.


Also see more open source Open311 efforts on the wiki and broader context from my recent Civic Commons talk at OKCon.

I should also state two of the main shortcomings with Ushahidi in it’s current state which I hope can be addressed with more developer involvement. 1) Ushahidi is great for simple reporting of problems, but needs more robust features to triage, assign, and track them 2) Ushahidi doesn’t currently use a true geospatial database, so you are limited in your ability to do things like query reports by a “geo-fence” (a polygon).

Accommodating features like this was part of our thinking in providing the benefit of a geospatial database for the Trac issue tracking system with GeoTrac and I think things like that can be part of a diverse ecosystem of issue tracking systems and Open311 implementations.

Currently, Ushahidi has the broadest number of international deployments and developers, so in my mind it’s one of the best places to focus for Open311 integration and it’s where I plan to put a great deal of my attention this year, but ultimately the goal is to let a diverse ecosystem form on top of a common platform.

1 Comment Filed under Uncategorized 8:07 pm on July 6, 2011

The Open311 GeoReport v2 Spec Stabilizes

by Philip Ashlock

It’s been a while since there’s been an update here, but if you’ve watched the mailing list you’ve seen that work has continued to help ensure that the GeoReport v2 spec is clearly defined and stabilized. We’re almost ready to officially freeze the spec and many cities, companies, and developers have already been implementing the spec as currently defined. This includes San Francisco, Washington D.C., Boston, and several systems including SeeClickFix, Lagan, Motorola PremierOne CSR, ISC HeyGov! (using Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online), and Connected Bits Citizens Connect. If you know of others working to implement the v2 spec please let us know on the mailing list or here in the comments.

Over the past few months there has been a lot of feedback on the spec to ensure that it’s consistent, complete, clearly documented, and is being aligned with best practices for API design. We’ve tried to make it clear that the spec is still in a beta testing phase to better inform implementers and to encourage”bug reports” and other feedback. While the spec is not perfect, it has stabilized and matured to reflect a healthy evolution from where this initiative began. This is meant to be an iterative process, so all feedback will help to continuously improve the spec.

We’ve also been working out better coordination among implementers to more effectively establish consensus about the stability and finalization of the spec. Part of this also relates to the way this initiative is structured and managed. We’re going to work to have this initiative more clearly defined and run based on the Apache/meritocratic model template from OSS Watch. We’ll also start bringing more of the issues regarding the spec into the bug tracker to help manage them through resolution.

As we approach finalization of this revision of the spec the next step is to make tools available to test compliance of implementations. A few of these tools are already being developed and we’ll be sure to make them easy to find here on the website when they’re complete.

Stay tuned, there will be more updates soon and in the meantime you can get more details on the mailing list.

0 Comments Filed under Uncategorized 2:44 pm on October 27, 2010
See all blog posts…
Open311 GeoReport API
spacer View the GeoReport v2 API Specification
Open311 Cities
The following are some of the cities which have implemented the GeoReport v2 standard:
  • Toronto, Ontario
  • San Francisco, California
  • Washington D.C.
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Bloomington, Indiana
  • New Haven, Connecticut
  • Tuscon, Arizona
  • Darwin, Australia
  • Manor, Texas
See full list
Open311 Apps & Services
There is a burgeoning ecosystem of apps and services which work with the Open311 GeoReport v2 standard. This includes a number of solutions with Commercial Support and a variety of Open Source options.
About is meant to facilitate an international effort to build open interoperable systems that allow citizens to more directly interact with their cities. Learn more →

The Open311 initiative was established by OpenPlans and is managed by Civic Commons.



Activity Stream
Tag your tweets with #open311 • Follow @open311
Recent Posts
  • Tackling the long-term strategy of Open311
  • An Open311 Wish List
  • 311 Pioneering Baltimore Continues to Lead with Open311
  • Ushahidi and the Open311 Ecosystem
  • The Open311 GeoReport v2 Spec Stabilizes
  • February 2012
  • January 2012
  • September 2011
  • July 2011
  • October 2010
  • May 2010
  • March 2010
  • February 2010
  • January 2010
  • November 2009
  • October 2009
  • September 2009
  • July 2009
  • June 2009 is neither affiliated with the authors of this page nor responsible for its contents. This is a safe-cache copy of the original web site.