The best technology is often barely noticed. For example, the ease in which you can get an Uber ride to the airport–it feels like magic. But under the hood there is a terrific amount of engineering to make that seamless process work.
When we set out to change the public hearing process, we knew that whatever we built had to be easier than the current system. It had to integrate into the existing daily routines of our users: citizens, staff, applicants, and decision-makers. In today’s world, that means email.
We’ve created an email routing system that seamlessly integrates with our customers’ lives and daily routines, while keeping personal email addresses hidden and anonymous (think Craiglist; a nice privacy feature).
The first thing it does is helps citizens reach the appropriate staff or applicant for each case. The citizen submits their question on the website, and then the system delivers it. When the staff responds, the citizen receives the email. When the applicant responds, both the citizen and staff receives the email. The citizen can simply reply to the email they receive or they can submit a new question. The system handles all of it. This allows staff to track all correspondence and ensure cases run smoothly with a free flow of information.
In the last month we’ve been working on something similar for decision-makers, in this case Planning Commissioners. The way it is going to work for Planning Commissioners is a little different. Once they’ve logged in, Planning Commissioners can ask a question, which is routed just to the staff.
When staff receives the question, they work to provide the answer, in some cases by getting information from the applicant. Instead of replying to the email, they post the answer on the website.
These Staff Responses are only visible to authenticated Planning Commissioners. This system allows all correspondence made visible to all Planning Commissioners. So everyone is getting the same information, making a level playing field. It also reduces duplication. For example, if a question is asked more than once by multiple Planning Commissioners, instead of taking the time to reply a second time, the staff can simply point the Planning Commissioner to the website.
We’re taking a break this holiday weekend to spend time with our families, but will return next week to continue efforts in getting this add-on launched next month, along with some other exciting features unique to decision-makers.