Options for Government N-1-1 non-emergency public service solutions / Behördenrufnummer 115

The move to establish an easy to remember number (311) for non-emergency government services has lately gained attention around the globe. There are now initiatives underway in Germany (D115) and the UK (101). After 10 years, more and more counties and cities decide to start 311 projects. Yet 311 is far from being available for the whole population in the U.S. if we consider an earlier post of mine (map of U.S./Canadian 311 service center projects). In order to discuss the alternative or future options of 311 I will first take a look at the general options a government can follow to establish the phone as public service delivery channel. Part I will present the five options. The combination of performance management and service centers is mostly excluded to reduce complexity. The models are based on a country with a federal government structure. Part II which will be added in a couple of days will discuss the future of 311 and issues such as performance management.

The central approach
At first glance it is probably the easiest way to set up a central service center for any government. This can be a single, big service center or a number of service centers which are virtually connected. In Figure 1 below a service-center that covers more than one level of government (either of the same level e.g. several cities or several cities and a county) is called “Regional Service Center”. The core aspect of this concept is the central character: Governance, finance (e.g. federal budget) and data bases. While centrality makes many things like setting standards or reducing redundancies easy, data bases are the central challenge of this approach. Not the technology but rather the content. Just gathering and maintaining the data from all levels of governments sounds like a goal that is either unrealistic (if we consider the principle of subsidiarity in a federal state which is many times protected by the constitution) or never ending. Moreover, if we think of the way 311 is used as a tool for performance management and tapping into the local knowledge of citizens there is challenge on how this data gets redistributed to the right sources.


Figure 1: The Central Approach

The 311 approach
I am not going into much detail here. An advantage of 311 is that it avoids the political battles of a central approach or the move to start with a multi-jurisdictional approach. Figure 2 shows the current situation in the U.S. We have mostly 311 centers on the local level. They may have information on higher jurisdictions in their data bases but they are generally not fully integrated in the service value chain. A few Regional Service Centers can be found already. For example, Miami-Dade County has integrated the City of Miami. 34 cities have not been integrated yet. The challenge of administrators in Miami-Dade derives from budget constraints (property tax issue) or the regulatory environment. An additional challenge is to come up with finance and service level agreements that result in benefits for both sides and a sustainable service to the citizens. As one administrators once pointed out to me: “Setting up the call center and data base is easy. Changing the integrated administrations (departments) and preparing them for the change in citizens’ expectation is the real challenge”. Finally, Figure 2 also points to two further issues of this approach. First, 311 results in a lot of isolated and many times redundant relationships (either data or other form of agreements). Second, it is difficult to realize country wide accessibility. Less populated areas, therefore, the municipalities will lack the financial and HR capacity to realize 311 on their own.


Figure 2: The 311 Approach

The Central/311 Hybrid approach
This model (Figure 3) is generally a combination of the central and the 311 approach. Certain information and services that are provided by higher jurisdictions (here: State/Federal) are managed and available from a central unit/access point. This avoids some of the redundancies of the 311 approach. Regional and local service centers may develop at different speeds and provide varying degrees of services. Therefore, political battles are less likely to come up as would be the case in the central model. Service centers are not exchanging their local data or services with other service centers.


Figure 3: The Central/311 Hybrid Approach

The Networked Approach
The networked approach generally builds on most of the components described in the 311 model. The core difference is that all of the service centers build a network. Information is shared widely while each service center integrates government entities based on its needs or plans. Figure 4 shows the complexity of the network and the probability of creating highly redundant activities and relationships. In order for the network to function all members need to establish some form of governance to solve issues of standards and coordination.


Figure 4: The Networked Approach

The Multi-centric Approach
The Multi-centric approach combines aspects of the central, 311 and network approach. It characteristics of a central approach because there are central units/db which provide information/services/coordination for a certain subset of service-centers within one “center”. The service centers can evolve at different speeds and service-depths. They can be local or regional service centers. Therefore, the multi-centric approach starts like the current 311 activities. However, there is a core difference. Within one “center” the service centers are supposed to coordinate their efforts. In addition, there is a central unit (see top left of Figure 5) which coordinates and supports (e.g. good practice sharing, etc.) the overall efforts of all the “centers” and the service centers. Finally, the multi-centric approach also adopts the idea of the network approach. Each center shares information/services with other centers.


Figure 5: The Multi-centric Network Approach

The multi-centric model is currently the favored approach for the introduction of the project “D115 Behördentelefon / Behördeneinheitliche Rufnummer” in Germany.

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