MySociety promotes open route to 311

Local authorities are being urged to adopt a free standard system for citizens to alert them to common non-emergency problems such as potholes. The system, Open311, is being promoted by the web activist group MySociety as an alternative to lock-in to commercial systems.

The easy to remember 311 telephone number for non-emergency municipal services originated in the US. In cities such as Miami its introduction is credited with reducing urban blight.

Open311, an open standard developed by OpenPlans, is a standardised system for handling problem reports. MySociety is promoting it as the preferred interface with its pioneering "FixMyStreet" website.

MySociety founder Tom Steinberg describes Open311 as "the mechanism through which citizens can slot their service requests directly into the computerised to-do lists of local government staff, and the way they those citizens can get back progress updates more quickly and easily."

Steinberg says that the standard open access system "is a new idea in the realm of government IT... Traditionally these systems have not been set up to speak a common language with the outside world."

In a blog post, he says that such failure to speak a common language is not always accidental. "Unscrupulous suppliers will sometimes intentionally set up systems so that the government has to pay extra money if they want any new channels to be added. Using Open311 is both a way to lower your future costs, and a way to make sure your current supplier can't lock you into expensive upgrades."