The Lab @ DC
Stronger Evidence for a Stronger DC

Can photos pave the way for resident engagement?

Can photos pave the way for resident engagement?

Project Summary
To make sure DC government is providing good customer service to District residents, it’s important to test new ways of serving residents and measure their satisfaction. We thought we could improve customer satisfaction and engagement by sending residents a photo showing that their requests for pothole repairs were completed. Using the city’s 311 service request system, we designed a pilot and evaluation plan to test the impact of sharing photos. Unfortunately, we were not able to implement the pilot due to concerns about safety and feasibility. But the effort still led to DC adding photo feedback for other 311 service requests.

Why is this issue important in DC?
Residents complain about potholes, but don’t often see the work DC does to address their requests and maintain roads. Research suggests that making this type of “hidden” work visible can improve how residents view their government and how often they interact with it. 1

What did we do?
We worked with the Office of Unified Communications (OUC) and the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to build photo-sharing into their service request tracking and customer communication systems. We also drafted resident-centered emails to be sent with the photos.

DDOT employees fill a pothole. (Credit: The Lab @ DC)

DDOT employees fill a pothole. (Credit: The Lab @ DC)

Finally, we planned a study to test the impact of the photos. In it, OUC would send a randomly selected group of customers a photo in response to their service requests. We would then measure their continued use of the 311 system (administrative data) and their satisfaction with DC government (using a survey).

What have we learned?
This was an early project for us, and we learned that there are many aspects of a project to consider in the design phase. In the end, taking a photo of each repaired pothole raised safety concerns that crews would be at risk due to oncoming traffic. In addition, adding this new step to the process would require a modification to the union’s contract, which is not regularly renegotiated. In 2018, we decided not to implement the pilot until everyone agrees that it is safe and feasible. There are no findings from this project.

Our goal is to ensure that our roadways are not just maintained but they are in the best shape possible.
— Mayor Muriel Bowser

What comes next? While this project didn’t move forward, DC is still committed to using photo feedback within the 311 system. OUC plans to send photos of other completed service requests to residents as part of their standard process.

What happened behind the scenes? If you saw a photo of patched asphalt, how would you know it was your pothole? We took a number of pothole portraits—before and after—to figure out what made potholes distinct. In the end, the most recognizable shots were of the surrounding buildings and landmarks, not just the street.