Skip to content


Reporting consists of identifying problems to the responsible agency or organisation. It’s best used for problems with a clear solution (e.g., reporting a pothole) or for providing simple status information (e.g., bus #10 is late, train is crowded). See Collaboration for problems that need to be discussed.
Mainstream social media (e.g., Twitter) can be used for reporting problems, but reporting applications are better because they allow agencies to efficiently collect and process reporting data using back-end systems (i.e., acknowledge receipt, notify responsible department, monitor solution process, etc.). CityLab has a fascinating article on the future of reporting systems The Future of 311 Could Be Weird.
Most reporting applications have mobile apps and provide maps to help users specify problem locations. Some reporting apps provide sensor data directly to the agency. More on reporting applications and their features:

Mainstream social media

The main advantages of mainstream social media are that they are popular and stable. The disadvantage is that they are not designed specifically to collect reporting data. So it’s important to monitor social media to learn what users are saying about your agency, but it’s better to use specific reporting applications to collect input. Recommendations:

  • Create a mainstream social media site for providing status information and collecting input (see TfL and Twitter);
  • Monitor social media for users posting problems with your agency;
  • Develop a process for addressing agency problems posted in social media;
  • Respond in social media regarding how your agency is addressing the problem;
  • Use the opportunity to advertise your agency’s specific problem reporting application.

See also general recommendations for agency presence on social media.

Generic reporting applications

Generic reporting applications enable people to report non-emergency problems. Examples include SeeClickFix or FixMyStreet.

We use the term “generic” to indicate that these are unofficial – in the sense that no organisation is responsible for monitoring or addressing the reported problems. In other words people are free to report problems, but (probably) nothing will happen.

If an agency does not have its own reporting application (see below) it’s a good idea to monitor generic reporting applications to see what’s being reported. Agencies can just “follow” issues related to their services and facilities.

People can also encourage agencies to develop their own reporting applications by using the generic applications to demonstrate how effective these tools can be in solving problems.

Customised reporting applications

Customised reporting applications are applications developed for specific organisations (e.g., local governments, agencies, advocacy groups). When organisations introduce a reporting application they are implicitly taking on the commitment of doing something with the reported information.

Many organisations are afraid of being overwhelmed by complaints, but reporting applications include sophisticated back office systems that can actually reduce existing administrative burdens and improve relationships with customers. There are two approaches for creating a customised reporting application:

  • Modify generic reporting application – to meet the specific agency needs and branding. A big benefit is that these applications already include many features (e.g., mobile reporting) and back office functions.
  • Develop your own reporting application – providing the opportunity for more customisation, but is more expensive to develop and maintain.

Reporting Application Features

Map-based reporting

Almost all reporting applications allow users to mark the problem location on a map. This is very helpful because it’s easier for users and it reduces the amount of confusion for agencies looking for the problem location.

Most mobile reporting apps use the GPS function in mobile devices to indicate exactly where the problem is located, users generally just need to tap a button to insert the geographic coordinates automatically.

GPS Tracking-based reporting

The GPS function is also used by many apps to track users as they move through space. In most cases this data is sent to the app owner and used for data analysis (e.g., helping identify where people are riding bikes in the city).

Some of these GPS tracking apps allow users to review their self-generated maps and highlight problems and places on the map later. In other words, they provide a reporting function as well as a data collection function.

Sensor-based reporting

Sensors included in many mobile devices can be used to identify and report problems automatically. An excellent example is Street Bump produced by the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston. Street Bump uses the mobile phone’s accelerometer to identify potholes (when you drive over one) and sends the details to Boston’s public works department.

Blog Posts: Reporting

Pin It on Pinterest