The Promises & Pitfalls of 311 Data

TitleThe Promises & Pitfalls of 311 Data
Publication TypeManuscript
AuthorsTrump, K-S, White, A

Local governments are creating 311 public service request lines across the US, and the publicly-available data from these lines is continuously-measured, geographically finegrained, and a non-self-reported measure of citizens’ behavior. As such, it seems a promising measure of neighborhood civic engagement. However, this data is both empirically and theoretically different from many common citizen-level engagement measures. We compare geographically-aggregated 311 call data to two more commonly-used measures of political and civic engagement, voter turnout and census return rates, showing that rates of 311 calls are negatively related to these other measures. We suggest that 311 data does not measure the proportion of individuals who engage with government in this way. We caution against interpreting 311 data as a measure of mass civic engagement akin to voter turnout, but argue that it is a potentially useful measure of aggregate demands for public services.