Data

General Issues
Governance & Political Institutions
Planning & Development
Location
1 City Hall Square
Boston
Massachusetts
02201
United States
Scope of Influence
name:scope_of_influence-key:citytown
Links
https://www.boston.gov/departments/city-hall-go
Start Date
Ongoing
Yes
Purpose/Goal
Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
Approach
Consultation
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Open to All With Special Effort to Recruit Some Groups
Targeted Demographics
Low-Income Earners
Facilitators
No
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Both
Decision Methods
Not Applicable
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Public Hearings/Meetings
New Media
Type of Organizer/Manager
Local Government
Type of Funder
Local Government

CASE

City Hall to Go

First Submitted By fayasimakopoulos

Most Recent Changes By Lucy J Parry, Participedia Team

General Issues
Governance & Political Institutions
Planning & Development
Location
1 City Hall Square
Boston
Massachusetts
02201
United States
Scope of Influence
name:scope_of_influence-key:citytown
Links
https://www.boston.gov/departments/city-hall-go
Start Date
Ongoing
Yes
Purpose/Goal
Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
Approach
Consultation
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Open to All With Special Effort to Recruit Some Groups
Targeted Demographics
Low-Income Earners
Facilitators
No
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Both
Decision Methods
Not Applicable
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Public Hearings/Meetings
New Media
Type of Organizer/Manager
Local Government
Type of Funder
Local Government

Problems and Purpose

It’s long been recognized that poorer and otherwise marginalized constituencies lack access to municipal services, and that their populations have lower electoral turnout rates. In response to this long-standing social issue, the Boston City Hall created “City Hall To Go," an initiative seeks to provide mayoral services in underserved communities through staffed food truck vehicles [1]. "City Hall to Go" was created with two broader purposes: first, to increase access to City Hall services and transactions for Bostonians in underserved communities, and, secondly, to boost civic engagement and trust. The initiative was launched in July 2013, after a year of prototyping, in response to concerns that City of Boston hotlines, mobile apps, and websites weren’t sufficiently addressing the complaints and concerns of underserved constituents.[3]According to statistics by the City of Boston, there has been a 250% increase in transactions since August 2013.[4]

Background History and Context

The idea for a mobile version of City Hall was first proposed in committee in July 2012, after various councillors noted the popularity of food trucks.[6] Molly Dunford, City Hall on the Go’s chief coordinator noted food trucks’ ability to “bring city services out into the neighborhoods,” thus making it easier “for people to access the city.” [7]

However, the finalized idea for a civic-engagement themed food truck came from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ “Mayors Challenge”, a national competition to find and fund municipal innovations.[8] City Hall to Go was designed with the intention of being a colorfully designed and conveniently located food truck, following a predictable schedule and offering government services to citizens of underserved communities. After a year of prototyping the truck design and programming, City Hall To Go was launched in July 2013, staffed with an information booth and helpful municipal forms. It was accompanied by a Twitter page and a public tracking schedule.[9]

Over the past three years, City Hall To Go has been expanding to provide increasingly interactive kinds of programming. In September 2014, a new cabinet post called “Chief of Civic Engagement” was established and filled by Jerome Smith, a former City Hall councillor from Dorchester.[7] The Chief of Civic Engagement post is concerned with a 24-hour civic engagement hotline, as well as the City Hall To Go project. As a follow up, Mayor Walsh announced the launching of “Chief Chats”, a program that is intended to enable “residents […] to engage directly with members of [his] Administration.[8] ”The program stations City Hall officials at City Hall To Go locations on a regular basis, in order to facilitate direct communication between citizens and elected officials. 

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

No municipal budget data could be found for the "City Hall To Go" Project.

In addition to staff salaries, maintenance costs for the service include items such as the purchase of the City Hall to Go vehicle -- although the City of Boston minimized those by simply renovating a retired police bomb squad vehicle[9] -- its upkeep (such as gas and repair costs) as well as staffing costs. However, because the vehicle is simply extending pre-existing services by bringing them closer to constituents’ neighborhoods, costs related to the provision of services may be presumed to be relatively negligible.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

The trucks and in-person assistance are open to anyone within walking distance. A schedule of the truck's movements and route are available online. Citizens can also access information on public services and the truck's schedule through a 24-hour civic engagement hotline which was set up as a corollary initiative.

Route Selection

Although no explicit criteria have been released by Boston City Hall, the truck most oftenly visits low-income, decentralized communities such as Dorchester, Hyde Park, West Roxbury, and Mission Hill.[10] In order to determine the food truck’s schedule, residents were polled on their preferred times and visits.[11] A short-form view of the schedule, is regularly updated on the City of Boston website.

Methods and Tools Used

City Hall on the Go “bring[s] city services out into the neighborhoods,” making it easier “for people to access the city.” [7] The truck, following a predictable schedule and offering government services to citizens of underserved communities. After a year of prototyping the truck design and programming, City Hall To Go was launched in July 2013, staffed with an information booth and helpful municipal forms. It was accompanied by a Twitter page and a public tracking schedule.[9] “Chief Chats” give municipal officials the ability to conduct office hours in the truck. This allows residents to discuss their concerns and give feedback directly to Boston City Officials. Finally, a 24-hour hotline was set up to give citizens one more way to get information on public services, the truck's schedule, and the next "Chief Chat". 

Deliberation, Discussion, and Public Interaction

Rather than serving food, the food truck vehicles are designed in order to enable constituents to complete a range of municipal transactions, including the filing of taxes, voting, and interacting with municipal officials through the adjunct “Chief Talks” initiative[2] 

The following are services provided by City Hall To Go, according to the City of Boston.[12]

Cars

  • Pay, dispute, or request a parking ticket
  • Request or renew a residential parking permit or handicap parking space
  • Order a meter card
  • Pay excise taxes

Home

  • Pay property taxes
  • Get recycling bin tickets
  • Request a pet permit

Family

  • Get a library e-card
  • Request a birth, death, or marriage certificate
  • Register to vote

City Clerk

  • Claims
  • Domestic partnerships
  • Raffle applications

Miscellanea

  • “Ask a question”
  • Service request
  • Seasonal services

Although the original plan was restricted to providing municipal transactions, the Department became interested in also furthering organic forms of communication between residents and elected officials. To that end, Department Heads began conducting “Chief Chats” in June 2014,[5] allowing them to conduct office hours on the truck in neighborhoods. Residents can direct their concerns to policy makers, and thus air their concerns, and, equally importantly, City of Boston officials are able to receive feedback directly from residents.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

According to Boston City Hall data, City Hall to Go has expedited the process of accessing municipal services for Bostonians. Anecdotal evidence seems to confirm this claim. In 2015, City Hall to Go responded to South Boston resident requests and renewed 117 resident parking permits in a three hour span. Earlier in 2014, City Hall to Go had partnered with the Department of Animal Care and Control to provide a series of low-cost rabies and dog licensing clinics, enabling dog owners to vaccinate and license their dogs for a cost of $11 -- a considerably lower price than the one offered in years before.[13]

City Hall To Go has also experimented with seasonal programming. During Fall 2014, City Hall to Go travelled to campuses to provide students with voting registration forms and resident parking permits, as well as information on Boston-area internships and post-graduation jobs[14]

This can be particularly important for those individuals least connected with City government. According to Boston City Hall data, there is reason to suspect that the neighborhood issues that get reported to the City do not fully reflect the full spectrum of neighborhood reasons, by virtue of the government’s actual and perceived inaccessibility.[15] There are also concerns that previous virtual channels, such as hotlines, mobile apps, and websites aren't working to improve access for people that are not already technologically savvy or civically involved.[16] City Hall to Go’s biggest value is connecting with those groups, helping us ensure a high level of service across all our constituents and all of our neighborhoods.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The City Hall to Go truck is, according to Boston City Hall officials, the first of its kind nationally,[17] and has offered a novel, scalable solution to issues of accessibility and civic engagement. By bringing services to underserved communities rather than relying on campaigns that encourage individuals to attend City Hall events, it mitigates the opportunity cost of commuting or travelling to municipal authorities. This is especially important for low-income Bostonians, those with busy families, or those living in suburban communities, for whom the opportunity cost of accessing City Hall can be the highest. Although no data correlating voter outreach and City Hall to Go programming exists, the initiative provides a promising pathway to encourage voting during elections or other major political events.

To that end, other cities have shown interest in adopting the City Hall to Go model. Dallas, TX has created “City Hall on the Go”, a similarly purposed mobile office that operates throughout the city from Wednesdays to Saturdays, offering specialized services for residents,[18] as has Durham, NC.[19]

While City Hall on the Go offers a promising solution to the lack of accessibility of municipal services, transparency about the schedule remains problematic. It can at times be hard to plan visits to the food truck ahead of time, as the website only shows weekly schedules. Limited public information about the “Chief Chats” initiative may also hinder accessibility.

See Also

References

[1] “City Hall to Go”. Retrieved from https://www.boston.gov/departments/city-hall-go

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “City Hall to Go”. Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Retrieved from https://www.dropbox.com/search/personal?path=%2FParticipedia+Candidates&preview=City+Hall+to+Go.pdf&qsid=42351770487748379787129583524274&query=city+hall

[5] Ibid.

[6] Jessica Renee Napier. “Boston City Hall To Go Truck Follows Food Truck Trend”. Retrieved from http://www.govtech.com/e-government/Boston-City-Hall-To-Go-Truck-Follows-Food-Truck-Trend.html

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Mayor Walsh Announces New City Hall To Go Pilot”. Retrieved from https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2016/02/02/mayor-walsh-announces-new-city-hall-to-go-pilot

[9] Peter Schworn. “With new truck, City Hall services go mobile”. Retrieved from https://www.cityofboston.gov/images_documents/With%20new%20truck%20City%20Hall%20services%20go%20mobile_tcm3-40634.pdf

[10] “City Hall to Go”. Retrieved from https://www.boston.gov/departments/city-hall-go

[11] Ibid.

[12] “City Hall to Go Services”. Retrieved from https://www.boston.gov/departments/city-hall-go#city-hall-to-go-services

[13] “City Hall to Go”. Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Retrieved from https://www.dropbox.com/search/personal?path=%2FParticipedia+Candidates&preview=City+Hall+to+Go.pdf&qsid=42351770487748379787129583524274&query=city+hall

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] “Boston’s City Hall To Go is First of Its Kind in US”. Retrieved from http://www.nlc.org/article/bostons-city-hall-to-go-is-first-of-its-kind-in-us

[18] City of Dallas. “Dalas City Hall on the Go is now reaching out to citizens across the city”. Retrieved from http://www.dallascitynews.net/dallas-city-hall-on-the-go-is-now-reaching-out-to-citizens-across-the-city

[19] “City Hall on the Go!”. Retrieved from https://durhamnc.gov/2883/City-Hall-on-the-Go

External Links

https://www.boston.gov/departments/city-hall-go

Notes