Case Solution

Constantine E. Kontokosta, Mitchell B. Weiss, Christine Snively, Sarah Gulick
Harvard Business School ()

Joe Morrisroe, CEO of NYC311, had a hunch, but not a definitive answer to a question just asked by a deputy mayor: “Are some 311 communities underserved? How do we know we’re the right people?” The city was established in 2003 as a resident phone number (311) to obtain information about city services and report complaints. In 2009, the city launched a 311 website and mobile app, and in 2011 social media support received more than 35 million requests for services and information. Advances in technology made it much easier to listen to New York City residents. Have these benefits of innovation been shared fairly? More recently, the city began using the data to create predictive models that could help direct inspectors and other workers. Morrisroe and his team had considered the potential downsides of agencies relying too heavily on NYC311 data or its predictive power. Did the sheer volume of data and its potential to enable a new approach to urban services hide biases on income, education, race, gender, neighborhood, home ownership, and other factors? Morrisroe considered the question asked and its implications. He asked for the data and a team to evaluate it: are we hearing from everyone?

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