• Governer Partner :City of Boulder
  • Department :Innovation and Technology (IT) Department
  • Category :Communications, Process Improvement, Resident Engagement

Project Summary

Email analysis and categorization platform for routing emails to City Council

Challenge Details

More efficiently sort, categorize, route and respond to requests from incoming emails to the City Council Email distribution list.

The Innovation and Technology (IT) Department is responsible for creating an environment of seamless integration between people and technology within the City of Boulder. This includes direct support of many online interfaces between the public and city leadership and departments. In spring 2018, the City’s Process Improvement Team began a project to understand the current state of use of the Council Email distribution list, which included conducting interviews and focus groups with both staff and City Council members, conducting a broad survey, analyzing received e-mails and city response processes, and producing an analysis for city leadership consideration. This proposed project would be the next logical step of the effort: developing a strategy and tool to more effectively and automatically manage and respond to resident questions and requests stemming from City Council email.

The City created the “council@bouldercolorado.gov” distribution list more than 11 years ago with the intent that it would be a convenient method for the public to send feedback directly to City Council members, complementing public comment at City Council meetings. Anyone can send an e-mail to the publicly posted email address and have it go to all City Council members, as well as 90+ city employees including the City Manager, Deputy City Managers, and all other executives.

Over time, the City Council Email has become a tool used for many different purposes with varying levels of effectiveness, efficiency and equity. Both City Council members and city staff see the email distribution list as an way for constituents to express their opinions about city issues. However, city staff members find it increasingly difficult to use this shared email for relationship management, request fulfillment, and response to oftentimes complex, multi-faceted questions involving multiple city departments.

Recent analysis of received emails showed that the mailbox receives an average 15 emails a day, but as many as 85 based on the latest public discourse. Most e-mails are public comments on public discourse (55 percent), but there are emails containing questions about the city or its policies and processes (4 percent) and requests for service (3 percent) that require the city to address. Especially with the knowledge of City Council members viewing incoming questions and requests, there is heightened attention paid to these emails by city departments to be responsive to expressed needs.

Pain points include:
• Questions and requests for service are oftentimes “hidden” by other email traffic coming through the distribution list and recipients’ individual email inboxes, requiring full attention to all emails coming through to see if they are pertinent
• Staff typically spend up to an hour each week reviewing and responding to messages sent to the email list, regardless of whether it requires their attention; considering the 90+ members of the distribution list and their roles, that collectively equals nearly 90+ hours per week of mostly city executive time
• It can be difficult to track planned and undertaken responses to received emails
• Email is a difficult tool to use for understanding community sentiment

We are looking for a solution that would automatically sense the type of emails coming into the City Council Email and based on their content:
• Route actual requests for service or department-directed questions through existing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and ticketing systems better suited for managing such responses (e.g., Inquire Boulder, Cherwell), and
• Enable increased intelligence using unique sender, topical, support level, etc., tracking for more informed and effective assessment of public opinion

Key outcomes of such a solution include:
Request Routing:
• No missed requests for service or questions due to lack of “pickup”
• Automated routing to appropriate departments through existing CRM or ticketing systems (e.g., Inquire Boulder, Cherwell) for response, including those requests that are multi-faceted and require coordination across multiple departments
• Reduce need to have so many recipients on Council Email distribution list, as many would be included in properly ticketed requests should it require their attention
Sensing Intelligence:
• Backend metric tracking of incoming email types, topics, etc., sentiment trending in the community (are emails positive or negatively aligned with a topic)