SINGAPORE: The Municipal Services Office (MSO) has changed the way it labels closed cases in its OneService app to better reflect the status of on-site feedback.
This is one of many improvements it has made to the app, a “one-stop” community platform where users can provide feedback on municipal issues ranging from cleanliness to infrastructure maintenance.
Other improvements include a Municipal 360 (M360) initiative, where cases are not considered closed until fully resolved, with photographic evidence of completed works.
The app will also include home renovation announcements in the “Happenings” section. Residents of the Housing and Development Board (HDB) can check in the app if there are any upcoming renovations of the HDB home in their block. It was rolled out gradually from the end of June.
This is in addition to the new chatbot service OneService, launched in July, where residents can report municipal problems in their neighborhood via a chatbot on WhatsApp and Telegram.
MSO made these changes to its OneService app in response to public feedback, MSO’s senior director of service quality and community engagement Kenneth Kwok told CNA.
RENAME OF CASE STATUS
Previously, feedback cases submitted via the OneService app were considered closed once the agency or municipality responded to the feedback.
While this would mean the end of communication, residents may feel things aren’t closed yet, Mr Kwok said, adding that this is why MSO has created two separate tracks within the app.
In simple cases, where the agency or municipality can provide photographic evidence to show the completed works, MSO considers the matter resolved. For example, cleaners can take a photo of a cleaned location in response to a complaint about cleanliness.
This would fall under the M360 initiative, which was piloted in January 2020 with the National Environmental Agency (NEA) and 17 city councils. HDB joined the initiative in January this year and plans are underway to include more agencies such as the Land Transport Authority, the National Parks Board (NParks) and the PUB.
In more complex cases where the agency needs more time to investigate, supervise or carry out maintenance work, the case is referred to as “Office Response” or “Community Response” with a description of planned actions and an estimated timeline.
“We think it’s a more accurate reflection of the status of the work that’s actually not closed yet, not resolved yet, it’s still ongoing, and then the agency promises you they’ll follow up,” said Mr Kwak.
In addition to a platform where residents can provide feedback, the app is intended to become a “one-stop-place” for residents.
“We know there are so many apps, right? And the more we can make it a one-stop place for residents, we thought it would be easier for everyone,” says Mr Kwok, adding that the initiative is partly due to the current focus on noise issues.
At this point, residents may not be aware of renovation notifications, Mr Kwok said. This is because owners and contractors only need to post notices outside the unit under renovation.
Notices should also be given to the units next to the flat in question, as well as the units two floors above and below.
In addition, the municipality’s varying management practices may mean that the announcements are not always available in the elevator lobbies for all residents to see, MSO said.
“With that information, hopefully people can… make plans and then maybe (they) go to a relative’s place to work or something for the next few days,” he said.
According to Mr. Kwok, the most common issues with the app are cleanliness issues, HDB-related issues, and feedback on roads and footpaths.
However, there has also been a recent increase in “neighbor problems,” likely due to work-from-home arrangements, he said. These problems include noise and smoking in homes.
“I think that kind of problem is common, I think, that we weren’t home before, so we might not be that aware of it or that sensitive to it or that affected by it,” he said.
“But then I think there’s a greater realization now that with everyone … spending more time at home, the behavior of our neighbors actually affects us.”
Many cases submitted on the OneService app fall neatly into one of 12 categories, Mr Kwok said. The twelve categories are cleanliness, vermin, roads and footpaths, animals and birds, facilities on HDB sites, drinking water, sewers, parks and greenery, construction sites, abandoned carts, shared bicycles and also illegal parking.
Once filed, the matter would go to the relevant body or city council, which is “quite straightforward”.
Other matters may be less clear and may require the coordination of different agencies, such as pigeon feeding, involving the NParks Animal and Veterinary Service and the NEA.
“But I think we’ve also realized that a lot of issues that are behavior-related isn’t something the agency can just solve,” he said, adding that residents here may have issues with how the app classifies things as “closed.”
For example, if HDB talks to a neighbor, there’s no guarantee that the neighbor will stop making noise, leaving the case still going.
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“Noise is what we consider to be a complex matter because it is very unpredictable in terms of our ability to promise and yes, this will definitely be resolved by (a certain date),” he said.
Subjectivity also plays a role in how complex the issue is. Noise can mean different things to different people, while cooking smells can be unpleasant for some people.
“It is very difficult for (the) government to legislate what is a pleasant smell, what is an unpleasant smell and I don’t think Singapore wants to go down that road,” Mr Kwok said.
To prevent such cases from being enforced and punished, a “more humane approach” is needed, trying to engage with residents and encourage neighbors to be more considerate, he added.
Recurring cases can be an unruly resident who continues to pollute the common areas even after the city council has cleaned them up.
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Residents facing such issues can let the agency know that the situation has not been resolved, Mr Kwok said. He added that MSO is collecting such feedback and working with agencies to follow up on cases as needed.
Another possibility is that a resident reports a new case. “Once we see there’s a pattern, we’ll answer you in a different way because we’re like, ‘oh, okay, this isn’t just a simple clean-up,'” he said.
Recurring cases will “likely take a lot more time” to resolve, he added, due to the surveillance work and public education required.
With over 350,000 users and 1.09 million feedback received from government agencies and city councils, the OneService app has grown over the past five years.
But Mr. Kwok hopes to make the app more widely known among Singaporeans.
“We want every Singaporean to know that the OneService app is there for you when you need it,” he said, adding that people should take the necessary steps to solve their problems first, if they can.
“We believe that when people take responsibility for their problem or try to intervene on their own, sometimes they can solve it better than a government agency can solve it.”