PublicStuff Puts Translation Tools in Platform for Contacting Town Hall

Tuesday morning Lily Liu, CEO and founder of PublicStuff in New York, unveiled an updated version of her company’s platform that connects citizens with local government and municipal services. It is kind of like accessing 311 call centers in app form, but with additional services for citizens and data analytics for local government.

The update, Liu says, introduces an instant translation service called One Voice that supports more than 16 languages and allows users who do not speak English to communicate with municipal services. “It gives them the ability to contact city hall in their native tongue,” Liu says. Messages typed into One Voice are received in English by city staff and their replies are translated back for the original sender.

Liu says users can see and comment on requests submitted by others on the platform even if they do not speak the same language. “If somebody submits [a complaint] in Vietnamese, somebody else can comment on it in Spanish, and the city staff person will see it in English,” she says.

The platform lets residents send messages—such as questions about policy issues or notifications of graffiti or fallen trees that need to be removed—to the appropriate department, even if they are unsure who should be contacted.

The update also includes improvements on the software city staffers use to gather analytics on how citizens interact with government. “We’re hosting a ton of data for these cities,” Liu says. “On a single request [from a citizen] we have every data point on the operation from time of mission, how long it takes to open the request, and time of completion.” The platform also hosts content such as images, mapping, and geographic information system data.

Founded in 2009, PublicStuff completed a $5 million Series A round last October led by FirstMark Capital. More than 200 cities across country use its platform, which can be accessed by computer or mobile devices. Philadelphia’s city government uses the platform, Liu says, as the backbone for its Web and mobile-based interaction with citizens. Other cities that use the platform include Dayton, OH; Oceanside, CA; Plano, TX; and Tallahassee, FL.

“Our system works across the U.S. regardless of whether we have a formal relationship with the city or not,” Liu says. If a user in a city without a formal agreement submits a request through the platform, PublicStuff will pass along the message to the respective city staff. Cities with formal arrangements to use the platform can determine what types of requests are sent through the system. Municipalities can use the platform to post info such as council agendas or to alert citizens via e-mail or in-app messages about issues in their communities.

Liu says municipalities that use the platform range from small towns with a few thousand residents to large urban hubs with more than one million citizens. Says she: “We see the most traction in communities with populations around 50,000 to 300,000.”

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