Description of Initiative:
In December 2011, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) launched a new citizen complaint response system. For decades DEQ had received and responded to complaints about environmental problems by hand. Dozens of receptionists and other staff triaged telephone calls and emails and coordinated efforts to respond, but each regional office had different procedures, and the work was done largely by telephone and on paper using separate databases with no effective way to track results. Moreover, the public regularly reported response problems, staff reported unmanageable workloads, and there was a clear lack of confidence in the system.
During a 12-month period DEQ mapped and developed an electronic system to better manage complaints. The new system uses a helpdesk with a single toll free number (888-997-7888), online reporting (http://www.deq.state.or.us/complaints/rep.htm), a simplified mobile version for Smartphones, and a SharePoint database to track and route complaint response. An internet-based phone service allows easy management of the complaints line throughout the state. All contacts are handled each day by a rotating staff of six intake specialists to perform data entry and electronic assignment to an inspector, minimizing compassion fatigue and burnout. An internal intranet page provides newly developed Standard Operating Procedures, related links, and other guidance to DEQ staff. Every DEQ employee has immediate online access to the details and status of every complaint. The new system allows easy tabulation, analysis, and reporting of complaint data including real-time reports showing days to contact, days to close, and the number of open complaints.
Results to Date:
While the DEQ does not have previous measures with which to compare, timeliness and consistency have dramatically improved since implementation of the system. DEQ now logs almost 4,000 complaints per year (15 per day), with 56% coming in electronically. A single administrative staff person can usually manage up to 25 complaints per day, and when the volume exceeds his or her capacity there is a reserve of additional staff readily available. DEQ reset program procedures after more consistent intake and routing revealed policy and process inconsistencies. Contacts outside DEQ authority are also handled more efficiently using similar procedures with much less “bounce-back.” In 2012, DEQ used the data while evaluating budget reductions to avoid inefficient cuts. When inclement weather forced office closures, the system was easily rerouted to operating offices. The Environmental Complaint Electronic Management System brought long-standing agency procedures up to modern expectations using methodical problem-solving and process improvement procedures. It significantly improved agency effectiveness and credibility and provided an important success story to help encourage other process improvements.
Manager, Environmental Complaints System
Oregon Department of Environmental Quality