It’s easy enough to leave reviews for hotels and restaurants online, but when Paola Newell wanted to give feedback on public employees, she felt unheard. So she and her husband Tony cofounded CityGrader, a website currently based in Florida that allows residents to leave reviews for those working within their community.
After making a free account, users can search for towns, departments, or individual workers such as firefighters, police officers and librarians. From there, they can browse feedback from other residents or provide a review of their own. Every review offers a rating scale ranging from A (highly positive) to F (highly negative). The website also leaves space for users to leave comments and explanations, if they wish.
“What’s novel about the site is that everything is transparent, so the feedback is publically available,” said Newell.
CityGrader launched in Miami but recently spread its service across all of Florida. While its primarily a third-party service, many individual counties take the feedback seriously. Kiosks providing a streamlined version of the website were installed outside of Miami’s City Hall and Miami Riverside Center. According to Newell, these were designed so that residents could leave reviews immediately after interacting with a government official. She shared that much of the feedback tends to be extreme or scathing. Her goal is to encourage users to send a wide variety of responses, including positive ones, in order to develop well-rounded reports.
“We want to recognize those that do a good job, and we want to be a good tool for cities, too. We want [the process] to be efficient and let them know who’s doing a good job and who isn’t,” said Newell.
Other cities have expressed their own views on the importance of remaining as accurate as possible. Tonya Daniels, director of marketing and communications for the city of Miami Beach, expressed that their office remains in direct contact with CityGrader. Daniels reached out to them to develop plans for geo-fencing or determining where a user was located when they made a comment. This way, they could ensure that the feedback was accurate and also addressed in a timely, specific manner. Miami Beach is also one of the municipalities that participate in the website’s “Open Access” feature, where posted reviews are sent via email to government officials, allowing them to be addressed more quickly.
“I can say first-hand that I think they’re a great company and that they’ve been great to work with. It’s an opportunity to get genuine, honest feedback that’s verified. That’s something that they look forward to expanding, and we look forward to that as well,” said Daniels.
While CityGrader is currently centralized in Florida, Newell explained that she would like to expand the service much further, thought their process takes some time. CityGrader requests public records and then uploads the information onto their website. Between individuals and committees, even one county requires processing a large amount of data. Still, CityGrader intends to reach new locations soon. Data from several major cities such as New York and San Fransisco are starting to be compiled. In the future, users may not even have to log into the website – developers are working on a CityGrader app to leave reviews on the go. According to Newell, this project is about 90% completed and should be finished by the end of the year.
Keeping CityGrader accessible is important to Newell, as she believes that is the best way to encourage more reviews. She hopes to reach the point when the website becomes a way for residents to stay in communication with their local government, pointing out problems and providing suggestions to better their quality of life.
“We’re trying to build CityGrader into a big civic network,” said Newell. “We think of CityGrader as a tool that our users will be able to use to reach their local governments and actually affect change where change needs to be made.”
CityGrader is also utilized in other counties such as Miami and Miami-Dade County, who were reached out to but did respond by press time.