“Weird. I’ve never seen one of these before. Who sent this to me?”
She is a 35-year old Indian American who has never seen a code enforcement ticket. When she returns home from work to find a bright green envelope wedged into her door, she is skeptical. She doesn’t recognize the sender. Anisha looks at the envelope for a few seconds and decides to throw it away.
Is Anisha’s experience typical? How many residents behave similarly if they find a green envelope at their door?
Throughout the year, Boston Code Enforcement, a division within the City of Boston’s Department of Public Works, keeps the city safe and clean. Code Enforcement officers patrol Boston streets by car and foot, ensuring that residents shovel their sidewalks and properly dispose of their trash. When officers see dangerous sidewalks or unsanitary conditions, they issue tickets in green envelopes to non-compliant residents. Unfortunately, many of these tickets go unpaid.
As students in DPI-663, a Harvard Kennedy School field class on Technology and Innovation in Government, we have partnered with the City of Boston and its Public Works Department to create an environment where fewer tickets are given and more tickets are paid.
What motivates residents to pay tickets? What prevents them from doing so?
To help Code Enforcement spark behavior change among residents, we needed to first understand the ticketing and payment process from the perspectives of officers and residents. We accompanied officers in their patrol cars and spoke with residents on street corners, restaurants, malls, and T stations. We even tried our hand at door knocking. We wanted to learn whether residents had received code enforcement tickets and what had motivated them to pay or to ignore fines.
Speaking with residents was illuminating. Our team quickly realized two things. First, many residents do not open the envelope. They never even see the ticket or enter the ticket payment process. Second, residents find the ticket payment process confusing and many are unable to navigate it.
These insights prompted us to identify the key steps that residents need to take to pay a ticket. A map of these steps is outlined in Figure 1.
As we continued to speak with residents to understand their motivations, values, and experiences that prompted them to pay or ignore tickets, we identified five motivators and constraints that influence their behaviors.
1) Trusts Ticket - Residents who perceive the ticket and envelope as legitimate government documents are more likely to pay the fine.
2) Knowledge of Violation - People are often unaware of their responsibilities as tenants and landlords. If they understand the violation they committed, they are more likely to pay the fine.
3) Cares about Violation- People want to know why the laws are important. For example, many residents are unaware that disposing of trash incorrectly could lead to rodent problems on their streets. If they understand the importance of a violation, they are more likely to pay the fine.
4) Trusts Government - Residents who respect local government and believe civic duties are important are more likely to pay their fines.
5) Financial Constraints - Some residents lack the money to pay their fines.
How Do We Help Residents Move Through the Payment Process?
We have realized that many people are willing to pay, but get stuck in the process. Therefore, in the coming weeks our team will focus on improving the envelope and ticket because these serve as the main touchpoint between the city and residents. We will also focus on other sites or processes that the envelope and tickets reference, and will brainstorm ways to improve residents’ understanding of the importance of these violations.
We look forward to continuing to speak with residents and using those insights to brainstorm new solutions that will better serve them and the City of Boston.
Clare Herceg, Naeha Rashid, Ariana Soto, Elyse Voegeli, & Clarisa Yerovi