August 3, 2017

Panama’s 311 Is Breaking New Ground in Citizen Services

Customer service call center

The Republic of Panama is rightly known for our newly expanded canal, being an important hub for global commerce, producing world-class athletes, and being a great place to visit. What is generally not known as widely is that we are also making tremendous progress in innovating citizen services in a variety of ways including our Citizen Services Center or 311, as non-emergency assistance operations are commonly known across North America.

To get started with this effort, we reviewed how 311 centers operated in North America and as such were able to design an initial model taking into account various learned lessons that have been helpful in achieving our results. Some of these were creating an appropriate legal framework[i] and budgeting sufficient resources as well as defining early on that technology would be at the forefront of this effort.

Fast forward seven years and all three aspects have been critical to our operation, which has been recognized internationally by organizations such as the Engage 311 Conference for its innovative approach and resulted in nominations for United Nations and Organization of American States awards. The legal framework we established and continued to strengthen[ii] in the last few years is our foundation because we understood that without it, it would be extremely difficult to achieve the compliance required within other government agencies that drives results. This also allowed us to establish clear Key Performance Indicators, which we now publish openly for all government agencies and local governments to drive accountability. This approach was recognized last year by our civil society organizations and transparency agency for its impact on our 2nd National Action Plan for Open Government 2015–17.

Resources are also central to our operation which is why our 311 service is directed by our National Authority for Governmental Innovation, which acts doubly as our country´s CIO and process improvement leader. This permits us to act 24/7/365 upon the feedback that we receive daily from our citizens within an environment that allows us to truly pursue continuous improvement and expand the use of shared platforms such as our own. One primary example of this process is the coordination of tow-truck removal of vehicles for traffic violations, which had been a challenge for our transit authority for many years. Once the transit authority asked us to help we were able to quickly work with them to design and implement a new process whereby 311 coordinates their requests for removals with service providers using our staff and CRM tools that take advantage of existing resources on both sides and has allowed the transit authority to greatly expand their efforts to ensure citizen safety in little over a year with over 35,000 cars towed. Another example started when our government passed a new decentralization law early in 2015 that strengthened local governments by allocating more funds with which to support their communities. In order to support this effort, we worked closely with each local government to incorporate their services into our 311 system to complement what we already had implemented for our ministries and agencies; we are now truly a one-stop shop for anything our citizens need.

Last but not least, technology continues to be at the forefront of our efforts so we work hard to anticipate trends and citizen expectations as much as possible. To this end, we implemented the latest CRM and business intelligence tools last year, which now permit our agency liaisons to easily work and report on citizen contacts that reached a record 1.4 million for 2016. This is even more impressive when one considers that the total population of Panama is only around 4 million. Through this implementation, which was achieved without any interruption to our citizens we were also able to deploy an easy to use new mobile app and web portal[iii] that now allow each user to truly select the service channel that is most convenient and relevant for them and our roadmap has much more to come including live chat and proactive notifications, as well as citizen recognition programs.


The views expressed in the Government Innovators Network blog are those of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, the John F. Kennedy School of Government, or of Harvard University.

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