Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's all about you

I've had a bit of media exposure this week, so I thought I'd better do a post for people that might have dropped in here as a result.

For starters, I am not solely focused on graffiti. I report a lot of graffiti, but that's only because there is a lot of it around to report. I also do my best to get rid of pot holes, fallen trees, abandoned cars, piles of rubbish and broken or faded signage. Yes, that sounds like a lot of work - but it isn't really. I put in about an hour a week most weeks - if I'm lucky. Writing these blog posts often takes more time than photographing and reporting graffiti, abandoned cars etc.

You may notice that my name doesn't appear anywhere on this blog - even though it's now pretty easy to find out who I am. This blog is not about me - it's about you, and what you can do to "make the world a better place". Sounds awfully sappy doesn't it - it's so corny, writing that makes me feel sick.

It's only two weeks until Clean Up Australia Day - March 6th. Hundreds of thousands of Australians will participate for a few hours, helping to clean up their neighbourhood. I applaud that, and I try and take part each year. However, what about the other 364 days of the year? Why do we turn a blind eye on every other day of the year to the mess that surrounds us? Why do we find it acceptable on 364 days of the year to ignore things that need fixing, treating them as "somebody else's problem?"

I think a big part of it is because we've been conditioned to think that "they will take care of it" - "they" being some mysterious arm of government that is all-seeing and all-knowing. Well, "they" don't exist. (If you think "they" exist, put some tinfoil on your head and remember to take your pills). "They" won't fix anything - if you want something fixed, it's up to YOU to do something about it.

Thanks to the Internet, it's pretty easy to do something these days. Here's what you do:

  1. Take a photo of the problem
  2. Email the photo to the responsible government department, along with a description of the location and the problem, and ask them to fix it up
  3. Remember to say "Please"
Every single bit of government that you might need to contact has a web site these days, and every web site has a "contact us" page or an email address for you to use. Use them. They also have phone numbers - I do ring from time to time, but I find that sending in a nice colour photo and a message in writing is more effective.

Don't feel embarrased about doing that - about asking (or nagging) a government agency or your council for help. Just remember, the rates and taxes that we pay are used to pay the salaries of the people working for those government departments, and they are employed to deliver services to us. About 95% of the time, they will actually help you - and they'll sometimes amaze you with how quickly they can fix things. I've spotted a problem on the way to work, reported it an hour later, and gone past it on the way home and found that it's been fixed. (That doesn't happen very often - but it does happen).

Your Council probably has a Service Desk that has been setup solely to look after you (and the other 59,999 residents in your area). Their job is to help you with stuff like this - if you speak to them nicely and treat them with respect, they'll do their best to get the problem fixed. They are humans too - they might even live in the same suburb as you, and they'll thank you for helping to tidy up their neighbourhood as well.

There are times of course when the whole system breaks down, or you find yourself dealing with an utter roadblock. I've dealt with a few of them over the last 3 years - in almost every case, I've found a way to go around or over them. Persisence generally pays off. Just remember to put everything in writing, and try and make an argument that sounds sane and reasonable - I've posted multiple examples throughout this blog. Some of the correspondence that I've had over the years reads a bit like Fawlty Towers at times. At other times, emails or electronic forms have gone missing (eaten by the ghost in the machine) - but all I do then is send it again.

Here's one tip though - almost every government department is absolutely useless at telling you when the problem has been fixed. Most of them simply send a crew out to deal with the problem, and then never follow up to tell you that your issue has been taken care of. If you don't hear back from them, it's  not because they're not doing something about fixing it - it's just that most of them don't have a system to "close the loop". The only way you'll find out that your problem has been fixed is if you go back to the site and have a look for yourself. Give it a couple of weeks - if nothing has happened, send them a follow up message and ask what's going on.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I'm reading as a result of some publicity. While I don't know how widespread this is, my local council, City of Port Phillip, allocates a number to every complaint etc. Makes it easy to follow up. They are quite good at acting on complaints.