Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Blasphemy as it might be for a writer for the Magazine of States and Localities, I'll admit it: Local government is the vanilla level of government. The federal government decides issues of war and peace, states are the laboratories of democracy and what do the locals get? Potholes.
In that context, you can understand why I like anything that adds an element of intrigue to local government. One example: "mystery shopper" programs, which are common in the private sector and seem to be catching on with municipalities too.
The stories read like spy novels. Shoppers pose as regular folks and request services, but, little do the government bureaucrats know, they're actually dealing with undercover colleagues. This espionage reveals what's working well and what isn't, allowing the government to run more efficiently.
Ok, so we probably won't be seeing James Bond in "License to Rezone" or "The Sanitary Engineer Who Loved Me" anytime soon, but it's something, right?
Dallas has an interesting twist on this concept. The city is training citizens as mystery shoppers, then having them report back on the results of their regular 311 calls. This adds a level of realism conventional mystery shopper programs may lack. The price is right too: The citizens are volunteers.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.