CHICAGO (CBS)—The City of Chicago is asking residents to participate in the testing phase of upcoming upgrades to the city’s 311 system—but not on a volunteer basis.

The city is rewarding participants who agree to test the system and provide feedback with a $20 gift card for Amazon or PayPal. An ad on the Facebook page of Alderman Deb Mell (33rd Ward) asks for participants—and Chicagoans responded.

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With $35 million in upgrades, including new features like a tracking system for requests, a Chicago spokesperson says user feedback is expected to add value to the improved 311 system when it goes live next month.

CBS 2 estimates the feedback program could cost the city around $24,000.

Emmanuel Carreno said his wife signed him up online.

“I had no idea about it at all,” he said.

Another participant, Laura Woo, said her friend sent her an invitation for the program.

One of 24 testing sessions with up to 50 people in each group was underway recently at Wright Junior College, but the city wouldn’t let CBS 2 inside a testing room.

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Lynne Gonzalez said the $20 gift card was an incentive for her to join a testing session, but admits she probably would have agreed to provide feedback without a reward.

“I think I would have come without the inducement, but that made it even better,” she said.

CBS 2 tried to ask the city if the gift cards were an ideal use of taxpayer money, but the city’s Department of Innovation and Technology said they were too busy to talk to us.

Commissioner of Innovation and Technology Danielle Du Merer eventually sent a response that said, “ A city vendor gives out the gift cards…”to residents who participate in testing to compensate for their time, as is common practice.”

There’s no doubt the 311 system, introduced by former Mayor Daley 20 years ago to direct
non-emergency calls away from 911, is due for an upgrade.

But just why the city is so defensive and secretive about the testing project is unknown.

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