Latest news from the team behind FixMyStreet Pro
Welcome to the first of our sprint notes.
For anyone who’s interested in our work around Noise, or who would just generally like to understand more about how development is managed at SocietyWorks, these regular catch-ups will allow you to follow along as we progress through the various stages of making a new service.
So: here’s what we did last sprint.
The quickest and easiest way to procure SocietyWorks services is on the G-Cloud digital marketplace.
Procuring services through this government framework is faster and cheaper than entering into a direct contract: services come pre-approved, so there’s no requirement to go through a long process of tendering. You can see the full specs laid out, download PDFs to share your colleagues, and compare with other services on price and features.
Any questions? Just get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.
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We’re longstanding supporters of LocalGovCamp, the conference where innovators in Local Government come together to share knowledge on how to improve services.
This year we’re both sponsoring it and running a couple of hands-on, interactive sessions. All online, of course, given the way things are these days.
On Tuesday 6 October, join a mySociety-led discussion with Mark and Zarino, on how consistent data standards across councils could open the doors to much better innovation.
We’ll be looking at our own Keep It In The Community project, nodding to our Council Climate Action Plans database, and inviting attendees to join a wider discussion on how we can encourage better joined-up data across councils.
And on Weds 7 October, our designer Martin will be running a mock ‘consequence scanning’ exercise. He’ll take participants through a new and useful way of assessing and mitigating risks in new government services, as conceived by Dot Everyone, recently taken up by Future Cities Catapult, and now used successfully in service design workshops by SocietyWorks.
We hope you’ll come along and enjoy some good discussion and deep dives into local government service improvement: find out more and book your place here.
In our last post we explained how we’ve been developing a new Waste service with the London Borough of Bromley. At the same time, we’ve also been working with the team at Hackney Council to develop a simple, efficient path for citizens’ noise reports.
As with our explorations into Waste, the work on noise first required us to learn a lot in a very short period of time. What exact form do noise reports take; and how can a citizen make a useful, actionable report if they’re not sure precisely where the noise is coming from?
We also had to examine the characteristics that would class a report as an anti-social behaviour (ASB) complaint, and whether the report path should differ for these.
We’re now at the stage where we’ve created early prototypes for two workflows — noise-related ASB reports, and standard noise complaints. Next we’ll be thinking about whether the two journeys can be combined into a single tool.
The handling of ASB reports carries its own potential hazards: we need to consider the possibility of unintended harm, such as the stigmatisation of at-risk individuals and families.
The team at Hackney are well aware of the risks: and introducing process efficiencies through a new online service could make these issues much more acute if not considered properly. As such we are conducting an extended discovery process to go deeper into these issues upfront.
During our workshops with Hackney so far, we have been able to look at the positives and negatives from the different viewpoints of council staff, citizens and the wider community, incorporating ‘Consequence Scanning’ into the discovery.
This exercise was originally developed by Dot Everyone and has more recently been adopted by Future Cities Catapult. It ensures everyone can take a 360 degree view of the possible consequences — both positive and negative — that might arise from a new service design, and consider what additional mitigations might need to be put in place.
Armed with these insights, we’ve created an alpha version of the Noise reporting tool that we’ll be sharing with Hackney shortly so that they can test it and give us feedback for the next phase.
Our Designer Martin, who ran the workshops, says, “There’s a limit to what you can find out verbally, so we aim to get to the alpha version of a service as quickly as we can.
“The knowledge and understanding we get from seeing people using a new service for the first time is invaluable and can be immediately fed back into the design process to become improvements or new features.”
If you’d like to chat or find out more about how we’re progressing with the development of our noise services, or any other aspect of the SocietyWorks local government suite, then please contact David through our online form or the details at the foot of this page.
Image: Brad Stallcup
We’re rolling out two new SocietyWorks offerings, to extend the capabilities of FixMyStreet Pro while providing new and much needed services for councils. In this blog post, we’ll be introducing what we’ve been doing around Waste, and in the follow-up, you can find out how we’re approaching Noise.
In the past 24 months FixMyStreet Pro has become the street report service of choice for dozens of local authorities. This has given us the investment that we have needed to broaden the range of services we offer to cater to the myriad ways that citizens might want to contact their council.
As always, that has meant going back to our clients to ensure that we have a full understanding of what they really need, before looking at how we can transform that into a proposition that helps with efficiencies and cost savings, whilst ensuring easy engagement for citizens.
In this case, we’ve been working closely with the team at the London Borough of Bromley, asking them all sorts of questions: how do citizens order a new bin or container? What do we need to know about collection schedules? And if a bin gets missed, what’s the ideal route to resolving the problem?
We ran workshops with the Bromley team, which helped us fully understand the requirements of a busy council in the handling of complex residential waste offerings. They’ve had full input into the build of the new service, testing and feeding back on our early prototypes and alpha stages.
“It’s great to be working with our partners at SocietyWorks on developing a new feature for FixMyStreet Pro.
“There are some unique demands of the Waste Service which make it a little different to how our other services interact with FixMyStreet, as well as being a service that ranks high on the citizen and political agenda.
“The SocietyWorks team have really taken the time to understand those demands and we’re looking forward to completing the testing and tweaks and going live!”
– Jonathan Richards, Technical Support Team Manager at Bromley
As with any new development, piecing together a really effective online Waste service brought its own set of fiddly issues to work through.
As just one example: we’ve had to understand the windows of time within which a citizen can report a missed bin collection, and how a bank holiday affects those timings — all second nature to those who have been working within those timescales for years, but a definite coding challenge for us! Just to be sure, we’ve conducted in-depth tests to make sure that no missing bin reports fall through the cracks.
“Designing a service that serves the citizen, but also works for the authority is a balancing act.
“But we’ve found it’s entirely achievable. The first step is to listen to citizens’ needs: that sets you on the right path.
“Then, that understanding can feed into the workflow, so long as you’re open to working in a responsive and flexible way — which might mean being proven wrong at some points along the line, and changing direction accordingly.”
Martin Wright, mySociety Designer
The plan is to launch the new service in the next four to six weeks, and then we’ll be working on phase two, which will include workflows that allow citizens to take actions such as ordering a bulky waste collection, and making payments. The discovery work for this has already started, and we’ll be sure to post updates about the progress over the next month.
We’re currently integrating with Bromley’s Veolia system, but as with our street services we already integrate with all of the popular CRM and asset management systems and we’ll apply the same approach to all of the main Waste management services – we’d love to hear from councils who might be interested in this.
If you’d like to chat or find out more details of the new waste product, please contact David through our online form or the details at the foot of this page.
We’ve recently introduced two new ways to locate yourself, and your reports, on FixMyStreet.
You might have noticed a discreet little ‘aerial’ button on the bottom of FixMyStreet’s map pages recently.
This toggles the view from the usual Ordnance Survey maps to a Bing aerial satellite view:
We hope this will make it easier for people to locate their reports accurately, in those cases where it’s a bit easier to identify landmarks from above.
This isn’t an entirely new departure for FixMyStreet: as far back as 2013 the site we made for the City of Zurich had a satellite view as default — and indeed, it still does.
At the moment, this feature is available on the nationwide fixmystreet.com, and on fifteen client authorities’ sites. Why not all authorities’ implementations? It’s basically to do with whether they have their own map servers: where we host the maps, it’s obviously more straightforward for us to deliver the alternative view.
Another option to help you find just the right spot for your report comes with the introduction of Open Location Codes, also known as OLCs or Plus Codes.
Coincidentally, these also have a connection with Zurich, as they were developed in Google’s offices there. They’re basically a more convenient and quicker way of entering latitude and longitude, and can be used to identify any spot on the planet (though of course, each FixMyStreet site has its own bounds).
As their name suggests, OLCs are open source and available for anyone to use. Want to try it out? Google Maps on mobile gives you an OLC when you drop a pin: see more details here.
This function adds to the number of ways you can search for a location on FixMyStreet from the homepage search box, which include inputting a postcode, a street name, an area, a town or city, latitude and longitude, and allowing the site to auto-locate you.
So here’s hoping these developments will allow for ever more accuracy in report locations.
Image: William Hook
Residents of Nantwich, Crewe, Wilmslow, Macclesfield, and every other part of Cheshire East will benefit from the council’s decision to implement FixMyStreet Pro as their official report-making system for highways issues.
FixMyStreet’s interface should come as a step improvement for both citizens and council staff, making the reporting process much simpler for all.
FixMyStreet Pro will be integrating with the council’s existing Confirm CRM. Confirm is a popular choice for UK councils and we’ve dealt with it a lot, so the hook-up was very straightforward.
Customer service staff will also continue taking reports over the phone. They’ll input details into the system for inspectors to pick up — and these reports will also be shown on the council’s website (and fixmystreet.com) so the public can see what’s in progress and doesn’t need re-reporting.
A further benefit is that because FixMyStreet can define the information required from the report-maker (precise location, category, etc), the customer services team won’t need to review it as they had been doing previously.
So there are efficiency wins all round for Cheshire East. We welcome them to the growing number of councils who’ve opted for FixMyStreet Pro.
Austerity left many councils struggling, with some even on the verge of bankruptcy. And then came the pandemic, a new and unexpected drain on resources from many different directions.
There are public information campaigns to run, pavements to widen, vulnerable people to look after, foodbanks to support — and a considerable number of citizens without income to feed into the tax system.
Against this background, splashing out for a new piece of software may be the last thing on your mind. But counterintuitive though it may be, this is one purchase that will save on costs.
Here are five reasons why:
If you’d like to ask more about FixMyStreet Pro and its potential to save authorities money, do join us for a webinar.You can book a slot here or drop us a line if you don’t see a date that suits you.
Image: Adeolu Eletu
Have you considered using FixMyStreet Pro as part of an application to the Emergency Active Travel Fund? The service can easily be adapted to allow citizens make requests for cycle paths and street widening, for example, or to report areas where social distancing is difficult and intervention is needed.
This way, your covid action plan becomes needs led, instigated by the community without the need for expensive surveys or reports.
The pandemic has brought many changes to the way we move around our towns and cities, and authorities are having to adapt to them quickly.
FixMyStreet Pro offers one quick and easy way to reflect the new requirements we have of our environments: the addition of new report categories.
Some authorities are already taking advantage of this and have added categories that enable citizens to request wider pavements or cycle paths, or note where social distancing signage might be useful.
You can also head off the type of report that is better made elsewhere: for example, if a citizen wishes to report a business for poor practice — a report that clearly shouldn’t be public on your website — they can be routed towards the correct channel to do so, perhaps a phone number or a private contact form.
As a FixMyStreet Pro client, you can add, remove, or rename categories as needed; you can also nest subcategories, or place a subcategory under more than one main category to help users find it.
If you’d like to know more about categories, or any other feature, do join us for a webinar, so we can take you through FixMyStreet Pro’s main features and answer any questions you may have. You can book a slot here or drop us a line if you don’t see a date that suits you.
Image: Dan Burton
Lockdown has changed the way we are all working. During the last few months, the UK has been asked to work from home where possible, and even as some restrictions are eased, we’re expecting to see this arrangement continue for those who are shielding themselves or family members.
Some workplaces have realised that a remote set-up brings benefits to staff and to the organisation as a whole, and may never go back to ‘normal’.
As you may be aware, SocietyWorks and our parent organisation mySociety have been remote from their very beginnings: staff members are located all around the UK, all working from home and communicating online.
Pre-covid, we’d often visit councils face to face, perhaps to offer advice or make a pitch while they were considering the purchase of FixMyStreet Pro; and then sometimes again during set-up to speak with the IT department and make sure everyone was confident about how our systems would integrate.
But such visits aren’t actually a necessity, as we proved during Lincolnshire’s implementation. This was managed 100% remotely, and so smoothly that Andrea Bowes, Lincolnshire’s ICT Data and Information Systems Architect, told us that they hadn’t even noticed that we’d never been in the same room together!
There’s no need at all for either us or your staff to be in the office at any stage of implementation: as a cloud-based service, FixMyStreet can be set up from anywhere. And thanks to our own way of working, SocietyWorks are so used to video calls, email and shared documentation that it’s just as simple for us to conduct any staff training virtually. Don’t worry if you’re not used to that sort of thing (though we suspect that most people have had to become experts pretty quickly over the last few weeks!); we’ll handle all the logistics.
Looking to the future, if you are looking at having your customer service staff working at home on an ongoing basis, we’ll be happy to offer as much support and advice as you need — about FixMyStreet Pro, or more widely. Of course, all our staff tools can be accessed from anywhere, so there are no issues from that point of view. But we’d be happy to go a step further and give any advice you might need on home working, based on our many years of experience.
As a first step into seeing what the experience of working virtually with SocietyWorks is, why not join us for a webinar, when we’ll take you through FixMyStreet Pro’s main features and answer any questions you may have. You can book a slot here or drop us a line if you don’t see a date that suits you.
Image: Chris Montgomery