Latest news from the SocietyWorks team and all things FixMyStreet
Days are getting longer, nights are getting shorter and the SocietyWorks sprints are getting busier! Here’s a summary of what we’ve been up to recently.
If you’ve been following our sprint notes closely, you’ll know that we’ve commenced phase 2 of developing Bromley Council’s new waste service. This sprint we delved a bit deeper into the different APIs we’ll be using, and drafted a technical specification that we shared with Bromley and the third parties involved to get their feedback. We do this because, as part of our processes, we like to make sure we prepare fully, rather than jumping straight into code. This makes for a smoother roll-out, and is also an opportunity for the our customers and any relevant parties to raise any potential issues that may need to be addressed.
We also continued our work on Peterborough City Council’s new waste service, which involves an intelligent integration with Bartec. It’s coming along nicely and we’ll have more to update you on in the near future.
On the FixMyStreet Pro side of things, we worked on several smaller work orders this sprint, including projects for London Borough of Bexley and Bath & North East Somerset Council.
We also looked at how we can roll-out the functionality to send an email when a user is subscribed to a report by council staff on a wider scale – this is something we’ve already built with Oxfordshire County Council, but we see real value in it, so we would like to offer it to all of our council partners. Let us know if this interests you.
Plus, we caught up with our friends at Buckinghamshire Council about how they’ve been getting on with FixMyStreet Pro, which they first switched to back in 2018. We were thrilled to learn that, as the service has improved the user experience for citizens when making a report online, calls to the Council have decreased by 49%, saving Buckinghamshire more than £32,000 per year. Not bad, eh? If you’d like to learn more, we wrote a blog post here.
As a team, we’re all really proud of what we do and why we do it, and yet very rarely do we shout about it. Now that our new Marketing & PR Manager Sally is here, we’re going to change this. To that end, we’ve been busy preparing submissions for entering a few awards in the areas of system integration and digital transformation – two things that we live and breathe here at SocietyWorks. Keep your fingers crossed for us, and watch this space!
Sally’s not going to be the new person for very much longer; this sprint saw us conducting interviews for a new Project Manager role. We’re all very excited about this new addition to the team, and we’ll be sure to introduce you as soon as they get started!
Image: Max Conrad on Unsplash
The SocietyWorks team has always been very confident in FixMyStreet Pro’s ability to create real, positive change for councils. Better user experience, more intelligent use of data, easier case management for council staff and dramatic savings – and that’s just to name a few.
But of course, the proof is always in the pudding. So we were very pleased to hear recently that, since making the switch to FixMyStreet Pro, Buckinghamshire Council has seen a significant improvement to their customer user journey when it comes to online reporting of highways defects. As a result of this, the Council has been able to create over £32,000 in savings per year.
Buckinghamshire Council chose to make the switch to FixMyStreet Pro back in 2018 as a way to improve their street and highways fault reporting customer experience. While residents still have a choice of channels through which they can make highways reports, the Council wanted to be able to offer the most intuitive digital process possible for reports that residents want and are able to make online.
Calls to Buckinghamshire Council’s Customer Service Centre about highways defects have decreased by 49%, which equates to over £32,000 in savings per year
It didn’t take long for FixMyStreet Pro to start delivering against Buckinghamshire’s desired outcomes. Since launching the service, calls to the council about highways defects have decreased by 49% – a clear sign that the online user experience has improved. In fact, for street light defects in particular, calls have decreased by 58%, more than likely helped by the Council’s intelligent use of FixMyStreet Pro’s asset layers, which can display ID numbers for street lights (as well as a number of other assets) to help the user make an accurate selection on the map and reduce duplicate reporting.
The benefits of this improved user experience stretch beyond just the user; for the Council itself the cost per highways report has dropped by up to 98.69%, taking an average report cost down from £7.81 to just 9p. According to Buckinghamshire Council, this equates to over £32,000 in savings per year. So it’s a win for the user and for the Council – and that’s what we love to hear.
We’re so delighted that FixMyStreet Pro has had such an impact on Buckinghamshire Council already, but we’re not stopping there when it comes to improving things even further.
In light of how successfully FixMyStreet Pro has improved the user experience when it comes to reporting street faults, we’ve been looking into how we could do the same for the process of making claims, too. Buckinghamshire residents can already make claims online to the Council about highways defects, but compared to the defect reporting process, the making a claim process could be much more user-friendly for both residents and council staff. Currently, residents need to provide lots of information up-front, even before it has been established that the claim can be upheld, while staff have to copy information over from the claims form into the Council’s backend management system Confirm, which includes downloading and re-uploading attachments.
After running some service discovery sessions on this, we’ve already made some progress here by improving the connection between Buckinghamshire’s existing claims form and Confirm to drive efficiencies for officers. The next step would be to expand our integration with Confirm and allow users to be able to file an incident report within FixMyStreet itself, as well as reporting the highways defect that caused the incident.
As always, we’ll let you know how the development on this project goes, and hopefully we’ll have some more positive results to share with you in the future!
If you’d like to find out more about FixMyStreet Pro and have an informal discussion about how the service could work for you, book a short demo here.
Image: Samantha Borges on Unsplash
FixMyStreet Pro customers can now take advantage of a new feature for the service: the ability to connect to Notify and send status updates via text.
Just like a lot of the new service features we develop at SocietyWorks, they often start off as a great idea from a client.
On this occasion, it’s Hackney Council we have to thank; they came to us a few months ago with the desire to connect their GOV.UK Notify account with their FixMyStreet Pro instance in order to give citizens more options for staying informed about their reports.
It made perfect sense to us, so together we’ve been working on this co-funded piece of development, which, now that it’s completed, is available to all of our Pro customers. The work involved adapting the FixMyStreet SMS authentication functionality and adding the Notify functionality as the new SMS backend provider for the verification step.
For Hackney, the integration with Notify means that when a report is made to them, the site asks the report-maker for either their email address or mobile phone number, which, once verified, will create an account and enable the Council to provide text or email notifications about the report.
If you’re a Pro client and you’d like to connect your Notify account to your instance of FixMyStreet Pro, send us a message in helpdesk.
Not a Pro client yet but interested in becoming one? Get in touch with us here.
Image: Ono Kosuki on Pexels
There’s been lots happening during the second sprint of the year – here’s what the SocietyWorks team has been working on.
We’re very excited to have started phase two of our work on Bromley’s waste product, which includes incorporating green garden waste and payments into the service.
We’re working closely with the team at Bromley, Capita and Veolia to create this new system. Currently, we’re designing the prototypes for the citizen forms to understand what information we’ll need to capture and how to make this as easy as possible for the user to fill in.
In other waste-related news, we’ve been speaking to a few of our clients to get their feedback on features and pricing for our general waste product. We’ll also have a new name for the product confirmed in the next few weeks! If you’re interested in learning more about our new waste service, drop us a line.
Also this sprint, we’ve applied the finishing touches to the GOV.UK Notify work we’ve been doing for Hackney. This new service is going live on the 4th Feb and is available to all FixMyStreet Pro Gold clients – find out more about how to buy here.
A hangover task from just before Christmas, we ticked updating client cookie banners off our list this sprint, making sure they’re all as up-to-date as possible.
Our new Marketing & PR Manager Sally has been getting her feet under the table and is looking at our overall Marketing goals for the next 3 years, as well as the best ways to spread the news about all the good work we do. You might have noticed during the last sprint that we now have a SocietyWorks LinkedIn account, a SocietyWorks Twitter account and a FixMyStreet Instagram page – go give us a follow!
We’ve taken some time this sprint to look at our internal processes, including how we operate and organise the sprint itself. This is something we’re going to be mixing up a little over the next few weeks – we’ll let you know how it goes!
Last but definitely not least, with it being February already (we know, we’re shocked too), we’ve started to plan for our summer user groups. We look forward to running these groups every year, and this one is no different. If you’re not familiar with them, have a read of this blog post about our most recent user group and keep an eye out for more details coming soon.
Image: William Santos on Unsplash
The first sprint of 2021 is complete, so here’s your update on everything the SocietyWorks team has been up to.
In light of the latest lockdown announcement and school closures, we had to make a few adjustments to the sprint schedule to make sure that we were being realistic with what work we could complete. But as always, we pulled together as a team to give each other the support we needed, which has meant we were still able to work on the following things:
In an exciting start to the year, we soft-launched one of our new services: a secure noise reporting workflow for Hackney Council. If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you’ll know that this is something we’ve been excited about working on, so it was great to get it live.
Alongside working on the new noise service, we got to work on some smaller FixMyStreet Pro orders for our clients, such as private comments and amends to map layers.
Also this sprint, we’ve been following up with clients on work that was completed last year, like pulling photos back out of Alloy and Confirm – something we’re keen to see progress. Learn about how we are able integrate our services with any backend management system here.
We’ve also been working on a new Bartec integration for a waste service with our friends at Peterborough Council. This is the second waste product project for us, and we’re very excited to roll it out – stay tuned for more updates on this soon.
In other exciting news, we completed a big piece of discovery and have been able to take it straight to an alpha build for a client this sprint, which we’ll reveal more about in good time. If you’re not sure yet what our discovery service is, you can read more about it here.
Another Hackney-related thing we worked on this sprint was to collect the final reviews on their GOV.UK Notify project, which will go live in early February. This is available to all FixMyStreet Pro Gold clients – find out more about how to buy here.
And finally, ahead of a busy and exciting year of development, we’ve been preparing a variety of different comms pieces this sprint, including drafting some announcements about our upcoming new mobile improvements for FixMyStreet. Watch this space!
Image: Lisa Fotios on Pexels
2021 might not have gotten off to the easiest of starts, but one thing that will be a bit easier from now on is street reporting in Central Bedfordshire, as we welcome them into the FixMyStreet Pro fold.
For residents of the area, this means that any and all street and highways reports can now be made through the FixMyStreet website or app, or via the council’s website. Wherever a report is made, they’re all going to end up neatly in the same place, thanks to our integration with Central Bedfordshire’s backend management system, Symology Insight.
Frustrated at finding themselves experiencing a higher volume of calls from residents over online reporting (somewhere in the region of 400 extra calls per month!), the Council was in search of a channel shift that would produce a better experience for residents and council staff alike.
While there are cheaper alternatives to FixMyStreet Pro, the savings Central Bedfordshire will now be able to make using a fully integrated system made the investment worth it. That coupled with FixMyStreet’s high-performing, user-centred interface and our years and years of experience integrating into any existing backend set-up made it the ideal solution.
“This is an exciting development for Central Bedfordshire residents as the FixMyStreet system is not only easier, faster to use, and more interactive, it can also connect with other systems to ultimately lead to smarter more efficient services.”
– Councillor Ian Dalgarno, Executive Member for Community Services
There were a number of key issues that Central Bedfordshire wanted to address through this integration with FixMyStreet Pro.
Firstly, they wanted to improve the accuracy of their highways reports, something that FixMyStreet helps to achieve thanks to its user-friendliness, its intelligent asset layer displays and its flexible categories.
Another requirement was to remove the ability for residents to submit reports anonymously, with a view to encourage better quality reporting, easier case management and to facilitate a stronger relationship between resident and council.
They also wanted to reduce the burden on and cost of their customer service team having to manually build reports, double key information and answer calls from residents wanting updates on their case. From now on, rather than having to call the Council for an update or needing to decipher an unfamiliar Symology Insight status code, residents will now receive clear updates on their reports automatically to the contact details they provide. Plus, our transparent approach to reporting means that anyone can view previous reports and subscribe to updates for easy progress tracking, which helps to reduce duplicates and creates a better user experience for residents and council staff alike.
Talking about what a difference this channel shift will make to Central Bedfordshire, Councillor Ian Dalgarno, Executive Member for Community Services, said: “This is an exciting development for Central Bedfordshire residents as the FixMyStreet system is not only easier, faster to use, and more interactive, it can also connect with other systems to ultimately lead to smarter more efficient services.
“As the new system allows users to submit reports against specific council assets, it will be a lot simpler for officers to locate and assess any problems.”
We’re no stranger to integrating with Symology Insight both on premise and hosted, but as with any integration into an existing business system, it takes a lot of hard work and hiccups can happen.
In this case, we ran into an obstacle getting updates to sync from Insight. Thankfully, Central Bedfordshire and Symology were quick to jump into action and we worked together to improve our connector and enable the systems to speak to each other fluently. The end result is a seamless experience for users, who are kept in the loop as soon as their report is updated in Symology by Central Bedfordshire staff.
Now that the button’s been pushed and the Central Bedfordshire version of FixMyStreet Pro is live, we hope it will help to make at least one part of 2021 a little bit easier to manage for the Council and its residents.
If you’re a council and you’d like to explore how SocietyWorks’ services can help you drive efficiencies and save money this year, do get in touch.
Image: Jack Bowers, Central Bedfordshire Council
Built in collaboration with Hackney, this has been a really interesting project to work on; delving into what form noise reports should take, how to help citizens make a noise report that’s useful to councils even if the reporter is not exactly sure where the source of the noise is and how such reports can be made as securely and sensitively as possible.
The finished product is a secure, user-friendly and highly efficient private reporting form that Hackney’s teams and its residents will be able to make use of.
Recognising the timely need for a better frontend noise reporting system, Hackney saw the early value in making the process of submitting such a report a smoother one for residents and for council staff. That’s where we came in.
By identifying whether the noise is commercial or residential before sending it directly to the team that can deal with it, our new noise service will help to make handling noise reports much easier. Meanwhile, providing a form which enables citizens to submit a better standard of location information using UPRNs first and foremost or broader map locations if the exact source of the noise cannot be confirmed will help to deliver reports that are more accurate, actionable and faster to address.
Aside from being able to use a form that’s designed to help them provide the correct information to councils, another bonus for Hackney residents is that they will now be able to see all of their own reports, whether noise or otherwise, all in one place when they’re logged into Hackney’s version of FixMyStreet.
With the potential for noise reports to be of a more sensitive nature, it was important to us and to Hackney that we get this noise service right. That’s why as part of the service development we ran a series of consequence scanning workshops to identify and mitigate potential negative outcomes.
As a result, each noise report that’s made to Hackney will be private and will always be dealt with by a council staff member – no automated decision making involved. This helps to ensure that, whatever the report is about, it can be dealt with appropriately without anyone other than the reporter and the council needing to know about it.
Being a new service, we’re looking forward to seeing how Hackney gets on with using it now that it’s soft-launched and listening to residents’ noise reports.
If noise reporting is something you are also interested in, the service can either be plugged into an existing FixMyStreet Pro package, like we’ve done for Hackney, or it can be fully integrated into whichever backend management systems you are using.
Image: Brett Jordan on Unsplash
This Thursday 21st January marks the start of UKGovCamp, an unconference that takes place every year and brings together people from across the public sector to discuss how technology can, and does, improve civic services.
It’s an event that the mySociety team has really enjoyed being involved in previously, but we’re extra excited this year because our very own designer Martin will be running a session on consequence scanning. He’ll be taking attendees through a mock consequence scanning exercise, much like those we run while developing new SocietyWorks services for councils, and teaching them how the method can be used to predict, assess and mitigate any potential negative consequences.
Martin’s session will be familiar to anyone who came to the similarly-named LocalGovCamp conference towards the end of last year, where he first ran it. Based on its success there, as well as how helpful consequence scanning has been for us as an organisation, Martin’s keen to help as many people as possible discover this great method – so if you missed out last year, now’s your chance to get clued up.
The session will take place virtually at 1.45 PM on Thursday 21st January – we hope to see you there!
Image: Compare Fibre on Unsplash
We all know that 2020 was a bit of a bumpy year (OK, it was a lot of a bumpy year), but one thing that those of us at SocietyWorks had been expecting to be a bit less bumpy was the impact of pothole reports on UK councils.
With people traveling less frequently due to lockdown putting roads under less pressure (which, incidentally, would also create the perfect conditions for pre-existing potholes to be fixed by councils), we had thought that pothole reporting rates on our FixMyStreet service, which sends reports directly to the council that can deal with them, would have been lower than usual.
But we were wrong.
While we did see a considerable drop in reports when the first lockdown hit, and again towards the end of the year when renewed restrictions saw winter pothole reports rise less sharply than in previous years, 2020 still had the highest ever number of potholes reported through FixMyStreet and our council versions of FixMyStreet Pro (not including TFL’s installation), with over 111,000 reports about potholes made throughout the year.
As the above graph shows, the year started off with a clear trend towards many more potholes being reported through FixMyStreet than usual. When the first lockdown began in March, reporting rates dramatically reduced, but they quickly started to pick back up again as restrictions were loosened and cold weather re-emerged.
Towards the very end of year, when we would usually expect to see a sharp hike in report numbers like in previous years, Tier 4 restrictions and lockdown saw pothole reporting rates increase much slower.
Taking these reporting trends into consideration, it looks as though, had there been no lockdown, pothole report numbers would have been even higher in 2020.
As we know, the pandemic has put an added strain onto councils recently, meaning that potholes are just one of many, many things needing to be dealt with.
For councils already using FixMyStreet Pro to manage their streets and highways reports, any increase in pothole reports is much easier to handle when the cost per report has been made up to 98.69% cheaper.
Looking ahead, given that budgets are tight and key workers are currently making up the majority of the people using our roads, should 2021 prove to be another pothole-heavy year, it’s never been more important to make the process of reporting such problems as easy for citizens and as cost-effective for councils as possible.
If you’re a council and you’d like to discover how FixMyStreet Pro can help you smooth out the process of dealing with streets and highways reports like potholes, you can find out more here.
Whether you’re a council or a citizen, potholes are an all-round pain in the bum(per), aren’t they?
When it comes to citizen reports made on our FixMyStreet service, potholes are always up there among the most frequently reported problems. In fact, in 2020, despite lockdowns and less frequent travel, more potholes were reported through FixMyStreet than ever before.
For councils, dealing with pothole reports has never been a bigger challenge. Aside from being expensive to fix (and no sooner have you fixed one than another appears), staff shortages caused by COVID-19 as workers are required to isolate have made coordinating pothole fixes a much longer, more complicated process.
Be that as it may, at a time when most road travel is being carried out by key workers, it’s more important than ever to make the process of reporting potholes and responding to such reports as easy and as fast as possible.
This being the case, we thought we’d highlight all the ways in which FixMyStreet Pro can and does make dealing with pothole reports easier, cheaper and much less bumpy for councils and their residents.
Now more than ever, councils need to save money wherever they can. Investing in a channel shift to FixMyStreet Pro for the management of your streets and highways reports could help you save up to 98.69% per report, just like it did for Buckinghamshire Council.
As well as needing to save money, councils and their customer service teams also need to save time – especially time wasted on dealing with duplicate reports. FixMyStreet’s transparent approach to reporting helps to dissuade duplicate reports by allowing citizens to view reports that have already been made nearby and subscribe to updates from the council as the issue is resolved.
We know how annoying, nevermind expensive, it can be when your backend IT systems aren’t quite getting along the way you’d like them to. With FixMyStreet Pro, we promise to integrate into whichever systems you’re using to facilitate a smooth user workflow for everyone. See how this worked for Oxfordshire County Council, who, by switching to FixMyStreet Pro, were able to make immediate workflow improvements and savings by removing layers of legacy software.
No one council is the same as another; you have different needs, different priorities and different ways of doing things. We take all of this into account when we’re setting up your version of FixMyStreet Pro, building it around yours and your residents’ needs. As an example, when it came to potentially hazardous reports (such as dangerous potholes), Island Roads, the company that handles highway maintenance on the Isle of Wight, requested to implement emergency categories to their version of FixMyStreet Pro to help safeguard against accidents and allow them to deal with problems faster.
Want to get started making your pothole reports easier to navigate? Get in touch with us.