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Latest news and innovations for councils and the public sector from the SocietyWorks team.

Fix­My­Street Pro is a pro­gress­ive web app. Here’s how that benefits you

At SocietyWorks we always design our websites as ‘mobile first’, meaning that they work well on any size of device, automatically resize to fit any screen dimension and facilitate a simple, touch-friendly workflow for completing forms.

But did you know that FixMyStreet Pro, our street, highway and environment fault reporting service, is also a progressive web app (PWA)? 

Loosely speaking, this means that each of our clients’ FixMyStreet Pro sites has been designed with ‘app like’ qualities. They look and act like an app and they can be downloaded to a mobile’s home screen like an app.

How do PWAs benefit you?

According to some research we carried out earlier this year, only 22% of citizens want to use an app they have to download to make reports to their local authority,  while 43% would simply prefer to use a website that works well on mobile devices.

However, we know that some of our public sector clients like to be able to offer citizens an app to download to access their services, in addition to a mobile-friendly website.

PWAs provide the ideal solution. Unlike a dedicated app, PWAs give citizens the ability to choose how they want to use the service – whether that’s like a website or like an app –  with no obligation either way. 

They also enable you to provide exactly the same experience to citizens whichever way they are using the service, with new features and functionality automatically available. Conversely, a dedicated app may require updates to be downloaded after the initial installation, and if auto-updates aren’t available, the app won’t work to its maximum potential.

Another handy thing about PWAs is that they permit the addition of offline capability to your website, by downloading a bit of JavaScript (called a service worker) to your device. If you can’t connect to the website then it falls back to the service worker, which can also save reports when you have no connection and then upload them when you do. 

How to save a PWA as an app

To use FixMyStreet Pro as an app, simply load your cobrand site from your mobile’s browser, and from your settings select “Add to home screen”.

A shortcut to the PWA will then appear in the same way that an app does, except when you click it, a new browser tab will open instead of a dedicated app. 

Here’s a step-by-step example of how it works for Buckinghamshire Council’s version of FixMyStreet Pro. 

Image shows Buckinghamshire Council's PWA being added to a homescreen like an app, and how it looks when opened

The PWA’s design makes it feel like you’re using a ‘normal’ app, with its mobile-friendly features, but you’re benefiting from using a web-based service that doesn’t require you to keep updating it. 

As you can see, the favicon for the ‘app’ can be branded to use your own logo.

Please note: if no logo is supplied for the favicon, the FixMyStreet logo will be used by default.

Please speak to your account manager for more information about the PWA version of your FixMyStreet Pro instance. 

Or if you’re not yet using FixMyStreet Pro but you’d like to know more, please get in touch.

Image: Lucas Hoang

SocietyWorks on G-Cloud 13

G-Cloud 13 is live at long last, and we’re really pleased to have our two newest products for local government and the public sector joining our offering on the framework.

Buyers can now procure the following SocietyWorks products on G-Cloud 13, via the Crown Commercial Service’s Public Procurement Gateway:

FixMyStreet Pro

Reliable, integrated, map-based street, highway and environment fault reporting for councils, local government bodies and highways agencies, based on FixMyStreet, the UK’s most popular reporting service for citizens.

WasteWorks

Designed with Bromley Council, WasteWorks is a user-centred, front-end domestic waste service that integrates with in-cab systems. Citizens can check bin days, report missed bins, order containers, pay for green or bulky collections and pay for repeat bin collection subscriptions.

FOIWorks

Our open-source, integrated, user-needs focused front-end solution for taking Freedom of Information requests from citizens, developed with Hackney Council and informed by our years of experience running WhatDoTheyKnow.

ApplyWorks

Easy and secure location based applications and payment services for citizens, businesses and councils. Built to GOV.UK design standards, integrated with all line of business systems and equipped with a comprehensive application management system.

If it’s our service discovery and consultancy services you’re looking for, those are available via Digital Outcomes & Specialists 5, and will be listed on the Digital Outcomes 6 framework when it is launched.

For buyers that would prefer not to procure through a framework, or would like a longer contract than G-Cloud 13 will allow, we have a direct call-off contract available for each of our products and services. Please contact us for more information.

Image: Poodar Chu

Automatically triage reports to parish and town councils with FixMyStreet Pro

Recently we’ve been working with Buckinghamshire Council on introducing some new functionality to FixMyStreet Pro, our integrated street, highway and environment reporting service, to enable automatic triaging of reports to town and parish councils, and better ways of passing reports between authorities.

Parish and town councils

Map showing all the town and parish councils in England and Wales

Parish and town councils cover almost the entirety of England and Wales, except for the main urban areas. There are 10,000 parish or town councils in England (National Association for Local Councils), and over 730 town and community councils in Wales (Welsh Local Government Association).

These councils take responsibility for a variety of things within the community, such as bridleways, bus shelters and litter bins, and they sit within larger principal authorities which may also sometimes be responsible for the same things in certain cases.

For this reason, when there’s a problem that needs reporting, it can be hard for citizens to know which level of authority is responsible for what problem and when.

New functionality for FixMyStreet Pro

FixMyStreet has always been able to automatically divert fault reports to other councils and authorities, based on the location and category of the report – but not at the parish level. Until now.

With the new functionality in place, parish and town councils can be set up as sub-bodies to a principal council within its instance of FixMyStreet Pro, and on the national FixMyStreet site. 

This way, categories can be assigned to more than one body, and asset layers can be placed over the map to enable the service to work out for the report-maker whether the report needs to go to the principal authority or the parish level council.

Case study: Buckinghamshire

Buckinghamshire’s town and parish councils

Buckinghamshire Council is a unitary authority, but the county itself is made up entirely of parish and town councils. Residents can report numerous issues via Buckinghamshire’s FixMyStreet Pro site, some of which are the responsibility of the unitary council, others the responsibility of the parishes.

Previously, Buckinghamshire staff were forwarding reports to individual parish councils wherever necessary, but this wasn’t ideal, so they asked us to make it possible for FixMyStreet Pro to work out for the resident where the report needs to go, and to send it there without the need for any manual intervention. 

For example, any reports of fly posting are now diverted straight to the correct parish, based on the geo location information provided within the report.

In more complex cases, such as grass cutting, the recipient of these reports depends on the speed limit of the road. So, at one end of the road a grass cutting report might need to go to the parish, but at the other end of the road the report needs to go to the unitary council. 

Aylesbury Town Council’s own section of Buckinghamshire’s FixMyStreet Pro service

Thankfully, the report-maker never needs to worry about this, because Buckinghamshire’s FixMyStreet Pro uses a speed limit asset layer, in addition to the geo-location and category, to work out where to send the report.

Additionally, from Buckinghamshire’s FixMyStreet Pro site, you can now view each individual parish or town council on its own map, along with the reports it has received. 

Wider benefits to councils

While Buckinghamshire and its parishes were the focus when building this new functionality, a few of the features we introduced are beneficial to all users of FixMyStreet Pro.

Updating report statuses via email

Arguably the most important one of these features is the ability to provide updates on reports without integration into a backend system. 

As you can imagine, most small parish or town councils don’t have expensive backend systems from which to manage inbound reports. In the past, whenever there’s been no backend system with which to integrate FixMyStreet Pro to facilitate a two-way flow of data, the only option would have been to email the reports.

In the spirit of keeping the feedback loop closed and being able to publicly display a report’s status (eg ‘fixed’ or ‘in progress’) on the site, we’ve made it possible for parish councils to update reports via email using a special code in the subject line, which will correspond to the new status of the report.

Of course, lots of councils or other authorities receiving reports from FixMyStreet may not have a backend system, so this feature is a really positive step forward in ensuring that feedback can always be provided transparently via the platform.

Private text updates

Another feature that will be of use to more than just parish and town councils and their principal authorities is the ability to specify different text to be displayed on the public report update and the private update sent directly to the report-maker. 

This is useful for sharing any extra information that you may not want to display publicly, such as feedback surveys.

Recategorising reports

Finally, Buckinghamshire wanted to be able to recategorise reports, because citizens sometimes select the wrong category. This could lead to reports being sent to a parish council when they should go to the unitary council, or vice versa. 

Now, council staff have the option to reassign a category if needed, which will ensure the report gets to the right place in the end.

For more information about FixMyStreet Pro, you can contact us here.

Image: Beth Jnr on Unsplash

FixMyStreet Pro user group, October 2022

User groups are among our favourite events in the calendar year. We love to bring together the organisations that use our products – from councils to highways agencies to housing associations – for a few hours to share experiences, ask questions and learn from one other. 

Last week we hosted another of our FixMyStreet Pro user groups, centred on our street, highway and environment reporting service. 

There’s a recording of the user group available to watch for anyone who wanted to come but couldn’t make it, or you can find a brief summary of what you missed below. 

Recently added features

From scheduled emergency messages to easier displaying of asset IDs on a report page, Senior Developer Chris Mytton gave us a tour of the latest features to be added to or updated for FixMyStreet Pro. Watch Chris’ session here.

Process changes and intended outcomes

Head of Product & Service Design Bekki Leaver ran a session explaining some recent changes we’ve made to our development and delivery processes, and exploring our intended outcomes for the future of the product. Take a look.

Chris Mytton, Senior Developer, showing attendees the new photo button on FixMyStreet Pro

Parish councils and FixMyStreet Pro in Buckinghamshire

Matthew Somerville, our Head of Development, gave us a demo of some new functionality we’ve been working on with Buckinghamshire Council, which allows principal authorities to use FixMyStreet Pro to easily and intelligently triage reports to parish councils. Check it out.

Report status mapping

‘Don’t mark reports as fixed unless the problem has actually been fixed’ was the main take-home from developer Moray Jones’ session on making sure your report statuses are mapped correctly on FixMyStreet Pro. More on this here.

Empathy mapping

We handed back over to Bekki who guided small breakout groups through an empathy mapping exercise to answer the question: why should I add a photo to my report? Each group had a different persona and situation to explore. If you’re interested in the work Bekki does, get in touch.

One of the breakout groups talks through their empathy map

Case study: Peabody housing association and FixMyStreet Pro

Tom Broad, Head of Environmental Services Thamesmead at Peabody, joined us to talk about how the housing association is using FixMyStreet Pro, which involves some complex routing of reports between Peabody and the London boroughs of Bexley and Greenwich. Watch the case study.

Communication top tips

Best practice advice for communicating FixMyStreet Pro to residents from our Marketing & PR Manager Sally Bracegirdle. See what Sally had to say.

Roundtable: problem-solving with FixMyStreet Pro

A group discussion on any shared pain points when it comes to digital street and highway reporting, and how we can look to resolve them with future development of FixMyStreet Pro. This is something we’re interested in all year round – please speak to your account manager whenever you have a suggestion to discuss.

Want to join us next time?

If you’re interested in what we do and how FixMyStreet Pro works, why not come along to our next user group to meet our community and see what the product is all about for yourself. Let us know if you’d like an invite

Image: Benjamin Elliott

FixMyStreet Pro at Highways UK 2022

We’ll be taking FixMyStreet Pro to Highways UK again this year, an exhibition for those working on the UK’s road infrastructure, taking place in Birmingham on 2 – 3 November.

If you’re heading to the event, stop by stand J7 for a fresh, barista-made coffee and learn all about FixMyStreet Pro, our map-based reporting service for street and highway issues, built on the national FixMyStreet website, launched by our parent charity mySociety in 2007.

Since 2012, FixMyStreet Pro, the fully integrated version of FixMyStreet, has been enabling councils, local government bodies and highways agencies to improve the way they take and manage reports from citizens about problems such as potholes, blocked drains and broken street lights.

Ask us about how FixMyStreet Pro can help you to, among other things:

  1. reduce duplication and manual intervention;
  2. automatically divert irrelevant reports on a nationwide scale;
  3. close the feedback loop and avoid failure demand.

There’ll be a few members of the SocietyWorks team at Highways UK – why not connect with them on the event app and schedule a meeting?

Here’s where to find us on the day:

Zoomed in screenshot of the floorplan for Highways UK, showing where to find us

See you there!

Updated call-off contract for SocietyWorks products available

There’s an updated call-off contract available for each of SocietyWorks’ products and services for local government and the public sector. 

The contract will be of particular interest to customers wanting to purchase a product directly instead of procuring via a framework, or those wishing to agree longer term contracts than some frameworks, like the Digital Marketplace, allow. 

It should also help customers to access newer products that launch before a framework has been updated, especially in instances where framework updates are delayed. 

For those still wanting to procure via a framework, our products and services continue to be available for procurement via the Digital Marketplace, and various other supplier platforms. 

WasteWorks and ApplyWorks will join FixMyStreet Pro and FOIWorks on G-Cloud 13 when it is launched in November. Until then, the latter two are available via G-Cloud 12.

Meanwhile, our service discovery and consultancy services are available via Digital Outcomes & Specialists 5, and will be listed on the Digital Outcomes 6 framework when it is launched (date still TBC).

Customers wanting to take advantage of the updated call-off contract can contact us here. If you’re an existing customer and would like to purchase via direct award from now on, please speak to your account manager. 

Image: Carlos Alberto Gómez Iñiguez

Councils, help us to prototype a new digital service to improve home energy!

SocietyWorks’ parent charity mySociety is looking for local authorities to take part in a funded prototyping project aimed at helping to decarbonise households and make them more energy efficient.

It’s our intention that this prototype will assist citizens in reducing domestic energy consumption, thereby saving them money, while also helping councils to reduce domestic carbon emissions and make net zero obligations more achievable. 

This follows another exciting prototyping project run by the Climate team earlier this year, which saw various stakeholders from across local government and civil society come together for six weeks of prototyping to explore potential solutions for six different climate focused-projects. Take a look at one of the home energy prototypes that was developed through this project.

During the next phase of this work we’ll develop one or more solutions to the problems we’ve identified so far. We’ll focus on our riskiest assumptions, or the biggest challenges that a new service might face. That could focus on encouraging residents to act together, and we’re excited to see where that leads!

Who should get involved?

Councils of all shapes and sizes from across the UK are invited to take part. 

The Climate team is particularly keen to hear from councils that are already taking steps to encourage energy efficiency, or have established retrofit coordinators and/or planning officers with a focus on decarbonisation and raising energy efficiency standards.

What will I get out of this?

The potential to share your needs to shape the development of a digital service that can be used in further funding pitches to ultimately help you and your residents to improve energy efficiency and save money. 

Plus, we hope there might be opportunities to foster new relationships with other local authorities and innovators leading the way in retrofit and home energy.

Is there a cost implication?

No, this is a funded project, so there will be no cost to councils interested in getting involved at the prototyping stage.

How much time will I have to commit to this?

Essentially, you can be involved as much or as little as you like – whether that’s by simply sharing some knowledge or experience via email, engaging via a video call or exploring the possibility of piloting a digital service in your area.

How do I register my interest?

Please contact Siôn Elis Williams (sion@mysociety.org),  Outreach & Networks Coordinator for mySociety’s Climate Programme, who is leading on this project.

Is there a deadline?

We’d like to hear from any interested councils between now and March 2023, at which point we hope to start testing one or more potential solutions. 

If you’d like to know more about the sort of projects run by the Climate team, you can catch up on the mySociety blog.

Image: Richard Bell

Schedule out of hours messages to display on FixMyStreet Pro

Evenings and weekends, bank holidays or special occasions – there are lots of times when councils and other local government bodies using our street and highway fault reporting service FixMyStreet Pro need to communicate out of hours information with citizens. 

On such occasions, it’s important that this information is shared with them before a report is made, to manage expectations, divert emergencies and reduce the likelihood of failure demand.

Happily, doing exactly that just got a lot easier, thanks to a new feature of FixMyStreet Pro, which enables staff to schedule out of hours messages in advance.

 

Easily share out of hours information

This new feature builds upon some existing functionality, which, until now, enabled a message to be hardcoded onto the homepage of FixMyStreet Pro sites, to be displayed at all times, most commonly used for communicating emergency contact numbers.

Now, not only can messages can be easily set up from the FixMyStreet Pro dashboard for both the homepage and reporting pages, a separate message can also be scheduled to display during pre-selected out of hours time periods, to explain, for example, how reports will be handled during this time, when to expect a reply and where to go if the issue is an emergency.

This is especially beneficial to councils and other agencies that have different procedures for handling emergencies within and outside of working hours – procedures which citizens cannot be expected to know off by heart.

For example, your out of hours emergency phone number might be different from the one you want citizens to use during normal working hours.

An example of how Central Bedfordshire Council uses FixMyStreet Pro’s emergency message functionality on the homepage of their Pro site

 

Setting up messages

Messages for both the homepage and reporting pages can be set up by your staff within the admin dashboard of FixMyStreet Pro, with the option to write a different message for each page if required. 

During scheduled out of hours time periods, the out of hours message will be displayed to report-makers. At all other times, the normal message will be displayed. 

If you only require messaging to be displayed during out of hours, then only the out of hours text box needs to be filled in and a time period selected. Equally, if no messaging is required, then both can be left blank.

There’s no limit to how many time periods can be scheduled, and schedules can be edited or removed easily whenever necessary.

 

Thinking outside the box

As with most of FixMyStreet Pro’s features, the out of hours message scheduler originated as a great idea suggested by a council using the service. 

Although it was originally intended for sharing emergency procedures and out of hours information, the message function can also be used for other purposes.

For example, Bromley Council uses it to advertise its green garden waste service.

Bromley Council uses FixMyStreet Pro's message functionality to signpost to its green garden waste service

To find out more about FixMyStreet Pro, why not request a short demo with the SocietyWorks team?

Image: Frank Busch on Unsplash

How FixMyStreet intelligently diverts reports of litter on England’s highways

Litter is one of many local issues that can be reported using FixMyStreet, mySociety’s nationwide, map-based street reporting service. 

Each report received by FixMyStreet is sent to the council or authority responsible for dealing with the problem, which is established by the selected category and geo-location information within the report.

Reporting issues on England’s highways

Should a report be made about an issue on one of England’s highways, FixMyStreet knows to send it to National Highways instead of the local council, thanks to integration with the highways agency. 

National Highways also offers its own branded version of FixMyStreet Pro, enabling citizens to make reports directly to the agency using the platform’s intelligent functionality. 

Because all Pro sites are connected to the main FixMyStreet platform, wherever a report is made, they all end up in the same place, and the map will be able to display all existing reports to report-makers to help reduce duplication and improve transparency.

Not our problem

National Highways manages a vast stretch of motorways and some A roads, but not all problems found on those roads are its responsibility. Depending on the type of road, some issues, like litter, actually fall to the local council to take care of.

It would be unreasonable to expect citizens to know who is and isn’t responsible for different issues on different roads, which is where FixMyStreet’s ability to create an asset layer-based connected network for reporting  problems really shines. 

As mentioned above, the national FixMyStreet site automatically sends reports to the correct place based on the category and location of the problem. So if a citizen uses FixMyStreet to report litter on a road managed by National Highways but on which the council would be responsible for litter, the service will work this out behind the scenes and ensure the report goes to the correct place.

Screenshot of National Highways' FixMyStreet Pro site. Map on the right hand side with a green map pin showing the location of an issue. On the left hand side a message in a blue textbox explains that National Highways is not responsible.

If a citizen goes to National Highways’ own FixMyStreet Pro site to make a report about litter on a road where the council is responsible, when the pin is dropped on the map and the ‘litter’ category is selected, a message will appear explaining that National Highways is not responsible. 

From here, the report-maker is encouraged to continue onto the nationwide FixMyStreet site, where the details of the report will be carried over, the remaining information can be filled in and the report can be submitted to the correct council.

FixMyStreet was built to make it easier for citizens to report any local problem, without needing to know who is responsible. FixMyStreet Pro gives councils and other public authorities the opportunity to adopt the service as their own – hosted and managed by us. 

To find out more about FixMyStreet or FixMyStreet Pro, request a demo

Image: Wilhelm Gunkel

SocietyWorks case study at SDinGov: speculative design for product decisions in anti-social behaviour reporting

SocietyWorks is going to SDinGov again this year, an international community event for anyone involved in designing and commissioning public services.

Taking place in Edinburgh next month, our Head of Product & Service Design Bekki Leaver will be sharing a case study on day 2 of the event, talking about our experience of how we used speculative design to reconsider whether we wanted to branch out into the area of anti-social behaviour reporting.

Over the last decade, we’ve been working with councils to design citizen-centred reporting services for issues in areas such as highways, waste and freedom of information. Anti-social behaviour (ASB) seemed like a natural progression from this, meeting demand from councils to address problems with reporting in this area. 

However, by nature, ASB is a complex issue, with disparate definitions depending on who you’re speaking to. Even with years of experience in user-needs focused design and consequence scanning, the complexity of this particular reporting area meant that we risked getting caught up in designing for one group of people, without truly considering the impact on other affected groups. 

For those of us designing for the public sector, it’s vital that we’re able to maintain the awareness to know when to pause for reflection, and that you have the design tools required to re-evaluate and decide whether to proceed or not.

Join Bekki to hear about the process we went through to reassess our perspective and how we used co-design future-casting to carve out the way forward.

Speculative design for product decisions in anti-social behaviour reporting takes place on 29 September at 12.15 – 12:45. 

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