Latest news from the SocietyWorks team and all things FixMyStreet
Those of you who’ve been following our blog closely over the last few months will know that we recently launched a new front-end noise reporting workflow for Hackney Council, designed to give citizens an easier, more secure way to submit a noise-related report to the Council.
Following on from that, we’re now working with Hackney to create a robust, well-tested case management back-end system that simplifies processes for the teams responsible for responding to and managing noise reports.
After a kick off meeting on 16 February, we started our first sprint on the 2 March – 16 March, during which our designer Zarino met with various key stakeholders at Hackney to capture information on how they currently work, and what they would need in order to make their working lives easier when handling noise reports. So far, we’ve had some really useful and insightful conversations and are getting a sense of pain points and areas of complexity. For sprints from 16 March onwards, Gillian will first be working with Louise, Operational Director, and then taking over as DM on the project for SocietyWorks.
Communication is key to any project, especially for one of this size, so as part of the project we’re holding two-weekly Show and Tell meetings, as well as an internal status update call in the weeks between. The Show and Tell meetings are hosted by Hackney, and recorded for stakeholders who aren’t able to attend. This also means they can invite the most relevant people to ensure it keeps everyone updated, but without having to take up too much of their time. We’ve also created a slide template together through which we share information beforehand and allow time for Q&As.
The internal status update acts as a check-in half way through the sprint to make sure things are going as planned, and to see if there are any new risks or blockers that need addressing. As with all of our calls, this is documented and then added to our communication tool, so the notes can be referred back to at a later date.
We’ll be keeping you updated on the progress of this project every two weeks, so keep a lookout for the next post!
If you’d like some more information about our new noise service development, or about SocietyWorks’ services in general, you can contact us here.
Image: Paul Esch-Laurent on Unsplash
When it comes to improving the FixMyStreet user experience, we’ve recently been giving a lot of (well-deserved) attention to the mobile experience of our website, through which around 40% of website reports were made in the last three months.
You might have seen us talking in December about how we’re exploring the use of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) to help the FixMyStreet site look, work and feel like an app without actually being one.
Well, following on from that, here’s a rundown of some of the new improvements we have been, and will soon be working on to make using the website on a mobile device an even smoother experience.
Continuing to ensure that the process of submitting a report on FixMyStreet is as smart and uncomplicated as possible, we’ve been designing a simpler reporting form for mobile users.
Taking inspiration from some user groups we carried out over the course of the last year, we’ve been building on some of the best bits of our existing mobile app and applying them to the web version of the site so that more users can benefit from them – including users of the various council versions of FixMyStreet Pro.
One of these ‘best bits’ takes the form of a ‘one detail at a time’ question and answer format, delivered in a logical order. This approach helps to avoid overwhelming the user – they don’t have to think of everything at once and are less likely to exclude key information, or indeed include irrelevant information.
Plus, if a citizen wants to make a report on-the-go from their mobile, this simplifies the process for them by making it much more digestible and permitting much easier map asset selection without needing to interrupt the report flow.
In a bid to make FixMyStreet’s interface more forgiving for mobile users, we’re working on applying an even more touch-friendly design to the site, which will further help to make it feel and respond like it’s an app.
To make this happen, we’ve introduced a more responsive category picker, better map controls and a more obvious ‘use my location’ feature to facilitate selecting location data that’s as accurate as possible.
With these changes in place, FixMyStreet will be faster and easier to use on a mobile device, dramatically improving the citizen user experience.
When a citizen cares enough about their local neighbourhood to make the effort to report a problem to the council, the last thing you want to do is to make them feel like the process of doing so is too difficult or long-winded to be worth it.
Councils using FixMyStreet Pro will know that the service already provides a report summary at the final stage of the process to help increase report accuracy and reduce the risk of users abandoning their report before inputting their contact details.
Wanting to take that one step further with our new ‘one thing at a time’ format, our eventual aim is to have the report summary show up at the top of each stage of the form filling process, so that citizens can see their progress and receive a constant reminder of why they’re here and why it would be a shame to quit without completing the report.
Following some research we carried out recently into how photos make FixMyStreet reports 15% more likely to be recorded as fixed, we wanted to dedicate some time to thinking about how we can encourage users to begin a report with a photo, instead of it being an optional extra.
While it’s a long way off being something we can implement, our thinking is that, aside from increasing the likelihood of reports being marked as fixed, one of the key advantages of enabling this feature would be that, under the right circumstances, it could give us the capability to use the photo to autofill other details, such as recognising the category the report belongs to, the GPS location and other useful data that is embedded into photos taken on mobile devices. This means reports which start with a photo would be much quicker and easier to complete for citizens, and much more accurate and actionable for council staff.
Last but by no means least, another new feature we’re still in the exploration stage of working on is one that we hope will make reports easier to read and browse for citizens and council staff alike. Although this one isn’t specifically a mobile feature, it would likely benefit mobile users of the website the most, if and when we’re able to implement it.
Knowing that FixMyStreet users sometimes get confused between the summary field and the details field, which can lead to one or both of them containing repeated or irrelevant information, we’re exploring how we can remove the burden of inputting this information from the user by automating the process and reducing the amount of user-generated information we need to ask for.
We’re still exploring how best we can do this, but the end result should be a better standard of information available for council staff to browse, with clearer email subject lines, easier case prioritisation and no time wasted by users writing what ends up being unhelpful information.
And that’s it for now! As we’ve mentioned, some of these improvements are still in the exploration or developmental stage, so while we can’t say exactly when they will be rolled out just yet, there’s certainly lots to look forward to!
In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about any of the work we’re doing on FixMyStreet, or you want to chat to us about any of our other services, do get in touch with us.
Managing the end-to-end process of Freedom of Information requests can be a challenge for public authorities. For that reason, there are some things you should be making sure your FOI service is doing to make that process as smooth as possible for you, and for citizens.
To help maximise the chances that FOI requests will be well-formed by the time they reach you, always offer citizens a simple form to complete, and definitely don’t ask them to send an email.
Try to avoid using generic form builders, and instead opt for one that’s been specifically designed around making FOI requests straightforward to submit, and which provides citizens with contextual help at each stage. Not only does this save you time by helping you to avoid poorly-grounded requests and diverting Subject Access Requests, it also builds trust in your willingness to be receptive to citizens’ FOI requests and make it easy for them to exercise their rights.
Responding to FOI requests can be time-consuming, especially when citizens are requesting the same information. You can actively minimise the risk of receiving duplicate requests by using a suggestion system that leverages already published information by redirecting citizens to existing material before they make a request.
This could be a custom link curated by you, or a copy of a response you’ve already provided within your disclosure log. Either way, it saves you time, and means that the requester might be able to get the answer they’re looking for immediately, instead of waiting for up to 20 days.
Of course, to be able to automatically divert citizens to potentially relevant responses already published within the disclosure log of your case management system, your FOI service needs to be integrated with it. Getting your systems to speak to each other fluently, from frontend to backend, will allow you to offer a much more intelligent service to citizens.
End-to-end integration will also save you from having to do any manual data entry, because requests will go straight through to your case management system, and a case number will be allocated to the citizen immediately.
If your FOI service isn’t helping you to gain an overview of what citizens are requesting the most, which suggestions are most popular and which are helping to reduce the number of new requests, then you’re always going to be on the back foot when it comes to responding to FOI requests.
A service that provides you with analytics will help you to better understand how you can reduce request volume or divert duplicate requests by populating your website with the relevant, in-demand information.
We’ve already talked about why it’s a good idea to ensure your FOI service uses previously published responses to FOI requests or curated links to help reduce duplicates, but there’s another reason why this is a powerful tool for you to have; it increases the value of your responses.
When your Information Officers have gathered all the information required in response to a FOI request that may well be asked again by someone else, it seems a shame to let that response go to waste. If your FOI service can intelligently resurface relevant past responses within your disclosure log for citizens, then each response starts to work harder. Plus, if you have that end-to-end integration sorted, it means no more copying and pasting responses, because it will all happen automatically – a good thing for you and for the citizen.
Anyone can make a Freedom of Information request, so it’s crucial that your FOI service meets the WCAG AA Government standard and is easy to use for everyone, no matter what adjustments they may need you to make.
From being able to enlarge the font size or change the contrast to being screen reader-friendly, it’s essential that whoever wants to make a FOI request to you, can do so without a hitch.
Our user-centred, fully-integrated FOI Works service will help you to deliver all of the above FOI service essentials, tailored to your organisations’ needs.
If you want to learn more about FOI Works, click here.
Image: Bernard Hermant on Unsplash
When citizens are subscribed to receive email updates about a FixMyStreet report by council staff, they will now receive an email to acknowledge their subscription straight away.
If you’re familiar with our FixMyStreet Pro service, you’ll know that it allows citizens to subscribe to updates on existing issues rather than re-reporting. It’s a nifty feature that helps to give citizens a transparent view of how problems are being dealt with and reduces duplicate reports, saving councils time and money.
But did you know that council staff can also manually subscribe citizens to FixMyStreet reports if they need to?
Say, for example, a citizen has called your customer service centre to report a pothole that’s already been reported to you via FixMyStreet. If that citizen wants to stay informed about what happens next regarding fixing the pothole, you can subscribe them to the original FixMyStreet report. This way, they’re kept in the loop whenever an update is issued by staff within your case management system, and they shouldn’t need to call you back about the issue.
All sounds good, right?
It is, but there was one thing that Oxfordshire County Council pointed out could make it even better.
They realised that, on certain occasions when the time between the citizen being subscribed to a report by council staff and an email being sent with an update was a little longer, the citizen was sometimes forgetting why they were receiving the email, and would call the council again to ask.
So to combat this, we’ve now introduced a new subscription confirmation email to the FixMyStreet Pro service. This means that when council staff manually subscribe a citizen to a report, the citizen receives an email to acknowledge the subscription straight away. It’s a simple step that should help to alleviate any confusion in the event of the first email update about the report not arriving for several days.
The subscription acknowledgement email is now in place for all councils using FixMyStreet Pro.
If you have any questions about this new feature, or you have an idea for another, let us know.
Image: Steven Phillips on Unsplash
Since FixMyStreet first launched back in 2007, we’ve always loved hearing stories from citizens about how they use the service within their local community.
Earlier this year, we heard from Lauren and John, who told us about how they’ve been using FixMyStreet to help make roads in their local area safer for blind people by reporting any pedestrian crossings with faulty or missing audio, tactile or visual indicators.
These indicators are essential for anyone with sight or hearing loss to be able to safely navigate crossing the road, so when they’re broken, it is a serious hazard. A hazard that most people probably wouldn’t notice, let alone report.
We were so inspired by their story that we asked if we could share it and encourage more people to make use of FixMyStreet in this way.
Happily, not only did they agree, but they also made a video for us! So, meet best friends Lauren and John:
John is deafblind and relies on using tactile indicators (those little plastic or metal cones beneath pedestrian crossing boxes, sometimes referred to as ‘twirlers’ or ‘spinners’) to know when it is safe to cross the road.
The pair say they started reporting any broken pedestrian crossings during lockdown as a way to make the most of their daily exercise: “We wanted to use our time to do something positive that would make journeys safer for other cane and guide dog users in the local area.
“Covid has hit visually impaired people quite hard and there have been lots of changes to street layouts, one way systems and social distancing is pretty difficult for those that cannot see.”
There are several things that Lauren and John look out for and report on FixMyStreet: “We look at all aspects of the crossing, including buttons, lights and the spinner.
“The wait light is surprisingly important because even John, who has very little remaining vision, can see if the light is on or off. If a tactile spinner isn’t working he can work out when it’s safe to cross using this light, as it will go off when the man turns green.”
That’s not all, though. Broken glass is also high up on their reporting priority list. Lauren explains, “[Glass] is a real hazard for John’s guide dog Daisy who will walk through it if there is no easy way around or if it is very small pieces she can’t see.”
Lauren says it was a local litter picking group that recommended using FixMyStreet to report all the issues she and John were finding at pedestrian crossings.
“Before finding the website I actually wouldn’t have known where or who to report the issues to.”
FixMyStreet uses the location data provided within a report to automatically send it to the correct authority. In Lauren and John’s case, it was Birmingham City Council that received their reports.
John and Lauren say using FixMyStreet has made reporting problems “easy”, and that they’ve been impressed by how quickly Birmingham City Council has responded to their FixMyStreet reports: “We have had issues fixed in less than 48 hours, which is great.”
This is something we’re very pleased to hear, and serves as a reminder of why we encourage all UK councils to give their residents the option to make reports via FixMyStreet (currently, around 2% of councils don’t accept reports from third party websites like ours).
Although lockdown will hopefully be over in the near future, John and Lauren have no plans to stop their walking and reporting routine: “Finding so many problems has motivated us to keep checking and reporting issues.
“It could be a missing button, broken light or the tactile spinner could be missing or broken. If nobody knows they are broken, then they can’t be fixed!”
Thanks so much to Lauren and John for sharing their story with us, and for being such active members of their community through FixMyStreet – this is exactly why we created the service in the first place.
Next time you’re waiting at a pedestrian crossing, why not check that everything’s working as it should, and make a quick report on FixMyStreet if it’s not?
If you want to follow more of Lauren and John’s adventures, check out their Facebook page.
How do you use FixMyStreet? Share your own story with us here.
Image: Valou_c on Unsplash
Were you aware that councils, as registered Public Sector Geospatial Agreement (PSGA) members, get free, unlimited access to Ordnance Survey’s Premium Maps API?
Peterborough City Council were, and so, using an API key, we’ve just completed some work updating the OS maps displayed on their instance of FixMyStreet Pro – and don’t they look magnificent?
So what’s different about these maps, aside from being very nice to look at?
Well, the high-level OS maps available in this way show a lot more detail to citizens, especially when tiles are zoomed in, which should help them to make more accurate reports about streets and highways defects.
Using the API should also produce a faster loading time for tiles and removes the need for watermarks.
Another benefit of displaying maps like this is that councils don’t need to provide us with the source data for the maps or worry about keeping it up to date; OS will take care of that.
Of course, councils who have their own map servers can already display data in this way via FixMyStreet Pro, but for those who don’t host their own map tiles, the OS Maps API offers a really neat solution.
Or, if you’re a council already using FixMyStreet Pro and you would like to explore connecting up your OS Maps API, let us know.
The arrival of March (how fast did that come around?!) brought with it the end of the fourth SocietyWorks sprint of the year, so here’s your update on what the team got up to.
This sprint we worked with Peterborough City Council to introduce some new maps to their instance of FixMyStreet Pro using Ordnance Survey’s Maps API (which is totally free for PSGA members such as councils). The high-level OS maps available this way show a lot more detail to citizens, which should result in more accurate reports. We might be biased, but we think the new maps look beautiful.
The new maps are available to all FixMyStreet Pro customers – let us know if you want to display them, too.
Also with Peterborough City Council, we created some new bin icons to include on their in-development waste management system. This system will be integrated with Bartec and will allow citizens to report missed bins to the council easily online. Find out more about our new waste service here.
In more waste-related news, our green garden waste project with Bromley Council continues. This sprint we have been focusing on the citizen forms and how to make the process of completing them as easy as possible. This was based on prototypes first, and is now being coded up after feedback from the client.
Thinking about how we can improve the FixMyStreet Pro citizen user experience further still, we worked on creating the functionality to populate citizens’ details if they’ve already logged in to FixMyStreet to make report-making even smoother.
Another FixMyStreet Pro improvement, we’ve been working with London Borough of Bexley, who have recently created new email templates to keep their citizens informed on report progress. This is a key part of the product, and is very flexible, allowing our clients to send custom wording per status and category.
Also this sprint, we started our first rounds of interviews for the new noise case management project we’re working on with Hackney Council – we’ll be creating separate sprint notes every two weeks for this too, so look out for them.
As there is light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic, we’ve also been looking at what the next three years could look like for SocietyWorks by creating a three-year strategy, giving us a clear path to follow and goals to work towards.
If you read our previous sprint notes, you’ll know that we’ve set ourselves the goal of celebrating our hard work more from now on. Sticking to our promises, we entered another award this sprint – this time it was the Digital Leaders Impact Awards. We decided on the Social Transformation category, focusing on the positive impact FixMyStreet Pro has on councils and their residents. Wish us luck!
Last not definitely least, we’re very excited to announce that we have recruited a new Project Manager, who will be starting next week! Once they’ve settled in we’ll introduce them to you all.
Got any questions about anything we’ve mentioned here? Ask away.
Image: Jack Bassingthwaighte on Unsplash
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.
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