Latest news and innovations for councils and the public sector from the SocietyWorks team.
Councils and other authorities using FixMyStreet Pro can filter and export all of their report data via the administration dashboard.
Reports can be filtered and exported by date, category, ward, state (eg. open or closed) and role (eg. as well as reports made by citizens, some might be made by customer service operatives while others might be by on-the-ground engineers and officers).
A new update to the dashboard means staff users can now do more with the category filter, having the option to select groups of reports via parent categories or even select multiple categories at once for export.
This update should make it easier and faster to refine data selections. For example, if you were interested in seeing all reports about problems related to street lighting, instead of clicking each and every street lighting category you can simply select the parent category ‘All street lighting’.
Here’s an example of how it looks on Oxfordshire County Council’s FixMyStreet Pro:
Alternatively, you might want to view all reports of faults with drains and bollards, so you can select both at the same time. See below an example of how this works on Camden Council’s FixMyStreet Pro:
Data exports can be accessed via the dashboard web page or by programmatic access via the API, the latter of which can be used to import the data straight into a business intelligence platform.
Want more information about FixMyStreet Pro? Find it here.
At SocietyWorks we describe our digital solutions as ‘citizen-centred’ – unusual wording in a world full of ‘user-centred’, ‘human-centred’ and other similarly phrased products that all essentially boil down to meaning “made with people in mind”.
So why do we choose to call our solutions ‘citizen-centred’, and what does that mean in practice? We asked Bekki Leaver, our Head of Product, to explain.
When talking about our citizen-centred digital solutions, it’s impossible to do so without acknowledging our history and connection to our parent charity mySociety, whose goal is to help people everywhere be active citizens by engaging in civic society.
To us, a citizen is anyone who is, or wants to be engaged in that civic space. This mission to engage can be seen throughout mySociety’s tools and services: FixMyStreet makes it easier to report local street-based problems to the correct authority, while WhatDoTheyKnow helps citizens make Freedom of Information requests and consolidates responses.
They, among the many, many others built by mySociety over the last 20 years, were designed to make the interaction between authority and citizen easier for the citizen. This drive to make things less of a burden on the individual is what underpins our citizen-centric design and we use all the tools in our arsenal to do it.
As the wholly owned subsidiary of mySociety, SocietyWorks extends the impact of the charity, applying that citizen-centred approach to the development of products specifically for local government and the public sector.
We apply everything we’ve learnt through running our charitable civic tech services to help us advocate for citizens in the design of authorities’ own services, to help them provide the best possible experience for their users.
Of course, we follow standard user-centred design practices, like uncovering needs and running usability studies, when we make improvements or design new things. This is part of our alignment with the GOV.UK Service Standard and is, in our opinion, the right way to do things.
We also build and test our solutions with accessibility in mind. Again, these are standard practices in the design and development world these days.
Where we differ is our approach to deploying these solutions. We design our products with the flexibility authorities need in order to integrate into any combination of existing systems and processes.
Unlike cookie cutter, off the shelf products, we recognise that different clients need different things, but balance this customisable approach with a commitment to ensuring the needs of the authority never clash with those of the citizen, creating what we hope is a positive outcome for both!
In essence, we’ll ask slightly more of you (the authority) as a client, but you want us to, because you’ll have better services and happy residents as a result.
As a society, our reliance on digital solutions will only continue to increase. New products and services are being created to reduce administrative burdens on authorities, which are driving more citizens to take a self-service approach.
With this increase in responsibility on citizens, we, as creators, need to continue putting them at the centre of that creation and persist in collaborating with authorities to find what works best for everyone.
Image: Centre For Ageing Better
With bad winter weather comes an annual spike in reports to councils and other responsible authorities about problems such as fallen trees, flooding and ever-forming potholes across the UK’s road network.
And with climate change creating increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather events, it has never been more important to communicate transparently with the public about what is and is not possible to fix. Not only does this help to reduce expensive unnecessary contact and failure demand, it also supports the prevention of citizen disengagement through disappointment with how reports are dealt with.
Since its launch in 2012, we have introduced in collaboration with our clients numerous features to our street, highway and environmental fault reporting solution FixMyStreet Pro to help them through periods of seasonal demand. Take a look at some of them below.
Staff users have the ability to log into the FixMyStreet Pro administration dashboard and set messaging to display across their installation of the service. These messages can also be scheduled to only appear at certain times, such as out of hours.
You might want to make report-makers aware that you are receiving a high volume of reports which may delay response times, or perhaps you want to direct them to seasonal advice or policies to help them understand how you prioritise reports.
Alternatively, you can use the site-wide messaging feature to provide emergency contact details for certain problems.
Take a look at an example from Northumberland County Council’s FixMyStreet Pro:
And another from Buckinghamshire Council’s version of the service:
As well as setting site-wide messaging, some authorities also upload videos to their FixMyStreet Pro service to give report-makers even more information about how they approach resolving local problems during periods of high demand.
For example, Buckinghamshire Council has uploaded a video to the homepage of its FixMyStreet Pro service to explain its winter maintenance priorities and manage expectations.
Meanwhile, Oxfordshire County Council uses video to illustrate its intervention criteria and ensure its residents understand what can and can’t be fixed.
Another clever way to manage report-makers’ expectations is to include photos and extra questions within the FixMyStreet Pro report form to help qualify the seriousness of the problem at hand and proactively explain whether it meets your intervention criteria.
Bath & North East Somerset Council does this for reports of blocked drains to help collect the most accurate information about the severity of the issue so that they know how to respond.
During periods of high demand, it’s crucial that emergencies don’t get lost in a queue of other less urgent problems. For this reason, FixMyStreet Pro gives councils and other authorities multiple ways to communicate about and divert emergencies.
In addition to using the site-wide messaging and extra questions mentioned above, it’s also possible for staff to display emergency messaging for certain report categories, or even disable those reports entirely.
Here’s an example of how Shropshire Council diverts reports of fuel spillages:
Expectation management doesn’t stop after reports have been submitted. FixMyStreet Pro enables staff users to set up and edit response templates to correspond to different report statuses. These responses are sent to report-makers whenever a report’s status changes to ensure they and anyone subscribed to the report is kept informed of its progress.
See an example of how Lincolnshire County Council responds to reports via its FixMyStreet Pro service, giving users a clear indication of the time-frames within which a response can be expected:
When report volume is high, authorities can edit these templates or even create new ones specifically to communicate that responses may take longer than usual, or to educate about how issues are prioritised.
These templates can be managed from within the FixMyStreet Pro administration dashboard or they can correspond to an integrated asset management or CRM system.
It can often be the case that members of the public go to report an issue about which you’re already aware, so when demand is already high, keeping duplication down is paramount.
As well as suggesting possible duplicates within a customisable radius to report-makers and encouraging them to subscribe instead of re-reporting, FixMyStreet Pro also enables authorities to display on the map scheduled maintenance works to eliminate the need for reports to be made at all.
Oxfordshire County Council’s FixMyStreet Pro has special map pins dedicated to works reported and scheduled for repair by the council itself.
Just as no two councils are the same, no two of our FixMyStreet Pro installations are the same either. If you’re interested in learning more about FixMyStreet Pro and how it could work for you, please get in touch.
Image: Rob Wingate
Staff users of our FixMyStreet Pro and WasteWorks solutions will now benefit from much faster data export downloads thanks to a new update we’ve made to the export functionality. Exports should now be ready to start downloading within a short space of time.
The faster download speeds apply to both user access through the dashboard web page, or programmatic access via the API, making it particularly useful for those of our clients which use Power BI to track performance levels.
In order to be performant, data is now pre-generated overnight ready for export, so it’s worth noting the CSV export won’t include information from the current day.
Standard data exports contain all the information about reports or requests made via FixMyStreet Pro and/or WasteWorks, including categories, states and device types, and can be filtered by date, ward, category, status and administrator role. Exports can also be customised according to the requirements of individual clients.
If you’re a client of FixMyStreet Pro or WasteWorks and would like any help with data exports, please open a ticket via the support desk system.
Or if you’re interested in finding out more about our solutions, get in touch.
Image: Carlos Muza
In collaboration with Brent Council we have added some new functionality to WasteWorks which enables residents to book a waste collection for small items including batteries and textiles.
WasteWorks is our front end residential waste platform designed with and for councils to provide simple online access for residents to information about their waste collections. It has the flexibility not just to integrate with any in-cab system or payment provider, but to also easily incorporate extra elements of a waste service as required by councils, including bulky waste, green garden waste, assisted collections, and now small items collections.
The new small items collection functionality was built for Brent Council’s installation of WasteWorks. Now, along with being able to view and download their waste collection schedules, report problems, request new containers and pay for garden waste subscriptions, residents in Brent can also use WasteWorks to access the council’s free bookable small items collection service.
Integrated with the Selected Interventions Echo in-cab system used by Brent Council’s waste contractor Veolia, WasteWorks takes residents through an intuitive request workflow within which they can select from a list of items included in the small items collection service and book a time slot according to availability. Each request created via WasteWorks is automatically sent into Echo for staff and contractors to manage directly.
Using this feature, residents can also cancel a booking for a small item collection, or report that a collection has been missed. The integration between WasteWorks and Echo will allow the council to keep residents informed on the progress of their requests and reports.
Councillor Krupa Sheth, Cabinet Member for Environment, Infrastructure, and Climate Action, said: “We want to make it as easy as possible for residents to get rid of your items in the most environmentally friendly way possible, as well as making it easy as possible. I welcome this partnership and look forward to working with SocietyWorks on this service.”
Angela Dixon, Managing Director at SocietyWorks said: “We take pride in the fact that each of our digital solutions is developed in collaboration with councils. This new feature of WasteWorks built in partnership with Brent Council is another great example of how the product continues to grow in line with the needs of councils and their residents.”
Find out more about WasteWorks or if you’re an existing WasteWorks client and you’d like to use this new feature please speak to your account manager.
Working in partnership with Bromley Council, we have added some new functionality to the Council’s installation of our WasteWorks solution to enable residents to book bulky waste collections online.
WasteWorks was co-designed with Bromley and introduced in the Borough in 2021 as a smart and user-friendly way for residents to access residential waste services online. Residents already use the service to check their bin days, report a problem with a collection, request a new or extra container and subscribe to green waste collections.
By integrating with existing systems, WasteWorks creates a consistent front door to all aspects of a council’s waste service, sharing information between residents, contractors and back again, which has already achieved a 40% drop in avoidable customer contact for Bromley.
Integrated with the Selected Interventions Echo in-cab system, which is used by Bromley’s waste contractor Veolia, as well as with the Capita Pay 360 payment system, residents can now also use WasteWorks to book and pay for collections for residential bulky waste items, such as carpets, furniture and white goods.
Residents wanting to use the service will be guided through a simple and intuitive workflow which enables them to select the type of item to be collected, reserve an available time slot and pay for the collection. WasteWorks can also handle cancellation and refund requests, as well as missed collection reports.
Jim Cowan, Head of Neighbourhood Management at the London Borough of Bromley said: “Placing the bulky waste collection service onto the WasteWorks platform is another step in making access to our services even better for our residents. Access to waste collection information, recycling container orders, enquiries and bulky waste bookings is now a one stop shop.
“Moving from the existing server platform for bulky waste to cloud through WasteWorks is a key element of Bromley’s digital transformation plan, and the integration into Veolia’s Echo logistic system improves administration and fleet efficiency – just two of the many reasons why working with our partner SocietyWorks has yet again given us the outcome we desired”.
Angela Dixon, Managing Director at SocietyWorks, said: “The addition of the bulky waste functionality marks another milestone in our partnership with Bromley Council.
“The team at Bromley have been involved in the development of WasteWorks from day one, and we’re proud to support them with another innovative service transition that meets the needs of residents.”
Find out more about WasteWorks here.
SocietyWorks has launched a new, dedicated installation of FixMyStreet Pro for Gloucestershire County Council, through which residents can report local street, highway and environmental problems.
Gloucestershire County Council joins more than 30 other local authorities, highways agencies and other public bodies in using FixMyStreet Pro for managing inbound reports of local problems such as potholes, broken street lights and problems with highway drains.
Integrated with the Council’s asset management system Confirm, FixMyStreet Pro’s intelligent, map-based interface will make it much easier for residents to accurately report a problem and stay updated on its resolution.
With all reports and their statuses displayed on the map, the ability to subscribe to existing reports and the automatic, nationwide diversion of reports that are the responsibility of another authority, FixMyStreet Pro will improve things for customers and help Gloucestershire County Council to better manage expectations, eliminate duplication of effort and reduce avoidable customer contact, freeing up staff time for urgent cases or to help residents who need additional support.
Designed as a progressive web app, residents can choose to use Gloucestershire County Council’s branded version of FixMyStreet Pro as a website or as an app, with no obligation either way.
Cllr Dom Morris, cabinet member responsible for highways and flooding at Gloucestershire County Council said: “I am pleased to say it is now easier for people to report issues and keep updated on repair work. We are always looking for ways to be proactive and improve our highways services.
“This summer we have been trialling new methods to speed-up repairs and engineers have been working day and night to strengthen the road network. Fix My Street is another innovation that will improve things for our customers and boost efficiency. Keeping Gloucestershire moving is a top priority and the council are investing heavily in better roads for residents.”
Angela Dixon, Managing Director at SocietyWorks said: “Since its launch in 2012, every feature of FixMyStreet Pro has been built to meet the needs of councils and their residents. No two integrations of the solution are the same, because no two councils are the same, but they all benefit from its incredible ability to create an end-to-end reporting process that’s as intuitive as possible. We look forward to seeing the impact the solution has for Gloucestershire County Council and its residents.”
Request a short demo to see how FixMyStreet Pro could work for your authority.
As you are probably aware, W3C recently published an updated version of its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Government Digital Service (GDS) will start to monitor for compliance with the new guidelines in October 2024.
However, we’re pleased to say that SocietyWorks solutions already meet them, thanks to the way our design and development team build accessibility into our products as standard.
WCAG 2.2 outlines the latest essential standards for making web content on desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile devices more accessible to a wider range of users.
The guidelines incorporate a number of different accommodations and alternative interactions which enable people with disabilities of all kinds to simply and successfully access digital content and services.
Due to the scope of web content covered by the guidelines, there may be some which don’t apply to every solution.
Upon testing our products against the relevant aspects of the new success criteria, we’re delighted to say that our digital solutions are already 2.2 compliant.
As a supplier of citizen-facing digital solutions to the public sector, we know our solutions need to cater to a broad audience with a wide variety of accessibility needs. SocietyWorks is heavily influenced by the GOV.UK Service Manual and strives to meet if not exceed the WCAG AA standards.
Accessibility is built into our products as standard throughout the development and design process, which means we already meet the 2.2 level accommodations that apply to us.
For example, all of the buttons and other pointer targets have a clickable area of at least 24x24px. We also ensure that text follows the contrast levels required by 2.2, and that content is arranged under clear heading hierarchies to make pages easier for users of screen readers and text-to-voice software.
For more information about how we make out solutions accessible, you can find out more here.
Citizens in London can now report abandoned hire bikes and e-scooters via FixMyStreet, which will send reports directly to the operator responsible.
A new report category has been added to FixMyStreet to enable citizens to report abandoned hire bikes and e-scooters in and around London. Reports of such problems can also be made via FixMyStreet Pro, the individually branded and integrated version of the service used by several London borough councils and by Transport for London (TfL).
Importantly, any reports submitted under this category, whether made on the national FixMyStreet site or via an authority’s own branded FixMyStreet Pro service, are sent directly to the operator responsible for the abandoned bike or e-scooter. FixMyStreet is currently able to triage reports to Lime, Dott, Forest and Tier.
Upon selecting the ‘Abandoned bikes/scooters’ category, FixMyStreet asks report-makers to select which operator is responsible for the bike or e-scooter in question. Reports are then sent to the appropriate operator, containing all the other useful information included as standard in a FixMyStreet report, such as the report-maker’s details, easting and northing, latitude and longitude, nearest postcode to the pin placed on the map and more.
There is also the option to report abandoned Santander Cycles to TfL via FixMyStreet, which has been available since 2020. Whenever a report-maker selects the ‘Abandoned Santander Cycle’ category, these reports will be automatically triaged to TfL, even when made via a London council’s own FixMyStreet Pro service or TfL’s.
Angela Dixon, Managing Director at SocietyWorks, said: “The provision of cycle and e-scooter hire schemes helps councils to support greener local travel and alleviate capacity pressures on peak time public transport services. However, when incidents of abandonment occur they create a nuisance for residents and put an unnecessary strain on council customer services, who have to manually triage reports to their contracted operators.
“We hope this new feature of FixMyStreet and FixMyStreet Pro helps to ease some of that pressure and its associated costs by ensuring reports of abandoned bikes and e-scooters are sent straight to the people who can deal with them, and in turn get neighbourhoods tidied up faster for residents.
“While currently only available in London, we hope to be able to replicate this across the UK in the future for the benefit of more citizens who live in areas where such schemes are in operation.”
FixMyStreet can also be used by citizens to report other local problems such as potholes, fly-tipping and broken street lights. The service has been run since 2007 by civic technology charity mySociety, while the integrated Pro version of the service is run by the charity’s subsidiary SocietyWorks.
Visit the FixMyStreet website for more information about the national service, or if you’re a council or other public body who would like to use the software as your own, find out more about FixMyStreet Pro here.
We were recently invited to discuss the benefits and challenges of using data and digital twins at a roundtable event hosted by the Chartered Institute of Highways & Transportation (CIHT) and Ringway. The roundtable focused on the data rich delivery of highway maintenance specifically, but the experiences and advice we shared during the event are applicable on a broader scale, so we have detailed them in this blog post.
If our many years of experience providing citizen-centred digital solutions to the public sector have taught us anything it’s that being able to collect and share up-to-date data ultimately helps you to deliver a better service – and by association, nurture a more engaged population.
As Alessandro Fornaroli and Daniel Gatica-Perez write in the introduction to their research article published in the July 2023 edition of the Digital Government: Research and Practice report: “Data availability is paramount to the functioning of a city, and therefore platforms allowing to collect data generated by people represent a key element in the transition towards more citizen-centric cities.”
Whether it’s being able to display accurate asset information on a map or communicating that a certain road is due to be resurfaced on a certain date, we have always strived to help local authorities enrich their digital services with data through integration.
Among its many benefits, when used effectively, we’ve seen how data can help to reduce failure demand, increase accuracy and eliminate duplication or avoidable contact.
For example, where Buckinghamshire Council has been using integrated asset layers within its FixMyStreet Pro service, duplicate reports have dropped by 99.5%. The Council also uses asset layers to triage reports to parish and town councils based on the latest information available relating to speed limits, which has created anticipated savings of over £50,000 just for grass and hedge cutting reports alone.
Or take the way FixMyStreet Pro is used in London as another example, where the borough council users of the solution benefit from automatic diversion of reports not only between each other, but also between other public bodies operating in the capital, such as Transport for London (TfL) and the Peabody Housing Association.
In Bexley and Greenwich, for example, reports are triaged between the two borough councils, TfL and Peabody in the Thamesmead area, which straddles the border between the two boroughs. To help users visualise where certain issues are the responsibility of TfL or Peabody, we display polygons and what we call ‘red routes’ on the in-report maps.
Any issue within a certain category reported on a ‘red route’ is automatically sent directly to TfL, while the polygons represent areas in which issues are the responsibility of Peabody. Equally, if a resident tries to report a problem to Peabody or TfL which is actually the responsibility of Bexley or Greenwich, the report will be diverted.
The same can be done for triaging problems to National Highways elsewhere in the UK.
Other examples include the use of QR codes to make it quicker to report problems with assets like street lights or bins, special map pins to represent issues you’re already aware of or live updates pulled from in-cab systems to inform of why a bin collection is delayed.
As digital transformation accelerates at a faster and more competitive pace, and the sector and its suppliers begin to explore increasingly innovative uses of data, including the use of AI, there are challenges and unintended consequences that need to be considered.
Take this as an example: if residents can see at the click of a button a digital twin of each of your assets which tells them exactly how many streetlights are broken or gullies are blocked, you need to communicate what you’re doing about that – and if you’re not doing anything, why?
Resident-facing, front-end solutions which enable closed feedback loops are vital here, otherwise you risk creating more pressure on customer services or on other service areas not equipped to cope with an unintended increase in contact.
Similarly, if your use of data is intended to enable you to create more cohesion across council service areas, provisions need to be put in place to ensure everyone can provide the same level of service to avoid inconsistency and failure demand.
For example, when we implemented an asset layer for Buckinghamshire Council’s FixMyStreet Pro to enable the automatic triaging of reports to parish and town councils, we also delivered some functionality for those parishes to be able to update the status of reports even though they do not have case management systems of their own.
Crucially, consideration needs to be given to how the use of data could affect the accessibility of a service. This includes permanent or temporary physical and situational impairments which may cause people to be unable to, for example, use QR codes, operate digital maps or start reports from photos. Alternative steps need to be built into user journeys to ensure no one is locked out or left behind.
The landscape of public sector digital services is ever-changing, and we’re proud to be a part of it, working in partnership with a growing number of forward-thinking local authorities and other public bodies like Ringway, who sparked the idea for this blog post through their roundtable.
If you’d like to talk more about data rich citizen solutions to help you provide better services, please get in touch.
Image: Eric Weber on Unsplash