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

SocietyWorks is now on CCS’ Low Value Purchase System

We are pleased to announce that SocietyWorks has been accepted onto the Crown Commercial Service’s (CSS) Low Value Purchase System (LVPS).

The LVPS is specifically for low cost and uncomplicated goods and services. Our SaaS products can be purchased through the LVPS either through direct award or via what’s known as a mini competition. 

As a not-for-profit SME, being accepted onto the LVPS opens up a vital new route to market, while giving our customers another Public Contracts Regulations 2015 compliant and pre-approved way to procure our solutions.

Our acceptance onto the framework is also testament to our belief that pricing should always be transparent and costs should always be kept to a minimum, even when the impact is high. Visit the CCS website for more information on how the LVPS works.

Our products and services are also available on G-Cloud and Digital Outcomes.

If you have any questions about procuring SocietyWorks’ solutions, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to help. 


SocietyWorks is now Cyber Essentials Plus certified

We are delighted to share that SocietyWorks has been awarded a Cyber Essentials Plus certification, along with our parent charity mySociety.

 

 

The Cyber Essentials Plus audited certification follows our existing Cyber Essentials certification, which we have been awarded yearly since 2019.

As a supplier of digital products and services to local authorities and the public sector, we know that cyber security is of the utmost importance to our customers.

Achieving the Cyber Essentials Plus accreditation reflects our continued commitment to cyber security, with robust policies and technical controls in place to defend against the most common cyber threats. 

You can find more information about Cyber Essentials and Cyber Essentials Plus on the National Cyber Security Centre website.

Or you might like to read more about our approach to security and secure hosting for our digital solutions.

Image: Image by Freepik


Residential waste services require flexibility – and we’re committed to providing it

As an organisation we talk a lot about how our civic tech products are able to flex around individual authorities’ needs. This is not something we say because it sounds good; it is a commitment from us.

Take our residential waste management portal WasteWorks as an example. 

A waste service that works for everyone

WasteWorks is a front-end SaaS product which integrates with in-cab systems to simplify online access to all waste services associated with a property’s address, such as checking your bin days, ordering a new container or reporting a problem with a collection.

We built the core WasteWorks service in 2021 in collaboration with the London Borough of Bromley, who wanted to reduce the amount of unnecessary contact they were receiving about residential waste services caused by their existing processes. 

With that goal in mind, we equipped WasteWorks with the ability to not only let residents self-serve up-to-date information about their waste collections (including being able to download a live schedule to their device’s calendar), but also to ensure that reports of, for example, missed collections can only be made after the crew has completed their rounds.

Since launching for Bromley, WasteWorks has consistently achieved a 40% drop in unnecessary contact, and made the final of the LGC Awards 2022 in the Public/Private Partnership category. 

As more authorities have adopted the service, we have continued to add new functionality in alignment with the needs of our community of users, including:

  • Green garden waste subscriptions – enabling residents to subscribe to and pay for green waste collections
  • Bulky waste collection bookings – residents can book and pay for a one-off collection or subscribe to repeat collections if required
  • Small item collections – take bookings for the collection of small items, such as batteries and textiles
  • Assisted collection requests – let residents request help from your waste crew with their bin collection(s)
  • New container payments – take payments for new containers when requested by residents

The implementation of these features differs per council, adapting to their different rules, workflows and seasonal circumstances. 

Image shows a desktop and mobile version of the bulky waste collection service of WasteWorks for Kingston and Sutton

For example, where an authority needs to understand what and how many containers a property already has we are able to add in extra questions to gather this information.

In other instances, where an authority experiences shortages of sacks, we are able to give council staff the ability to temporarily switch off orders and communicate transparently. 

The future

Each council using WasteWorks has made it their own, with slightly different configurations to make it exactly what they need.

We can facilitate this because our software is built with local authority differences in mind. We have learned from delivering our long-running street and environment reporting service FixMyStreet Pro across over 30 authorities that even when the goal is the same, the approach can differ. We embed that flexibility into all of our products.

In terms of new developments, we will continue to be led by our users (both residents and staff) following our citizen-centred design principles. User groups enable us to bring everyone together to discuss ideas, while customers have the opportunity to log suggestions through our helpdesk service at any time. 

Waste is a service area that will be subject to much change over the coming years in response to new regulations and legislation aimed at helping us respond to climate change.  

However requirements change, we will be there to support our local authority clients along the journey.

If you’d like a conversation about transforming online access to residential waste services with scalable open source software, get in touch.

Image: Abel Matthew via Pexels


Musings on a Local Government Digital Service

At SocietyWorks we believe in transparency. One of the ways we live this value is by working in the open, and giving our team members space on our blog to write about what they’re working on, something they’re interested in or even perhaps a mistake or challenge they’ve learned from. 

This blog post has been written by Bekki Leaver, our Head of Product, who shares her thoughts on the potential creation of a Local Government Digital Service. 

There’s been some chatter around what a ‘Local Government Digital Service’ might look like, what it could offer, how it might contribute to digital services for local authorities and how it could be staffed. As a Government Digital Service (GDS) alumna and current digital service provider for local government, I have opinions on where there could be value here and what is likely to ruffle some feathers.

GDS have had considerable success at delivering tools to support central government (and local government, come to think of it) in building better services. They’ve centralised resource heavy processes others can simply tap into, such as GOV.UK Pay, Notify and the future One Login, to make complicated features easy to add. 

The design system and service communities have gone a long way to helping create accessible, consistent services. But now every department has its own iteration of the design system, because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all compendium of components and patterns, which highlights very well the problem with an alliance of local authorities working on digital services.

Even when authorities share a common goal and have the same internal systems, their approach and configurations can be wildly different

As an example, take FixMyStreet Pro and its integrated street reporting, our flagship product at SocietyWorks. While it could be said we “built it once” and can then ship that product out to whoever might want it, what actually happens is we do considerable customisation and configuration to our product so it can fit within the processes and ways of working within an authority. 

The experiences I’ve had at SocietyWorks clearly exemplify that even when authorities share a common goal and have the same internal systems, their approach and configurations can be wildly different, influenced by service level agreements, other systems or applications, or staff delivering a service.

The institution and its services need to reflect the people whom it serves. What works in a metropolitan city environment won’t work in a rural one

I think it would also be fair to say there’s a sense of personality and identity embedded in local authorities, a sense of pride for the place you live, and even a bit of competition with the neighbours. It’s not the faceless behemoth central government can be perceived as; it needs to be local and relevant to residents. The thought of imposing generic service provision onto these entities feels almost cruel. The institution and its services need to reflect the people whom it serves. What works in a metropolitan city environment won’t work in a rural one.

We all want to achieve the same goals, and regularly come across the same problems, but to solve them in the best way isn’t going to be some great overseer. It’s going to be collaboration on the ground at the most appropriate time. I see this in the partnerships throughout the UK of authorities banding together to solve their problems in smaller, more local ways, and in SocietyWorks’ own User Groups, bringing together those who use our services to learn from each other within a specific remit.

Overall, I’m really impressed with the things I see from these smaller partnerships and alliances, and I’m not convinced a LGDS is needed. Smaller partnerships definitely feel more approachable than a centralised organisation when, as part of an SME, I want to get involved. 

We need to properly establish the problem(s) and context we’re working in. We have regional specific groups, problem specific groups, and publications, communities, and awards to highlight the great work coming out of them. Do we need more channels to come together? I’m not convinced, but I’d absolutely volunteer to get involved in establishing the why, what and how!

If you’d like to chat to Bekki about anything in her blog post, you can connect with her on LinkedIn.

Image: charlesdeluvio


New FixMyStreet Pro services for North Northamptonshire Council and West Northamptonshire Council

Two new installations of FixMyStreet Pro have been launched for North Northamptonshire Council and West Northamptonshire Council, respectively. 

Residents can use both services to report local street, highway and environment problems, such as potholes, fly-tipping and blocked drains, to the two councils. 

Report-makers are kept informed on the status of their reports thanks to an Open311 API integration with the councils’ backend systems, which are managed by their highways contractor Kier.

Existing reports are shown on the map, and potential duplicates are suggested to users within the reporting workflow. If the problem is the same, they can subscribe to the existing report instead of re-reporting. 

Getting reports to the right place

FixMyStreet Pro is a map-based system, which triages reports based on the location data and category selected within a report. 

Helpfully, because FixMyStreet Pro is built upon the national FixMyStreet platform, the two versions of the service are able to triage reports between North and West Northamptonshire automatically, as well as nationally to other councils and to National Highways. 

[FixMyStreet Pro] will allow us to manage our customer expectations in a much more streamlined approach and enables us to move into a new way of working.  We would like to thank SocietyWorks for their help and support in achieving this.

Michelle Johnson, Senior Business Improvement Officer at West Northamptonshire Council

For reports of issues not handled by Kier, FixMyStreet Pro will direct these to internal teams within each council, who can manage responses and updates from the FixMyStreet Pro administration dashboard. 

Meanwhile, reports of abandoned vehicles will be sent to Northamptonshire Police.

This functionality helps to prevent unnecessary contact and failure demand, while improving the reporting experience for members of the public.

Easy to use for everyone

FixMyStreet Pro is designed as a Progressive Web App (PWA), which means each council benefits from a web service that functions beautifully on any device, and can be downloaded to mobile devices to be used as an app without needing to maintain two codebases.

Being a PWA also means the service provides offline functionality, enabling people to start reports while offline, save them as drafts and complete them when connected to the internet again. 

This is ideal for North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire, where a large proportion of the areas covered by the councils are very rural. 

This will also benefit on-the-ground inspector staff, who will be able to use FixMyStreet Pro’s administration features while out and about, such as viewing a shortlist of reports, inspecting problems and updating reports.

Mobile and desktop versions of North and West Northamptonshire Councils' FixMyStreet Pro service

Supporting Northamptonshire’s unitary transition

FixMyStreet Pro was first introduced in the county of Northamptonshire by the former Northamptonshire County Council and Kier in 2019.

In 2021, a unitary split turned Northamptonshire County Council into North Northamptonshire Council and West Northamptonshire Council. 

The new councils each absorbed responsibility for Northamptonshire’s district councils, with different issues now going to a different council based on location and category. 

Working with NNC and WNC and SocietyWorks has been a pleasure throughout, and we hope to continue to expand upon the functionality provided.

Dhugal Leverett, Senior Software Developer at Kier Transportation

FixMyStreet Pro continued to provide a combined reporting service for the two new councils to ensure there was no interruption for residents wanting to report a problem and minimise confusion around which council was now responsible for what.

That was a great interim solution to help each council navigate their internal changes while keeping things simple for residents on the front end until each was in a position to be able to roll out their own branded service.

Fixing streets in Northamptonshire

The launch of FixMyStreet Pro for North Northamptonshire Council and West Northamptonshire Council has been a collaborative effort between SocietyWorks, the two councils and Kier.

Philip Beecroft, Head of Highways at North Northamptonshire Council, said: “We are delighted to have secured our own independent FixMyStreet system by working with SocietyWorks. 

“The separation of the former County-wide system to provide North and West Northamptonshire each with a standalone service allows us to move forward with our customer journey in a much more efficient way and will allow our Highways Service Provider, Kier, to expand on the existing integration between their Works Management system and FixMyStreet. This will allow us to make any necessary changes to ensure that our customers receive the best service.”

Speaking on behalf of West Northamptonshire Council, Michelle Johnson, Senior Business Improvement Officer, said: “We are delighted to have split the system between us and North Northamptonshire Council. 

“The split will allow us to manage our customer expectations in a much more streamlined approach and enables us to move into a new way of working.  We would like to thank SocietyWorks for their help and support in achieving this.”

Dhugal Leverett, Senior Software Developer at Kier Transportation, added: “Kier are pleased to be able to expand on the existing integration between our Works Management system and FixMyStreet.

“Working with NNC and WNC and SocietyWorks has been a pleasure throughout, and we hope to continue to expand upon the functionality provided.”

Angela Dixon, Managing Director at SocietyWorks, said: “I’m really proud of how we’ve been able to support North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire throughout this project.

“It’s wonderful to see our technology being used to its full potential by local authorities, to see how it supports authorities through times of change and uncertainty while transitioning to unitary, and always while keeping residents at the front and centre.”

Want to learn more about FixMyStreet Pro? Get in touch and we’ll be happy to answer your questions.


You can now customise FixMyStreet Pro’s duplicate report radius per category

An update has been made to FixMyStreet Pro’s duplicate report suggestion feature to enable staff users to customise the radius within which potential duplicate reports are suggested to users on a per category basis.

Councils and other public sector organisations using FixMyStreet Pro benefit from the ability to suggest potential duplicate reports to users. 

If the problem that’s about to be reported is indeed a duplicate, FixMyStreet Pro encourages the user to subscribe to the existing report instead of creating a new one, saving time for the would-be report-maker and creating no extra work for the authority.

 

A screenshot of Lincolnshire County Council's FixMyStreet Pro service, showing the duplicate report suggestion feature
A screenshot of Lincolnshire County Council’s FixMyStreet Pro service, showing the duplicate report suggestion feature

 

The duplicate suggestion tool uses the location and category of the in-progress report to scan for existing reports of a similar nature within a certain radius. By default the tool scans for open reports, but authorities can customise this to also include internal, closed, fixed or even related sub-category reports.

Last year we announced an update which enabled the different councils and authorities using FixMyStreet Pro to customise the radius within which reports are suggested for their individual version of the service.

Now, a second update means the radius can also be customised per category. 

This allows even more flexibility for authorities, who can incorporate many different service areas into their FixMyStreet Pro service, the categories for which may benefit from a larger or smaller radius.

For example, a larger radius can be useful for reports about issues that are likely to cover a large area, where users may drop a pin in a number of places to report the same issue. 

Meanwhile, a smaller radius can be more helpful for categories of problems in areas where there may be lots of reports of similar, but not identical problems.

For more information about this feature, or about FixMyStreet Pro in general, please get in touch.


Team post: Forecasting and decision making in uncertainty

At SocietyWorks we believe in transparency. One of the ways we live this value is by working in the open, and giving our team members space on our blog to write about what they’re working on, something they’re interested in or even perhaps a mistake or challenge they’ve learned from. 

This blog post has been written by Angela Dixon, our Managing Director, who shares her thoughts on financial forecasting and decision making in uncertainty.

As well as being Managing Director of SocietyWorks, I am also an accountant.

This is not a confession about my number crunching roots, but rather a reflection on how leadership’s approach to utilising financial information for decision making can either enable or inhibit teams. Our approach can either carve out pathways through difficult budget and resource constrained terrains, or reinforce walls that stop our teams from even glimpsing the potential of the land beyond.

I have been a chartered accountant for twenty years and served in a number of financial leadership positions across industry and the third sector. This experience has provided me with a unique lens through which to assess decision making at the most senior levels of organisations. 

At SocietyWorks, we are fast approaching our financial year end and have recently presented our analysis of the year-that-was alongside our plans and forecasts for the year-to-come to our board for accountability and scrutiny. 

While I am incredibly fortunate to work with a mission driven board that recognises the important financial and non-financial variables that matter for effective evaluation and decision making, ‘year-end’ has also got me thinking about the scale and complexity of the financial and bureaucratic challenges in the local authorities we serve. 

What follows are some humble reflections on year-end through a financial leadership lens, shared in full recognition that every organisation will have their own particular localised concerns, pressures, and complexities to navigate.

Reflections for public sector decision makers and financial leaders

When we operate in conditions of scarce resources, whether people or budgets, every decision counts. The bigger, more strategic, decisions we make in an organisation are the ones that have the most inherent uncertainties.

Uncertainty should not stop decisions being made, but rather challenge us to be more alert to the variables

All decision makers need to face up to the uncertainty in the environments we operate in. This should force us into meaningful collaborative dialogue about risk, proportionate mitigation strategies that may be available, and acceptance or non acceptance of risk that remains. 

Uncertainty should not stop decisions being made, but rather challenge us to be more alert to the variables in our internal and external operating environments, known and unknown. We should train ourselves and our teams to be alert to signals of potential risks materialising, and symptoms of those that may already have materialised, and be ready to respond swiftly through collaborative dialogue, problem definition and appropriate problem solving measures. 

Well presented financial modelling and indicators highlighting business critical variables can support the visualisation of potential future scenarios. This will support better quality decision making in uncertainty. While none of us has a crystal ball to predict the future, quality and iterative forecasting can help with futurecasting and the framing and defining of options. 

Monthly, quarterly, and year end financial accounts and analysis of historic reporting periods are useful for the recognition and evaluation of where we have been, but it is important to remember that none of us has the power to influence and change the past. We may think it is worth investing time and energy to change the overarching narratives that tell the stories of the past, but all that energy investment reduces that which could be spent on collaborating for more quality decision making to carve out a better future. 

Regular and iterative financial forecasting which highlights assumptions known and unknown, certainty and uncertainty, is more crucial to provide the critical information to inform decisions that will impact our future pathways. Quality financial analysis will support the revisiting of previously forecast futures and prompt collaborative reflection as to whether slight directional change, more substantial pivot, hold-our-nerve, pause or halt is the best response.

If experience has taught me anything it’s to experiment and take risks at scales that are acceptable within your own financial and organisational context and risk appetite

A financial year end is just a date. It is a line drawn in the sand. It is not tangible in the sense of a physical gate we pass through at a particular time. If a financial year end is treated as more than just a date when one reporting period ends and another begins, where an activity happening or budget spent on one day is so much more important than on the very next day, it will create perverse incentives that drive behaviours that will hinder effective prioritisation or distribution of resources. 

Days follow days and our planning, delivery, and evaluation cycles should be more fluid and responsive to our emerging operating environments. If they are not, then we will certainly waste time and resources and focus scarce energy on building narratives and past storylines that do not help solve our ongoing and future challenges.

Final thoughts  

I believe in failing fast and learning faster. If experience has taught me anything it’s to experiment and take risks at scales that are acceptable within your own financial and organisational context and risk appetite, and be happy to revisit past assumptions, decisions, and iterate or pivot when appropriate. 

At SocietyWorks our conversations are had transparently and in the open with our board which provides essential accountability and governance for a mission driven business. We speak about potential risks before they materialise and operate on a no-surprises basis. This has built open and trusting relationships between the board and executive team. We encourage critical challenge which is received with a spirit of openness, and responded to with collaborative dialogue and shared ownership for resolution. 

In this post, I have shared a handful of thoughts which I hope may be useful to prompt some reflection on the processes behind decision making in organisations. With leaders role modelling focus on the right things, we may open up the potential of our teams for better seeing the systems we operate within, and the different levers and variables that interact and influence our potential futures. This may in turn open up the space and creativity to work through pressing priorities in spite of challenging and difficult resource and budget constraints.

If you’d like to chat to Angela about anything in her blog post, you can connect with her on LinkedIn.

Image: Jordan Ladikos


Integrating FixMyStreet Pro with Microsoft Entra ID for Transport for London

A new integration has been completed between FixMyStreet Pro and Microsoft Entra ID (formerly known as Azure Active Directory) for Transport for London (TfL).

Using an OpenID Connect-compliant endpoint, the integration enables TfL staff user accounts on FixMyStreet Pro to be securely linked to TfL’s Entra ID. 

Screenshot of TfL's Single Sign On gateway on their FixMyStreet Pro service

This makes it easier and faster for authorised staff to log in to the FixMyStreet Pro administration dashboard, from which they can access different features depending on their account type permissions. 

It also means that roles are automatically synced between the two systems, with a user’s assigned role and account access on Entra ID automatically reflected in FixMyStreet Pro. This increases security and decreases the administrative burden for authorities who provide access to large teams. 

FixMyStreet Pro’s administration features include:

  1. Viewing all reports
  2. Editing or updating reports
  3. Making reports on behalf of members of the public who call or email the contact centre
  4. Assigning reports to inspectors
  5. Creating and editing response templates
  6. Viewing and exporting report data for analysis

Helping care for London’s streets

TfL’s FixMyStreet Pro service, known as Streetcare, allows members of the public to report problems such as potholes, faulty street lights and damaged bus shelters on London’s roads straight to the highway authority. 

Through FixMyStreet Pro’s connection to the national FixMyStreet service, it is capable of triaging reports of problems that are not the responsibility of TfL to the correct borough council or, in some areas, the responsible housing association. 

Screenshot of TfL's Streetcare service, which is powered by FixMyStreet Pro

Users who don’t realise the problem they want to report via Streetcare cannot be addressed by TfL will be diverted to the national FixMyStreet site. Meanwhile, reports of abandoned hire bikes and scooters are sent directly to the correct operator

FixMyStreet Pro works this out on behalf of report-makers according to the location and category of the problem, mitigating against the creation of failure demand. This is particularly helpful in places like London where a vast number of authorities are responsible for overlapping issues. 

Vice versa, it is possible for reports of problems that are the responsibility of TfL made via a council or other authority’s own instance of FixMyStreet Pro to be automatically diverted. See below an example of how this works on the London Borough of Bexley’s FixMyStreet Pro service, which allows users to make reports using Bexley’s site, but sends them to TfL:

Image shows a desktop and mobile example of Bexley Council's FixMyStreet Pro, with 'red routes' highlighted, which send reports to TfL

Wherever you are in the UK, FixMyStreet Pro can help you to provide a more efficient, intuitive and streamlined reporting service. Find out more


London boroughs of Kingston and Sutton take requests for bulky waste collections with WasteWorks

Following the recent implementation of WasteWorks in the London boroughs of Kingston and Sutton, both councils’ versions of the service can now be used by residents to book bulky waste collections online.

WasteWorks was chosen by Kingston and Sutton in 2022 as part of a programme of ongoing improvements to residential waste services for both boroughs. The service is already used by residents to easily and conveniently access information about their bin days, report problems with collections, request new containers and subscribe to green waste collections.

The addition of the bulky waste collection functionality incorporates another aspect of the councils’ waste service into WasteWorks’ user-friendly interface, which was designed in collaboration with Bromley Council to simplify access to residential waste online and reduce avoidable customer contact.

Image shows a desktop and mobile version of the bulky waste collection service of WasteWorks for Kingston and Sutton

For Kingston and Sutton, WasteWorks is integrated with the Selected Interventions Echo in-cab system, which is used by Veolia, the waste contractor for both councils. This integration enables a seamless two-way flow of data between residents and Veolia, sharing up-to-date information about waste collections, such as when a bin will next be collected, or why a collection was missed, and enabling residents to reserve available collection slots for bulky waste.

To allow residents to pay for their collections within the same workflow, WasteWorks is also integrated with the Capita Pay 360 payment system for Kingston, and the Barclaycard system for Sutton. 

Residents can also use WasteWorks to report a missed bulky collection and submit cancellation requests.

Angela Dixon, Managing Director at SocietyWorks, said: “The delivery of WasteWorks for Kingston and Sutton has been a significant collaborative effort between SocietyWorks, Kingston and Sutton, Selected Interventions and Veolia. All parties share a dedication to improving waste services for residents, and we are thrilled to be able to support them with this with scalable, citizen-centred technology.” 

Find out more about WasteWorks here


Integrating FixMyStreet Pro with Abavus My Council Services for Buckinghamshire Council

Buckinghamshire Council has been using FixMyStreet Pro to manage inbound street, highway and environment fault reports since 2018. 

Last year we shared the news that two new integrations had been completed into Buckinghamshire’s FixMyStreet Pro service: one into Causeway’s Alloy asset management system and the other into DWF’s EvoClaim system. 

Following this, a third integration has been implemented between FixMyStreet Pro and the Abavus My Council Services (MCS) CRM system, which was introduced by Buckinghamshire for handling customer queries, such as street cleaning and other environment reports.

Designed for optimal display on desktop, tablet and mobile browsers, users can quickly ‘Add FixMyStreet to Home Screen’ on their mobile device to use the service as an app.

Integrating the MCS system with FixMyStreet Pro means residents will now be able to enjoy the same user-friendly experience when reporting street cleaning and environment problems as they do for other local issues, while staff can manage the relationship from MCS in the background.

“This project has made such a difference to our staff. It’s truly innovative and significantly enhances the ease with which people can work. The impact has been really positive.”

– Callum Lynam, Buckinghamshire Council’s Customer Improvement Manager

As with all integrations into FixMyStreet Pro, the MCS integration provides a two-way exchange of data, with changes made in one system automatically updated and reflected directly in the other.

For residents, there is no difference in the user experience when reporting an issue that will be sent to MCS or to Alloy; all of the complicated triaging is handled by FixMyStreet Pro behind the scenes. 

For more information about FixMyStreet Pro, get in touch.


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