Latest news from the SocietyWorks team and all things FixMyStreet
As you probably know, earlier this month two unitary authorities replaced the two-tier council structure in Northamptonshire – an area where street and highways defect reports are managed via our FixMyStreet Pro service.
Integrated directly into Northamptonshire County Council’s asset management system of choice Yotta Alloy, FixMyStreet Pro, known as Street Doctor in Northamptonshire, acts as the all-important, user friendly front door for citizens who need to report any local problems. This being the case, as well as preparing for some behind the scenes rerouting to ensure that reports would go to the correct place for the two new councils, the pressure was on for the SocietyWorks team to ensure that there would be no interruption to the service for citizens on 1 April when the two councils came into effect.
So how did we do this?
One of the main reasons citizens prefer to use FixMyStreet to report issues to the council is that they don’t need to know which council is responsible for what problem, so our first priority was to understand where FixMyStreet would need to send reports after the split, all based on category and location data provided within reports.
Our MapIt service, which FixMyStreet uses to match councils to the area for which they’re responsible, would have the new authority boundaries in place from 1 April ready to direct reports to the correct council.
The new councils, North Northamptonshire Council and West Northamptonshire Council, were each to absorb responsibility for Northamptonshire’s district councils, which meant writing some code that would work out which council was previously responsible for an issue, and ensuring that those reports continued to go to the correct place until such time as the new councils have designated a new way to receive them.
Next we created two new bodies for North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire, covering their respective district areas and ensuring the report categories were the same across both for consistency. For highways issues, we renamed the existing Northamptonshire County Council body to Northamptonshire Highways.
On the front-end, our design team rebranded Northamptonshire’s instance of FixMyStreet Pro to align with the two new unitary councils. Instead of creating a new website for each council, both councils would be represented on the existing Street Doctor site, making it very easy for citizens to make a report – they wouldn’t need to search for a new place to make a report, nor would they need to know which of the new councils is responsible; we would work all of that out for them.
As before, the website would work seamlessly on any device, giving citizens the ability to make reports wherever suits them best, while helping the new councils to drive channel shift and continue to create savings.
North Northamptonshire Council and West Northamptonshire Council came into being on 1 April 2021. On that date, citizens in Northamptonshire needing to report local problems such as potholes, broken street lights or graffiti were able to do so with no disruption.
The updated version of Northamptonshire’s FixMyStreet Pro went live at midnight on 1 April, providing citizens with a familiar, easy-to-navigate place to make reports to the two new councils.
At the same time, the new boundary areas were set on MapIt, ready to ensure that reports went to the correct council. These boundaries may be updated again as standard after the upcoming local elections should there be any changes.
Got a question about FixMyStreet Pro? Ask away.
We’re very pleased to announce the launch of WasteWorks: a reliable, citizen-centred system for councils to manage all elements of domestic, bulky and green garden waste online, from missed bin reports to online payments for collections.
Designed with the same focus on usability that has made FixMyStreet and FixMyStreet Pro so popular with councils and citizens alike, WasteWorks makes the end-to-end process of managing waste online easier and more efficient through intelligent integration with in-cab software systems. So whether a resident needs to request a new container or set up a direct debit for a green garden waste subscription, it can all be done in one place.
With an intuitive, user-friendly interface that aids channel shift, the service helps councils reduce operating costs by lowering demand on customer service centres, while also dramatically improving the citizen user experience thanks to increased transparency and a self-service system that is easy to use on any device and which meets government accessibility standards.
“WasteWorks provides councils with the opportunity to bring about real improvements to the way citizens access waste services online.”
– David Eaton, SocietyWorks
WasteWorks can be integrated into any and all existing in-cab software systems (eg Alloy, Veolia/Echo and Bartec). Once connected and branded to complement the council’s website, the service acts as a one-stop shop for citizens to access all aspects of waste – whether that’s to report a missed bin within time frames specified by the council, to self-serve a payment for a bulky waste collection, or to set up an ongoing green garden waste subscription. Automated updates and templated responses make it easier for councils to manage expectations and deliver a more transparent service, while internal dashboards and visual heat maps enable staff to track service levels and identify trends.
David Eaton, Sales Director at SocietyWorks said: “WasteWorks provides councils with the opportunity to achieve much-sought after channel shift, create savings and bring about real improvements to the way citizens access waste services online. Understanding the importance of making it as easy as possible for residents to access the services they need, while also making sure public funds go as far as possible, we applied the easy-to-use user interface behind our popular FixMyStreet Pro service to waste, creating one front door through which citizens can make all reports and requests – be it for an assisted collection or for a green garden waste subscription – and removing the need to access and understand different fault reporting processes for different issues.”
“That same focus on usability has also been applied to the WasteWorks management interface for council staff, providing a simple experience that works in tandem with existing systems,” he added. “The result is a service that demonstrably puts citizens first, while lessening the burden on council staff.”
Like all of SocietyWorks’ public authority services, WasteWorks has been developed in consultation with councils and with citizens at its heart. Councils taking up the service will benefit from SocietyWorks’ unstinting focus on usability and continual development roadmap.
WasteWorks is available to all UK councils from today. Click here to request a demo.
That’s a question our design team has been asking recently as part of our work on phase two of Bromley Council’s new citizen-centred waste product, which involves incorporating green garden waste subscriptions into the service.
“Subscriptions like green garden waste collections can involve multiple council systems and departments, so our task is to make sure that process feels natural and intuitive to residents,” explains SocietyWorks designer Zarino.
“In this project, we used prototypes to help us identify and confirm user needs—for both residents and council staff—pinning down exactly what the green garden waste service needs to do, and how the interface should work, to allow residents to create and manage their subscriptions in a way that suits them.”
The prototypes for the green garden waste front-end have now been completed and accepted by the Council, so we thought we’d lift the lid and let you take a look at how the front-end is shaping up.
It needs to display green garden waste collections. The citizen needs to be able to identify their property and view all collection information related to it: whether a subscription is active, what are the previous and upcoming collections, the number of containers being collected and when the subscription renews.
It needs to provide self-service subscriptions to green garden waste collections. If no collections are set up for the property, the citizen needs to be able to complete a form providing relevant information for the council to create a subscription – collection address (from UPRN), contact information, whether new containers are required and payment details for the collection. The citizen should be encouraged to check their details are correct before submitting, and needs to agree to the terms and conditions. Once the payment has been processed and the citizen has been sent a confirmation email, a confirmation page reiterating that their subscription has now been set up should be displayed.
It needs to take requests for more or fewer green garden waste containers. On occasions when the citizen requires more or fewer containers, a multi-page form will help them to complete their request. This should ask how many containers are required, and should redirect the citizen to a cancellation form if they want to reduce containers to zero. Here again, the citizen needs to be able to self-serve all of the relevant information, and a confirmation needs to be available once the request has been submitted.
It needs to handle return or replacement requests of green garden waste containers. In this instance, the citizen needs to be able to define within a multi-page form why they need to return or replace a container and what actions they require next, if any. A summary of the information should be provided, and a confirmation that the request was submitted should be shown afterwards.
And it needs to enable subscription renewals or cancellations. The citizen needs to be able renew or cancel their subscription to green garden waste collections. For renewals, the citizen should be able to refine their subscription if needed (for example, request more or fewer containers), while for cancellations, the citizen needs to be shown what cancelling the subscription means and needs to be able to provide information on how many containers are to be returned to the council.
Of course, there are lots of other, more client-specific things the front-end for Bromley Council’s green garden waste service will do in addition to the above, but these are the essentials.
The green garden waste service we’re designing for Bromley Council is part of a broader waste service SocietyWorks will very soon be launching for all UK councils, built with years and years of experience putting citizens at the front and centre of local authority services. Book a demo to see how it works.
Image: Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay
Fly-tipping is one of the most expensive problems councils face. And incidents are on the rise.
In 2020, as the pandemic limited places and times to dispose of rubbish, fly-tipping reports increased by 44% on the FixMyStreet website, where citizens across the UK can report a variety of local issues to the correct authority. FixMyStreet Pro can help councils bring the increased costs of dealing with fly-tipping under control.
According to new data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), local authorities in England dealt with just under 1 million fly-tipping incidents for the 2019-20 financial year.
With councils largely relying on residents to spot and report fly-tipping incidents, how can you encourage continued vigilance while also saving money as more reports come in? More importantly, how can you better demonstrate to your residents that you’re acknowledging the growing issue and responding to it accordingly?
Designed by a team with over a decade’s worth of experience putting citizens at the heart of local authority services, FixMyStreet Pro makes the reporting and handling of street and environmental issues like fly-tipping much easier and, as a result, cheaper.
Councils adopting FixMyStreet Pro for their citizen reporting can:
To discover how FixMyStreet Pro could help you better manage and respond to issues like fly-tipping, potholes, street lighting and much more, book a one-to-one demo with one of the SocietyWorks team.
Image: Karl Bewick on Unsplash
Spring is in the air, the clocks have gone forward and it’s been another busy sprint for the SocietyWorks team – here’s what we got up to.
We attended the first mySociety team meeting of the year (online, of course), where we took a look at what we’d achieved over the past 12 months, and what we need to achieve in the next 12. It was a great opportunity to speak to colleagues and share the SocietyWorks strategy and vision with the rest of the team.
During the meeting, we hosted various breakout sessions, including a marketing catch-up to see all the new things our Marketing & PR Manager Sally has been working on. We also reviewed our internal coding practises with Senior Developer Chris. We’ve got our fingers crossed for an in-person meeting soon, as much as we did all enjoy receiving cookies in the post to nibble on throughout the meeting!
As well as the team meeting, we’ve been continuing work on Bromley Council’s new waste project and have started our internal review process, in preparation for handover to the client in a few weeks’ time.
We also made progress on our new product NoiseWorks with Hackney Council (read more about it here). We’ve been getting up to speed on the discovery interviews Zarino, one of our wonderful designers, has been holding and working out what our next set of priorities will be.
We’ve also been meeting with lots of our FixMyStreet Pro customers, with Account Manager Clare holding her quarterly account management meetings. These meetings give us the chance to regularly check in and catch up with our clients to discuss feedback, issues and any concerns they may have. We also talk about the latest feature developments to FixMyStreet Pro, as well as providing a SocietyWorks product update, which currently includes our new WasteWorks product. Here again, we are very much looking forward to being able to see our clients face-to-face once more in the near future!
Image: Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash
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.
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