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Latest news from the SocietyWorks team and all things FixMyStreet

Arm holding a phone looking down the road at a pothole

Do photos help resolution of FixMyStreet reports?

FixMyStreet allows people to upload images along with a report. This can quickly provide the authority with more details of the issue than might be passed along in the written description, and lead to quicker evaluation and prioritisation of the repair. For problems that are hard to locate geographically by description (or where the pin has been dropped inaccurately), images might also help council staff locate and deal with the problem correctly.

In 2019, 35% of reports included photos. Accounting for several other possible factors,  reports with photos were around 15% more likely to be recorded as fixed than reports without a photo. In absolute terms, reports with photos were fixed at a rate two percentage points higher. This varies by category, with photos having a much stronger effect (highways enquiries and reports made in parks and open space) in some categories, and in other categories photos having a small negative effect in the resolution (reports of pavement issues and rights of way).

In general, these results suggest that attaching photos is not only useful for authorities, but can make it more likely that reporters have their problem resolved. There is a significant reservation that photos are much more useful for some kinds of reports than others. In terms of impacts on the service, when photos can convey useful information that helps lead to a resolution, users should be encouraged to attach them. Where photos are less helpful (such as problems encountered mostly at night), other prompt suggestions or asset selection tools may help lead to more repairs.

You can read more about the research on the mySociety blog.

Image by Leo Sammarco. Trails of car lights on a motorway at dusk.

Sprint notes: 9 – 20 November

Here’s everything SocietyWorks is up to this sprint.

We prepared for the soft launch of the Bromley Waste service.

The new FixMyStreet Pro features we’ve been working on have taken a little longer than we anticipated, but we’re confident that they should be completed this sprint. We’ll be letting clients know all about them as soon as they’re live.

We’ve been prepping for our user groups and creating an agenda for the day. The challenge here is to make sure it’s not death by PowerPoint. We’re working with mySociety’s Events Manager Gemma to decide how best to shape it, and to explore the various online tools that make online events that bit more dynamic.

Since April 2020 Highways England have been trialing FixMyStreet in their East Midlands area to evaluate the response by users to a new digital channel for reporting highways issues. As of 9 November this trial has been expanded in size and scope to cover the whole of England, running until March 2021.

Image: Leo Sammarco

A woman looking at her mobile phone screen - image by Daria Nepriakhina

Integrating with Notify

Notifications via text: one feature that we’ve not previously explored for FixMyStreet.

And yet, it’s easy to see that this might be a desirable add-on, given the fast pace at which report statuses can change as they pass through the resolution cycle, and everyone’s increasing reliance on their mobile phones to keep on top of things.

Hackney Council gave us the nudge we needed to look at this more deeply: they had a GOV.UK Notify account, and wondered whether we could make it work with their FixMyStreet Pro instance to give their citizens more options for keeping up to date with reports.

So we’re now working with Hackney on a co-funded piece of development that, once completed, will be available to all our Pro customers.

When a new report is made in Hackney, the site will ask the report-maker for their email address or mobile number: once this has been verified, an account will be created.  This work has involved tweaking our SMS authentication functionality and adding the Notify functionality as the new SMS backend provider for the verification step.

Everything’s working well so far, and it’s now with Hackney to test and give us feedback.

Image: Daria Nepriakhina

Image by Jilbert Ebrahimi - a wheely bin against a sunny concrete wall

Sprint notes: 26 Oct – 6 Nov

Here’s everything SocietyWorks is up to this sprint.

A demo Waste site

As we’ve mentioned previously, we’re working on new functionality around bins and waste as part of the ongoing SocietyWorks brand and product expansion.

This service is coming on apace, and we’re creating a showcase site to demonstrate the new features as they become ready: as yet it’s really just a clickable prototype, but you can have a quick play with it here.

Roadmap progress

We’re moving forward on a couple of the tickets on our public Roadmap:

  • Hint tips that can be customised according  to the category
  • A newsflash banner that clients can add to their own cobrands.

Photos that show it’s all fixed

We’re a step closer to getting completion photos out of Alloy, and will be adding this to one of our client’s staging sites next week for feedback.

Making mobile better

FixMyStreet mobile improvements were demonstrated to everyone at mySociety last Friday — and board members also joined to see what progress has been made. We’re now scheduling in the development work to get these changes live with one of our Developers.

Image: Jilbert Ebrahimi

Someone taking a photo of some fly tipping to report on FixMyStreet

Sprint notes: 12-23 October

Here’s everything SocietyWorks is up to this sprint.

New development on FixMyStreet Pro

Photo first

One big area we’re working on this sprint comes from our development roadmap.

We’re referring to it as a ‘photo first’ workflow, and it’d enable users to take a snap of a street fault and upload it as a way of initiating a report. This all keys into a piece of research we’ve done which found that reports with photos attached have around a 16% higher chance of being fixed than those without.

As part of our exploration, Developer Dave’s been training an AI model to automatically scan each image and guess what category it falls into — very cutting edge!

But at the same time, we’re aware that we must keep every type of user’s best interests at the heart of all our development: we don’t want to sacrifice the simplicity that’s always been the key to FixMyStreet’s success, and the reason it has such vocal  advocates amongst its citizen users.

As an example of this: as we assess the available technology to help us work on this functionality, we’re being resolute about basing decisions on what the job needs, not which product has the most bells and whistles.

Geolocation

An avenue we’re also exploring as part of this work is the potential for extracting geolocation metadata from the photograph, which would cut down on the amount of detail the citizen needs to type in. However, here, again there are balances to be struck: we don’t want to increase the potential for errors where a phone’s GPS isn’t accurate enough, or where the data we pass onto councils isn’t as precise as they need it to be.

Mobile design and PWAs

Meanwhile, Designer Martin has been looking into the user experience on mobile, making improvements for what is increasingly the most popular way to report.

Design in progress on FixMyStreet mobile

We’ll soon be making the existing app redundant in favour of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) — Martin’s work will still be relevant there, though.

PWAs are more flexible, allowing each council to incorporate their own branding and templates at no extra cost, and effectively offer residents what looks and feels just like a dedicated app. We’ve written a bit about these previously.

New development on Waste and Noise

Waste testing

Development continues on our Waste product. We’re integrating with Bromley and Veolia’s Echo system and doing plenty of testing around that — in particular, making sure it picks up on irregular dates such as bank holidays, and that it can handle the 48-hour window for reports of missed bin collections.

Noise and ASB

And, having completed our user research and consequence scanning exercises on the Noise concept, we’ve come to the conclusion that it should incorporate anti-social behaviour reports: Noise and ASB are so intertwined that it makes the most sense to combine them into a single service, albeit one that will divert each type of report to the relevant council department.

Feedback from our test users was all good, so we’ve now reported our findings back to Hackney and are waiting to hear if they’d like us to progress with integrating with their two back-end systems.

Meanwhile, you can see more about consequence scanning in the well-received session Martin led at LocalGovCamp a couple of weeks ago.

Security

Pen testing

We’ll be conducting one of our regular scheduled pen tests to ensure the security of FixMyStreet Pro.

New integrations

Symology and Alloy

We’re setting up a new instance of FixMyStreet Pro for our latest client: this one involved Symology, a system we’ve worked with extensively in the past, so it should be reasonably straightforward.

Hackney’s instance, an Alloy integration, should be going live by the end of this month, so we’re making plans for that.

One exciting feature here is that we’re looking into pulling ‘completion’ photos out of Alloy — that is, photos taken by the maintenance crew to show that the problem has been fixed — so we can display them on the relevant FixMyStreet report, and possibly also include them in an email update to the report-maker.

Image by Matt Brown - letters spelling out 'Hackney' in a bush

Noise sprint notes: 12-23 Sep 2020

Welcome to the first of our sprint notes.

For anyone who’s interested in our work around Noise, or who would just generally like to understand more about how development is managed at SocietyWorks, these regular catch-ups will allow you to follow along as we progress through the various stages of making a new service.

So: here’s what we did last sprint.

  • Our designer Martin ran workshops with our contacts at Hackney, to find out more about their needs around Noise and AntiSocial Behaviour (ASB) reports.
  • He’s written these up, along with our recommendations, and will be sending a report back to Hackney very soon, ready for their feedback.
  • We’ve already made progress on what we’re now calling the Noise extension (in that it will be an add-on to the core FixMyStreet Pro service), and we’re now looking specifically at the more delicate area of ASB reports.
  • We’ve had some feedback from Hackney on this, but this sprint Martin will be chatting a bit more to the Noise Enforcement team, since they are the ones who deal with ASB issues and know best what they need from a piece of software.
  • Once we have that additional feedback, we’ll be looking at how best to incorporate those needs into the ASB development.

Image: Matt Brown (CC by/2.0)

The sun shining through clouds over the sea. Image by Joshua Earle

Find SocietyWorks on G-Cloud 12

The quickest and easiest way to procure SocietyWorks services is on the G-Cloud digital marketplace.

You can find our street fault reporting system FixMyStreet Pro, and our Freedom of Information service FOI Works on the G-Cloud 12 framework right now.

Also available through this route is our Service Discovery programme, which you’ll find as an option on the FixMyStreet Pro PDF.

Procuring services through this government framework is faster and cheaper than entering into a direct contract: services come pre-approved, so there’s no requirement to go through a long process of tendering. You can see the full specs laid out, download PDFs to share your colleagues, and compare with other services on price and features.

Any questions? Just get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.

Image: Joshua Earle

 

LocalGovCamp logo

Join us at LocalGovCamp

We’re longstanding supporters of LocalGovCamp, the conference where innovators in Local Government come together to share knowledge on how to improve services.

This year we’re both sponsoring it and running a couple of hands-on, interactive sessions. All online, of course, given the way things are these days.

On Tuesday 6 October, join a mySociety-led discussion with Mark and Zarino, on how consistent data standards across councils could open the doors to much better innovation.

We’ll be looking at our own Keep It In The Community project, nodding to our Council Climate Action Plans database, and inviting attendees to join a wider discussion on how we can encourage better joined-up data across councils.

And on Weds 7 October, our designer Martin will be running a mock ‘consequence scanning’ exercise. He’ll take participants through a new and useful way of assessing and mitigating risks in new government services, as conceived by Dot Everyone, recently taken up by Future Cities Catapult, and now used successfully in service design workshops by SocietyWorks.

We hope you’ll come along and enjoy some good discussion and deep dives into local government service improvement: find out more and book your place here.

 

Image by Brad Stallcup. Drums and a mixer in a residential room.

Better noise reports

In our last post we explained how we’ve been developing a new Waste service with the London Borough of Bromley. At the same time, we’ve also been working with the team at Hackney Council to develop a simple, efficient path for citizens’ noise reports.

As with our explorations into Waste, the work on noise first required us to learn a lot in a very short period of time. What exact form do noise reports take; and how can a citizen make a useful, actionable report if they’re not sure precisely where the noise is coming from?

We also had to examine the characteristics that would class a report as an anti-social behaviour (ASB) complaint, and whether the report path should differ for these.

We’re now at the stage where we’ve created early prototypes for two workflows — noise-related ASB reports, and standard noise complaints. Next we’ll be thinking about whether the two journeys can be combined into a single tool.

Treading carefully

The handling of ASB reports carries its own potential hazards: we need to consider the possibility of unintended harm, such as the stigmatisation of at-risk individuals and families. 

The team at Hackney are well aware of the risks: and introducing process efficiencies through a new online service could make these issues much more acute if not considered properly. As such we are conducting an extended discovery process to go deeper into these issues upfront.  

During our workshops with Hackney so far, we have been able to look at the positives and negatives from the different viewpoints of council staff, citizens and the wider community, incorporating ‘Consequence Scanning’ into the discovery. 

Noise discovery workshop at Hckney

This exercise was originally developed by Dot Everyone and has more recently been adopted by Future Cities Catapult. It ensures everyone can take a 360 degree view of the possible consequences — both positive and negative — that might arise from a new service design, and consider what additional mitigations might need to be put in place.

Armed with these insights, we’ve created an alpha version of the Noise reporting tool that we’ll be sharing with Hackney shortly so that they can test it and give us feedback for the next phase. 

Our Designer Martin, who ran the workshops, says, “There’s a limit to what you can find out verbally, so we aim to get to the alpha version of a service as quickly as we can. 

“The knowledge and understanding we get from seeing people using a new service for the first time is invaluable and can be immediately fed back into the design process to become improvements or new features.”

Noise discovery workshop at Hckney

Need better noise services?

If you’d like to chat or find out more about how we’re progressing with the development of  our noise services, or any other aspect of the SocietyWorks local government suite, then please contact David through our online form or the details at the foot of this page.

 

Image: Brad Stallcup

Four wheely bins

Waste control

We’re rolling out two new SocietyWorks offerings, to extend the capabilities of FixMyStreet Pro while providing new and much needed services for councils. In this blog post, we’ll be introducing what we’ve been doing around Waste, and in the follow-up, you can find out how we’re approaching Noise

In the past 24 months FixMyStreet Pro has become the street report service of choice for dozens of local authorities. This has given us the investment that we have needed to broaden the range of services we offer to cater to the myriad ways that citizens might want to contact their council.

Working with you

As always, that has meant going back to our clients to ensure that we have a full understanding of what they really need, before looking at how we can transform that into a proposition that helps with efficiencies and cost savings, whilst ensuring easy engagement for citizens.

In this case, we’ve been working closely with the team at the London Borough of Bromley, asking them all sorts of questions: how do citizens order a new bin or container? What do we need to know about collection schedules? And if a bin gets missed, what’s the ideal route to resolving the problem?

We ran workshops with the Bromley team, which helped us fully understand the requirements of a busy council in the handling of complex residential waste offerings. They’ve had full input into the build of the new service, testing and feeding back on our early prototypes and alpha stages. 

“It’s great to be working with our partners at SocietyWorks on developing a new feature for FixMyStreet Pro. 

“There are some unique demands of the Waste Service which make it a little different to how our other services interact with FixMyStreet, as well as being a service that ranks high on the citizen and political agenda.  

“The SocietyWorks team have really taken the time to understand those demands and we’re looking forward to completing the testing and tweaks and going live!”

– Jonathan Richards, Technical Support Team Manager at Bromley

Getting it right

As with any new development, piecing together a really effective online Waste service brought its own set of fiddly issues to work through.

As just one example: we’ve had to understand the windows of time within which a citizen can report a missed bin collection, and how a bank holiday affects those timings — all second nature to those who have been working within those timescales for years, but a definite coding challenge for us! Just to be sure, we’ve conducted in-depth tests to make sure that no missing bin reports fall through the cracks.

“Designing a service that serves the citizen, but also works for the authority is a balancing act. 

“But we’ve found it’s entirely achievable. The first step is to listen to citizens’ needs: that sets you on the right path. 

“Then, that understanding can feed into the workflow, so long as you’re open to working in a responsive and flexible way — which might mean being proven wrong at some points along the line, and changing direction accordingly.”

Martin Wright, mySociety Designer

The plan is to launch the new service in the next four to six weeks, and then we’ll be working on phase two, which will include workflows that allow citizens to take actions such as ordering a bulky waste collection, and making payments. The discovery work for this has already started, and we’ll be sure to post updates about the progress over the next month. 

Need better waste services? Get involved

We’re currently integrating with Bromley’s Veolia system, but as with our street services we already integrate with all of the popular CRM and asset management systems and we’ll  apply the same approach to all of the main Waste management services  – we’d love to hear from councils who might be interested in this. 

If you’d like to chat or find out more details of the new waste product, please contact David through our online form or the details at the foot of this page.

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