Latest news and innovations for councils and the public sector from the SocietyWorks team.
While we pride ourselves on building digital solutions that make it easier for citizens to interact with local authorities, we also want our products to be just as easy to use for the staff members at those authorities. In this blog post, Bekki Leaver, our Head of Product, talks about how we’re currently working on enhancing the admin user experience of SocietyWorks’ digital solutions.
An often neglected facet of designing digital services and the tools that enable them is the experience of the staff user. In SocietyWorks’ case, staff users of our products would be the council staff and sometimes external contractors who use both the administration interface and the front end of our solutions.
Giving equal priority to the admin user experience alongside that of the end user is something I’ve got a keen interest in, because during the course of my professional career I have seen the remarkable benefits to organisations that well thought out staff interfaces and tools can have.
When you’re on the phone to a contact centre and they’re apologising for their slow or unresponsive system, that’s poor customer and staff user experience. When an employee is having to copy and paste fields from a spreadsheet into another tool, that’s poor staff user experience. When you have to know the foibles of a piece of software on top of your area of expertise, that’s poor staff user experience.
For many years the expectations staff have of the tools and software they are required to use in their roles have been low. Using archaic HR platforms to request leave was just something you put up with, but as the workforce changes, and staff become more digitally literate, doing complex, previously unachievable things online every day, their expectations are higher and their tolerance for bad experiences is lower.
The value of good staff user experience parallels that of good customer experience; lower barriers to entry, higher satisfaction, improved relationship. There are also the benefits of better efficiency where intuitive, easy to use interfaces speed up interactions while also involving less training.
Improving the user experience for a product is never a finished task, with expectations changing all the time. Here at SocietyWorks, there’s a lot we would like to do to enhance the staff user experience of our products, which have advanced at a fast rate over the last few years.
Take FixMyStreet Pro for example, which now provides staff users with greater access to more controls and options through its administration interface.
As we continue to grow and expand the administration features and functionality of our products, we are keen to make sure that any improvements we make for the benefit of staff users are guided by those users themselves.
We’ve reached out to a group of authorities that use our solutions to participate in some research involving the staff users of the tool(s), exploring their roles, how our technology fits into their responsibilities and how they use the solution(s) on a day-to-day basis. I’ll be talking to them about their daily tasks, what other tools they might use and where things could be made better for them.
The results of that research will then inform our decisions on improving our products, not just in the case of what it can do, but where information and controls are and how staff users can interact with them. We’ll then set about designing new features, experiences and interactions, with regular testing and feedback opportunities before a phased implementation.
I’m expecting some pretty significant design changes, so watch this space!
Image: Will H McMahan on Unsplash
Our mission here at SocietyWorks is to help local authorities and other public sector organisations better serve citizens through effective and intuitive digital solutions. That’s a big remit, and a vast user base with a wide range of accessibility requirements. So how do we accommodate everyone? Bekki Leaver, our Head of Product, wrote this blog post to explain.
Being suppliers of public services we have a responsibility to ensure our tools and solutions are accessible to the broadest audiences possible. This is both a legal and moral obligation, and something we take seriously.
As Head of Product, it’s my job to ensure our tools are built to meet, if not exceed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) AA standards. Here’s what this means in practice, and some advice for local authorities and any other public sector bodies who provide public-facing digital services.
WCAG is the international standard for web accessibility created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Within WCAG there are four principles for web accessibility. Each of these has conditions that need to be met to achieve a particular standard. These very sensible principles are:
The UK Government expects all public services to meet the WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standard, both for citizens and staff users.
SocietyWorks is heavily influenced by the GOV.UK Service Manual when it comes to designing or improving our tools and products. If you’re familiar with this, you’ll know that this means everything starts with needs: both user needs and the service needs.
We also consider the context of use: where, when and how will the service be accessed? In addition to considering any permanent physical impairments that may impact the way a service needs to be used, we think about situational and temporary impairments too.
For example, making button targets larger for people using a service one handed due to holding a baby, having a broken arm or having bad arthritis, or improving the contrast for use of a service in poor lighting environments or by users suffering with an eye injury or partial blindness.
Our developers use semantic HTML – that’s using HTML elements for their intended purposes to build the front end of our tools. This lets browsers know what the element is and how it should behave, which makes it easier for keyboard navigation and for other assistive technologies to correctly render a website for their users.
When we’ve got something designed and built, we test it. We use a combination of automated and manual testing to make sure the technology meets the WCAG standards, which includes, for example, checking we can tab through elements and that screen readers behave as expected.
Knowing that no two councils or public authorities are the same, we build our digital solutions to be flexible enough to adapt to each of our clients’ individual needs. This is a great strength, but it can occasionally pose a challenge when those needs have an impact on the accessibility of the solution.
For example, we are sometimes asked to apply brand colours which have a poor contrast ratio or adjust forms to match a third party integration’s workflow in a way that makes them more difficult to use for users with certain needs.
When these instances occur, we do our best to help mitigate any negative effects on the accessibility of the services we provide. Here are some of the top tips I offer to clients when it comes to accessibility.
Firstly, I would always highly recommend commissioning an accessibility audit with a reputable auditor, such as RNIB, but you can find other providers through the Digital Marketplace. This will give you complete peace of mind that everything is working as it should for everyone who needs to use the service.
Secondly, consider your brand colours. Colour is a regular issue with accessibility, usually caused by text and background colours not having a high enough contrast.
Lastly, ensure the language you’re using is appropriate. Whether you’re writing form field labels or creating explanatory text, use language your users will understand. For example, avoid using system-related terminology that residents may not understand, but do consider using the local names for things. You can check the readability of your content using online tools like readable.com.
Creating and maintaining an accessible and inclusive service is an ongoing task. Criteria and expectations change. Keeping these goals in mind from the beginning certainly helps, as does remembering that designing services to be inclusive makes them better for everyone.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out these resources:
Or, if you have any questions about making digital services accessible to everyone, get in touch with us here.
Featured image – Daniel Ali on Unsplash
Illustration – Sherm for Disabled And Here
A new integration has been completed for Central Bedfordshire Council between FixMyStreet Pro, SocietyWorks’ reporting service for street, highway and environmental faults, and Jadu, the Council’s website provider.
The integration enables residents to report fly-tipping straight to Central Bedfordshire Council’s Environmental Services team using its existing installation of FixMyStreet Pro,
Central Bedfordshire Council has been using FixMyStreet Pro since 2021 to manage reports about local issues, including potholes, broken street lights and blocked drains.
Previously, due to the nature of the information required, if residents wanted to use the service to make a report about an incident of fly-tipping, the Council was redirecting them to a separate form on its website.
Now, with the new integration in place, FixMyStreet Pro can send all of the information required by the Council’s Environmental Services team for fly-tipping reports directly into its Jadu system, while residents and customer services staff can enjoy a consistent reporting experience for all categories on the frontend.
“Customers’ concerns are promptly and accurately populated in the back-end system automatically, streamlining processes and reducing manual back-office activities.”
– Sim Fountain, Digital Customer Excellence Programme Manager at Central Bedfordshire Council
The integration between Jadu and FixMyStreet Pro is the second to be set-up for Central Bedfordshire Council, with an existing integration in place between FixMyStreet Pro and the Council’s backend management system, Symology Insight.
Speaking about the integration, Sim Fountain, Digital Customer Excellence Programme Manager at Central Bedfordshire Council, said: “As part of our digital customer experience programme, we have been driving transformation across the council to optimise service delivery and enhance overall customer satisfaction. We want customers to be able to reach our services and self-serve 24/7.
“The FixMyStreet app is integrated with our corporate JADU Forms/Workflow/Case Management System to enhance our front-door point of contact. Enabling existing FixMyStreet customers to report Environmental Services issues through the app instead of being signposted to our online forms aligns with transformation work already carried out across this service.
“Customers’ concerns are promptly and accurately populated in the back-end system automatically, streamlining processes and reducing manual back-office activities.”
Angela Dixon, Managing Director at SocietyWorks said: “Integration is at the heart of what we do. Over the past 15 years, SocietyWorks has been helping local authorities to innovate and get the most out of their digital infrastructure by working collaboratively with the wider industry to connect things together while keeping everything simple for citizens on the frontend. We are delighted to add Jadu to our ever-growing list of integrations we can offer to local authorities.”
FixMyStreet Pro is a map-based progressive web app, built flexibly to integrate with any number of different systems and software for local authorities, highways agencies and other public sector organisations. It is the only reporting solution capable of automatically routing reports to other authorities across the UK.
Find out about how we integrate with other systems or if you’d like to know more about FixMyStreet Pro, request a demo.
Broken street lights, fly-tipping, potholes and other local, place-based issues in Wales can now be reported to the correct authority by citizens in Welsh as well as in English via FixMyStreet, the long-running reporting service for street and environmental problems provided by civic technology charity mySociety, upon which SocietyWorks’ FixMyStreet Pro is built.
FixMyStreet is a progressive web app that enables citizens across the UK to report local problems to the authority responsible for fixing them, even if they do not know who that is. For the first time since its launch in 2007, users in Wales wanting to make reports in Welsh will be able to view a Welsh-language version of the website and app, including a Welsh-language map provided by Mapio Cymru.
Over half a million people in Wales speak Welsh and the Welsh Government aims to double this by 2050. Having digital services that work as well in Welsh as they do in English is key to achieving this growth in the language. Launched in 2019, Mapio Cymru is a project that aims to ensure mapping services are as good in Welsh as they are in English. Using open data sources Mapio Cymru provides a Welsh-only map of Wales. It also works with organisations across Wales to improve mapping services in the Welsh language.
Louise Crow, Chief Executive at mySociety, said: “FixMyStreet was built to make it easier for citizens to report problems in their communities. We are delighted to be able to make the service accessible to Welsh-speaking citizens, with a fully translated reporting process and a Welsh-language map, enabling users to select the street names and locations with which they are familiar. We look forward to seeing the Welsh-language version of the service put to good use by more citizens who care about improving where they live.”
Ben Proctor, Innovation Director at Data Orchard CIC which runs the Mapio Cymru project, said: “Digital mapping technology is really powerful and easy for organisations like mySociety to use in English. Sadly it’s not the same in Welsh. We aim to make it easier for organisations to deliver services on the highest quality Welsh-language mapping available.”
Welsh-speaking users can start using the Welsh-language version of FixMyStreet straight away by heading to cy.fixmystreet.com or downloading the FixMyStreet app from the relevant app store.
There are gaps in Mapio Cymru’s Welsh language map because the project relies on volunteers and public bodies to contribute definitive Welsh names. Volunteers can help to plug the gaps by adding the Welsh names for features on the map (buildings, roads, mountains, fields and so on). Public bodies can help to plug the gaps by publishing the Welsh names that they hold for features under an open licence. The Mapio Cymru team is available to advise on these issues. Just visit the Mapio Cymru website.
Image: Catrin Ellis
The use of disclosure logs in relation to freedom of information (FOI) requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is recommended for principal local authorities by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
There are a number of reasons for this advice, the main one being because well-maintained disclosure logs make it much easier for citizens to access information that is already available. This, in turn, saves local authorities time and effort spent on responding to duplicate requests, or requests for information that have already been published elsewhere.
With an easy to navigate disclosure log in place, citizens should be able to browse or search for already published information. If a request is made for information that already exists in the public realm, information officers can quickly apply the Section 21 exemption in response and simply signpost requesters to the information they seek.
Disclosure logs also represent an opportunity for citizens to learn what a successful request for information looks like. The more responses published in the log, the more useful it becomes, with today’s responses answering tomorrow’s requests.
In certain cases, some of the software used by local authorities may even allow information officers to manually enter topical information into the disclosure log in anticipation of potential future FOI requests, giving them the opportunity to work proactively and publish information before it is requested.
In spite of being recommended by the ICO, and in spite of the usefulness they represent, research in 2019 by our parent charity, mySociety, shows the use of disclosure logs by local authorities is still inconsistent.
There is a distinct lack of established sector-wide process for setting up a disclosure log, technology is rarely designed to meet the needs of information officers or FOI requesters, and there is a huge disparity in inter-authority knowledge sharing and training around this topic.
Of course, local authorities are under significant pressure to reduce costs, create efficiencies and contribute towards Net Zero targets, among many other responsibilities. Understandably then, while the long term benefits for councils’ information officers and for citizens are desirable, the short term effort required to establish an easy-to-maintain disclosure log may be considered a relatively low priority.
However, with fifteen years’ experience working in freedom of information, and over a decade of experience providing services to the local government sector, we have seen firsthand how disclosure logs, when used to their full potential, can save significant time and effort for local authorities in the context of managing scarce resources and competing priorities.
In collaboration with the FOI experts on mySociety’s Transparency team, who run the well-used WhatDoTheyKnow request service, and expert FOI consultant Martin Rosenbaum, who was the BBC’s leading specialist in using freedom of information for journalistic purposes, we have put together a best practice guide to using disclosure logs for local authorities.
Download Disclosure logs: a best practice guide for local authorities to discover:
You can view more research and guidance for local authorities and the public sector on our website: https://www.societyworks.org/research-and-guidance/
Image: Iñaki del Olmo
Brent Council is working with SocietyWorks to improve the online experience for residents when contacting the authority about two of its most in-demand services: residential waste and street and environment reporting.
Residents in Brent can now make use of two new digital portals, both powered by SocietyWorks’ citizen-centred technology: one for making waste-related requests, reports and payments online, using WasteWorks; the other for reporting street and environmental problems, using FixMyStreet Pro.
Branded to look exactly like the rest of Brent Council’s online environment and integrated directly with the Council’s existing asset, in-cab and payment systems, both WasteWorks and FixMyStreet Pro have enabled the council to facilitate a smooth transition for residents and staff, with no interruption to delivery. These integrations also permit information to be shared to and from residents, the Council and its contractors to help keep the feedback loop closed and improve resident satisfaction.
Brent Council’s dedicated instance of WasteWorks simplifies access to waste services online by providing one front door for all transactions, such as reporting a missed collection, ordering a new container or paying for a subscription to a green waste collection. Through integration, the portal can provide real-time updates about collections to residents to help Brent close the feedback loop, manage expectations and avoid unnecessary contact.
The portal was designed in collaboration with Bromley Council, and was shortlisted for the Public/Private Partnership award at the LGC Awards 2022. For Brent, we hope to replicate the success Bromley has seen with WasteWorks, with a 40% drop in unnecessary contact within the first few months of launching and a continual rise in subscriptions to waste services.
Meanwhile, through FixMyStreet Pro, residents can report local problems such as potholes, blocked drains and fly-tipping. The solution is designed as a progressive web app, giving residents the option to use it as an app or a website, with no obligation either way. It also has the unique ability to automatically triage reports on a nationwide scale, including to Transport for London, which reduces avoidable contact and eliminates manual intervention.
Angela Dixon, Managing Director at SocietyWorks said: “Consistency is key when it comes to improving the digital experience for residents, and with both WasteWorks and FixMyStreet Pro working in tandem for Brent, residents will benefit from using an efficient and intuitive interface across two different but equally in-demand service areas. It is a pleasure to collaborate with a council that takes such a forward-thinking and thorough approach to digital transformation.”
If you would like to know more about FixMyStreet Pro or WasteWorks, request a free, informal demo here.
FixMyStreet Pro has a very clever feature that suggests existing nearby reports to users if a pin is dropped on a map within a certain radius of another report of the same category.
If an issue has already been reported, FixMyStreet Pro encourages the user to subscribe to the existing report instead of re-reporting it – a time saver for both the would-be report-maker and the council responsible for responding to the problem at hand.
Previously, the radius for this feature was fixed at 250 metres. However, at the request of our clients, we have now implemented a new update to enable FixMyStreet Pro customers to customise the radius within which an existing report will be suggested to a user.
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 in areas where there may be lots of reports of similar, but not identical problems.
By encouraging users to subscribe to existing reports wherever possible, the duplicate report suggestion feature helps to increase transparency and facilitates a one-report-per-issue approach to problem reporting without creating any extra work for council staff.
The duplicate report suggestion feature is available to all FixMyStreet Pro customers.
For more information about this feature, or any of FixMyStreet Pro’s other intuitive features, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Northumberland County Council is the latest local authority to have chosen SocietyWorks’ FixMyStreet Pro as its new reporting solution for street, highway and environmental issues.
Potholes, fly-tipping, broken street lights and other local place-based issues in Northumberland can now be reported to Northumberland County Council using a brand new installation of FixMyStreet Pro.
Provided by SocietyWorks, the wholly owned subsidiary of civic technology charity mySociety, FixMyStreet Pro is a long-running, map-based solution developed in collaboration with councils, which integrates with existing backend systems to create a seamless reporting experience and close the feedback loop between residents, the council and its contractors.
For Northumberland, the solution is integrated with the Causeway Alloy asset management system, ensuring reports go to the correct team and enabling updates to be sent back to report-makers. With all reports displayed on the map and the capability to automatically divert reports to other authorities, including to National Highways, FixMyStreet Pro will help Northumberland to increase transparency and reduce unnecessary contact.
Glen Sanderson, Leader of Northumberland County Council said: “We’re so pleased to be launching this system which should revolutionise the way we deal with issues on our roads and footpaths.
“This new online tool is the most direct way to report anything to us that needs fixing, cleaning or clearing across the county.
“In a short few clicks, people can easily alert the council to an issue and receive an update once it’s been resolved.”
Angela Dixon, Managing Director at SocietyWorks said: “Since launching in 2012, FixMyStreet Pro’s development has been guided by the councils using the solution and their residents’ needs.
“As a not-for-profit organisation passionate about helping local authorities to innovate using integrated, citizen-centred technology, it is great to see another council choose FixMyStreet Pro and join our collaborative network.
“We have really enjoyed working with Northumberland and we look forward to seeing the council use the solution and get involved in its future.”
Want to know more about FixMyStreet Pro? Request a demo to see how the solution could work for you.
We are delighted to announce that we are now an Associate Member of the Local Council Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG).
LCRIG brings together central and local government, supply chain and the wider highways community to ensure ongoing improvements in the highways sector.
Angela Dixon, Managing Director at SocietyWorks said: “Joining LCRIG is an exciting milestone for SocietyWorks, having been working in partnership with councils to support accessible and effective digital citizen engagement in maintaining the UK’s road and highway network since 2007, when our parent charity launched FixMyStreet, its national, map-based reporting service for local street-based issues.
“Fast-forward a few years to the launch of FixMyStreet Pro, a fully integrated version of the national service, designed in collaboration with a handful of forward-thinking councils who saw the vast potential in having a truly synchronised reporting service that is capable of integrating with numerous business systems, automatically triaging reports to the correct authority on behalf of citizens, and closing the feedback loop between report-makers, councils and their external contractors.
“Now, we are proud to be a well-established and trusted provider of several citizen-centred digital solutions to over 35 different councils, highways agencies and other public bodies. Our FixMyStreet Pro solution continues to build on 15 years of experience creating a reporting process for a broad range of localised road and highway issues that’s as smooth and satisfactory as possible for the report-maker, and for council staff.
“We take enormous pride in our collaborative approach to working with councils; it is your needs, along with those of your residents that sit at the heart of what we do. We see that approach mirrored in LCRIG, so it made perfect sense for us to align ourselves with the community and see how we can help each other to further innovate and facilitate effective, manageable and scalable digital transitions.”
For more information about LCRIG, please visit the website. Or if you would like to know more about how we help councils and highways agencies provide more citizen-friendly technology, please get in touch.
Originally launched in 2007 by our parent charity mySociety, FixMyStreet is a national reporting service for local street and environmental problems that sends reports to the correct authority even if the report-maker doesn’t know who that is.
Citizens can use the website, or they can download an app from the app store if they prefer. Until very recently, that app was a dedicated, ‘traditional’ app that ran on a different codebase to the website, and to each of the FixMyStreet Pro sites built for SocietyWorks’ client councils and other public sector bodies.
Not anymore though.
The FixMyStreet app has now been replaced with a brand new app store progressive web app.
This is very good news for app users, the councils who receive reports from FixMyStreet, and those who use FixMyStreet Pro as their own reporting solution – here’s why.
The new app store PWA enables assets like street lights and grit bins that were previously only available on FixMyStreet Pro sites to be displayed on the national site and app, meaning citizens are always able to make reports containing the most accurate information possible, no matter where they make the report.
Having a PWA instead of a website and separate dedicated app means that we don’t need to maintain two different codebases, helping us to keep costs down for our public sector clients without compromising on service delivery.
With everything running from the same codebase, this also means that everyone always enjoys the same user experience, with updates made to the website automatically reflected on app store PWAs. It also means accessibility is of the same high standard across the board.
Progressive web apps (PWAs) are websites that have been designed with ‘app like’ qualities. They look and act like an app and can be downloaded to a mobile’s home screen like an app – either from an app store or by simply saving the website directly to your device.
The main differences between PWAs and ‘normal’ dedicated apps is that they run from the same codebase and users are not obligated to download them in order to use them. Plus, they enable you to provide exactly the same experience to users across the website and “app”, with new features and functionality automatically available.
Yes, and that’s nothing new! FixMyStreet Pro was already a PWA, giving the councils and other public sector bodies that use the solution the ability to offer their users the choice to use a website, or download their PWA if they prefer.
Individually branded FixMyStreet Pro PWAs aren’t downloaded from an app store. Instead, users need to load the website from a browser on their chosen device and save it to their home screen – it will then work exactly the same as an app store PWA.
With all FixMyStreet Pro sites connected to the national service, the solution is capable of triaging reports on a nationwide scale, diverting reports meant for other authorities or agencies like National Highways.
Want to know more about FixMyStreet or FixMyStreet Pro? Get in touch with us.
Image: William Fortunato