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Latest news from the SocietyWorks team and all things FixMyStreet

Sprint notes 19 Jan - 1 Feb Featured Image

Sprint notes: 19 Jan – 1 Feb 2021

There’s been lots happening during the second sprint of the year – here’s what the SocietyWorks team has been working on.

Waste product development 

We’re very excited to have started phase two of our work on Bromley’s waste product, which includes incorporating green garden waste and payments into the service. 

We’re working closely with the team at Bromley, Capita and Veolia to create this new system.  Currently, we’re designing the prototypes for the citizen forms to understand what information we’ll need to capture and how to make this as easy as possible for the user to fill in.

Client feedback

In other waste-related news, we’ve been speaking to a few of our clients to get their feedback on features and pricing for our general waste product. We’ll also have a new name for the product confirmed in the next few weeks! If you’re interested in learning more about our new waste service, drop us a line.

GOV.UK Notify

Also this sprint, we’ve applied the finishing touches to the GOV.UK Notify work we’ve been doing for Hackney. This new service is going live on the 4th Feb and is available to all FixMyStreet Pro Gold clients – find out more about how to buy here.

Cookie banners

A hangover task from just before Christmas, we ticked updating client cookie banners off our list this sprint, making sure they’re all as up-to-date as possible.

Marketing and social media

Our new Marketing & PR Manager Sally has been getting her feet under the table and is looking at our overall Marketing goals for the next 3 years, as well as the best ways to spread the news about all the good work we do. You might have noticed during the last sprint that we now have a SocietyWorks LinkedIn account, a SocietyWorks Twitter account and a FixMyStreet Instagram page – go give us a follow!

Internal processes

We’ve taken some time this sprint to look at our internal processes, including how we operate and organise the sprint itself. This is something we’re going to be mixing up a little over the next few weeks – we’ll let you know how it goes!

User groups

Last but definitely not least, with it being February already (we know, we’re shocked too), we’ve started to plan for our summer user groups. We look forward to running these groups every year, and this one is no different. If you’re not familiar with them, have a read of this blog post about our most recent user group and keep an eye out for more details coming soon.

Image: William Santos on Unsplash

Featured Image for Sprint notes 5 - 18 January

Sprint notes: 5 – 18 January 2021

The first sprint of 2021 is complete, so here’s your update on everything the SocietyWorks team has been up to.

In light of the latest lockdown announcement and school closures, we had to make a few adjustments to the sprint schedule to make sure that we were being realistic with what work we could complete. But as always, we pulled together as a team to give each other the support we needed, which has meant we were still able to work on the following things:

Noise reporting for Hackney

In an exciting start to the year, we soft-launched one of our new services: a secure noise reporting workflow for Hackney Council. If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you’ll know that this is something we’ve been excited about working on, so it was great to get it live.

FixMyStreet Pro

Alongside working on the new noise service, we got to work on some smaller FixMyStreet Pro orders for our clients, such as private comments and amends to map layers.

Integrations

Also this sprint, we’ve been following up with clients on work that was completed last year, like pulling photos back out of Alloy and Confirm – something we’re keen to see progress. Learn about how we are able integrate our services with any backend management system here.

We’ve also been working on a new Bartec integration for a waste service with our friends at Peterborough Council. This is the second waste product project for us, and we’re very excited to roll it out – stay tuned for more updates on this soon.

Service discovery

In other exciting news, we completed a big piece of discovery and have been able to take it straight to an alpha build for a client this sprint, which we’ll reveal more about in good time. If you’re not sure yet what our discovery service is, you can read more about it here.

GOV.UK Notify

Another Hackney-related thing we worked on this sprint was to collect the final reviews on their GOV.UK Notify project, which will go live in early February. This is available to all FixMyStreet Pro Gold clients – find out more about how to buy here

Communications

And finally, ahead of a busy and exciting year of development, we’ve been preparing a variety of different comms pieces this sprint, including drafting some announcements about our upcoming new mobile improvements for FixMyStreet. Watch this space!

Image: Lisa Fotios on Pexels

Central Bedfordshire Council

FixMyStreet Pro for Central Bedfordshire

2021 might not have gotten off to the easiest of starts, but one thing that will be a bit easier from now on is street reporting in Central Bedfordshire, as we welcome them into the FixMyStreet Pro fold.

For residents of the area, this means that any and all street and highways reports can now be made through the FixMyStreet website or app, or via the council’s website. Wherever a report is made, they’re all going to end up neatly in the same place, thanks to our integration with Central Bedfordshire’s backend management system, Symology Insight.  

Why Central Bedfordshire chose FixMyStreet Pro

Frustrated at finding themselves experiencing a higher volume of calls from residents over online reporting (somewhere in the region of 400 extra calls per month!), the Council was in search of a channel shift that would produce a better experience for residents and council staff alike.

While there are cheaper alternatives to FixMyStreet Pro, the savings Central Bedfordshire will now be able to make using a fully integrated system made the investment worth it. That coupled with FixMyStreet’s high-performing, user-centred interface and our years and years of experience integrating into any existing backend set-up made it the ideal solution.

This is an exciting development for Central Bedfordshire residents as the FixMyStreet system is not only easier, faster to use, and more interactive, it can also connect with other systems to ultimately lead to smarter more efficient services.”

– Councillor Ian Dalgarno, Executive Member for Community Services

Fixing central issues

There were a number of key issues that Central Bedfordshire wanted to address through this integration with FixMyStreet Pro. 

Firstly, they wanted to improve the accuracy of their highways reports, something that FixMyStreet helps to achieve thanks to its user-friendliness, its intelligent asset layer displays and its flexible categories.

Another requirement was to remove the ability for residents to submit reports anonymously, with a view to encourage better quality reporting, easier case management and to facilitate a stronger relationship between resident and council. 

They also wanted to reduce the burden on and cost of their customer service team having to manually build reports, double key information and answer calls from residents wanting updates on their case. From now on, rather than having to call the Council for an update or needing to decipher an unfamiliar Symology Insight status code, residents will now receive clear updates on their reports automatically to the contact details they provide. Plus, our transparent approach to reporting means that anyone can view previous reports and subscribe to updates for easy progress tracking, which helps to reduce duplicates and creates a better user experience for residents and council staff alike. 

Talking about what a difference this channel shift will make to Central Bedfordshire, Councillor Ian Dalgarno, Executive Member for Community Services, said: “This is an exciting development for Central Bedfordshire residents as the FixMyStreet system is not only easier, faster to use, and more interactive, it can also connect with other systems to ultimately lead to smarter more efficient services. 

“As the new system allows users to submit reports against specific council assets, it will be a lot simpler for officers to locate and assess any problems.” 

Making new connections

We’re no stranger to integrating with Symology Insight both on premise and hosted, but as with any integration into an existing business system, it takes a lot of hard work and hiccups can happen.

In this case, we ran into an obstacle getting updates to sync from Insight. Thankfully, Central Bedfordshire and Symology were quick to jump into action and we worked together to improve our connector and enable the systems to speak to each other fluently. The end result is a seamless experience for users, who are kept in the loop as soon as their report is updated in Symology by Central Bedfordshire staff.

Now that the button’s been pushed and the Central Bedfordshire version of FixMyStreet Pro is live, we hope it will help to make at least one part of 2021 a little bit easier to manage for the Council and its residents.

If you’re a council and you’d like to explore how SocietyWorks’ services can help you drive efficiencies and save money this year, do get in touch.

Image: Jack Bowers, Central Bedfordshire Council

Featured image - Listen More - Launching Hackney's new noise reporting system

Safe and sound noise reporting for Hackney Council

After several months of exploration, iteration and all-important consequence scanning, we are very pleased to have soft-launched Hackney Council’s new noise reporting workflow.

Built in collaboration with Hackney, this has been a really interesting project to work on; delving into what form noise reports should take, how to help citizens make a noise report that’s useful to councils even if the reporter is not exactly sure where the source of the noise is and how such reports can be made as securely and sensitively as possible.

The finished product is a secure, user-friendly and highly efficient private reporting form that Hackney’s teams and its residents will be able to make use of. 

Better reporting for noise complaints

Recognising the timely need for a better frontend noise reporting system, Hackney saw the early value in making the process of submitting such a report a smoother one for residents and for council staff. That’s where we came in.

By identifying whether the noise is commercial or residential before sending it directly to the team that can deal with it, our new noise service will help to make handling noise reports much easier. Meanwhile, providing a form which enables citizens to submit a better standard of location information using UPRNs first and foremost or broader map locations if the exact source of the noise cannot be confirmed will help to deliver reports that are more accurate, actionable and faster to address. 

Aside from being able to use a form that’s designed to help them provide the correct information to councils, another bonus for Hackney residents is that they will now be able to see all of their own reports, whether noise or otherwise, all in one place when they’re logged into Hackney’s version of FixMyStreet.

A quiet place 

With the potential for noise reports to be of a more sensitive nature, it was important to us and to Hackney that we get this noise service right. That’s why as part of the service development we ran a series of consequence scanning workshops to identify and mitigate potential negative outcomes. 

As a result, each noise report that’s made to Hackney will be private and will always be dealt with by a council staff member – no automated decision making involved. This helps to ensure that, whatever the report is about, it can be dealt with appropriately without anyone other than the reporter and the council needing to know about it.

Hackney is all ears

Being a new service, we’re looking forward to seeing how Hackney gets on with using it now that it’s soft-launched and listening to residents’ noise reports.

If noise reporting is something you are also interested in, the service can either be plugged into an existing FixMyStreet Pro package, like we’ve done for Hackney, or it can be fully integrated into whichever backend management systems you are using.

Sound like something you need? Find out more and drop us a message, we’d love to hear from you.

Image: Brett Jordan on Unsplash

UKGovCamp virtual event

Catch us at UKGovCamp

This Thursday 21st January marks the start of UKGovCamp, an unconference that takes place every year and brings together people from across the public sector to discuss how technology can, and does, improve civic services.

It’s an event that the mySociety team has really enjoyed being involved in previously, but we’re extra excited this year because our very own designer Martin will be running a session on consequence scanning. He’ll be taking attendees through a mock consequence scanning exercise, much like those we run while developing new SocietyWorks services for councils, and teaching them how the method can be used to predict, assess and mitigate any potential negative consequences.

Martin’s session will be familiar to anyone who came to the similarly-named LocalGovCamp conference towards the end of last year, where he first ran it. Based on its success there, as well as how helpful consequence scanning has been for us as an organisation, Martin’s keen to help as many people as possible discover this great method – so if you missed out last year, now’s your chance to get clued up.

The session will take place virtually at 1.45 PM on Thursday 21st January – we hope to see you there!

Find out more about the event and how to get involved here.

Image: Compare Fibre on Unsplash

Image of a pothole on a road

National Pothole Day: 2020 was a bumper year for pothole reports

More pothole reports were made through FixMyStreet in 2020 than ever before.

We all know that 2020 was a bit of a bumpy year (OK, it was a lot of a bumpy year), but one thing that those of us at SocietyWorks had been expecting to be a bit less bumpy was the impact of pothole reports on UK councils.

With people traveling less frequently due to lockdown putting roads under less pressure (which, incidentally,  would also create the perfect conditions for pre-existing potholes to be fixed by councils), we had thought that pothole reporting rates on our FixMyStreet service, which sends reports directly to the council that can deal with them, would have been lower than usual.

But we were wrong.

 

Pothole reports in 2020

While we did see a considerable drop in reports when the first lockdown hit, and again towards the end of the year when renewed restrictions saw winter pothole reports rise less sharply than in previous years, 2020 still had the highest ever number of potholes reported through FixMyStreet and our council versions of FixMyStreet Pro (not including TFL’s installation), with over 111,000 reports about potholes made throughout the year.

 

Graph showing pothole reports made through FixMyStreet in 2020

 

As the above graph shows, the year started off with a clear trend towards many more potholes being reported through FixMyStreet than usual. When the first lockdown began in March, reporting rates dramatically reduced, but they quickly started to pick back up again as restrictions were loosened and cold weather re-emerged.

Towards the very end of year, when we would usually expect to see a sharp hike in report numbers like in previous years, Tier 4 restrictions and lockdown saw pothole reporting rates increase much slower. 

Taking these reporting trends into consideration, it looks as though, had there been no lockdown, pothole report numbers would have been even higher in 2020. 

 

Helping councils to navigate pothole reports smoothly

As we know, the pandemic has put an added strain onto councils recently, meaning that potholes are just one of many, many things needing to be dealt with.

For councils already using FixMyStreet Pro to manage their streets and highways reports, any increase in pothole reports is much easier to handle when the cost per report has been made up to 98.69% cheaper.

Looking ahead, given that budgets are tight and key workers are currently making up the majority of the people using our roads, should 2021 prove to be another pothole-heavy year, it’s never been more important to make the process of reporting such problems as easy for citizens and as cost-effective for councils as possible.

If you’re a council and you’d like to discover how FixMyStreet Pro can help you smooth out the process of dealing with streets and highways reports like potholes, you can find out more here.

 

Image: Kenneth Allen (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Pothole on a road

Things that go bump! How to smooth out the process of dealing with pothole reports

Whether you’re a council or a citizen, potholes are an all-round pain in the bum(per), aren’t they? 

When it comes to citizen reports made on our FixMyStreet service, potholes are always up there among the most frequently reported problems. In fact, in 2020, despite lockdowns and less frequent travel, more potholes were reported through FixMyStreet than ever before

For councils, dealing with pothole reports has never been a bigger challenge. Aside from being expensive to fix (and no sooner have you fixed one than another appears), staff shortages caused by COVID-19 as workers are required to isolate have made coordinating pothole fixes a much longer, more complicated process. 

Be that as it may, at a time when most road travel is being carried out by key workers, it’s more important than ever to make the process of reporting potholes and responding to such reports as easy and as fast as possible.

This being the case, we thought we’d highlight all the ways in which FixMyStreet Pro can and does make dealing with pothole reports easier, cheaper and much less bumpy for councils and their residents. 

  • Cut the cost of your pothole reports

Now more than ever, councils need to save money wherever they can. Investing in a channel shift to FixMyStreet Pro for the management of your streets and highways reports could help you save up to 98.69% per report, just like it did for Buckinghamshire Council

  • Reduce duplicate reports 

As well as needing to save money, councils and their customer service teams also need to save time – especially time wasted on dealing with duplicate reports. FixMyStreet’s transparent approach to reporting helps to dissuade duplicate reports by allowing citizens to view reports that have already been made nearby and subscribe to updates from the council as the issue is resolved. 

  • Simplify how all of your existing systems connect with each other

We know how annoying, nevermind expensive, it can be when your backend IT systems aren’t quite getting along the way you’d like them to. With FixMyStreet Pro, we promise to integrate into whichever systems you’re using to facilitate a smooth user workflow for everyone. See how this worked for Oxfordshire County Council, who, by switching to FixMyStreet Pro, were able to make immediate workflow improvements and savings by removing layers of legacy software.

  • Customise your reporting forms

No one council is the same as another; you have different needs, different priorities and different ways of doing things. We take all of this into account when we’re setting up your version of FixMyStreet Pro, building it around yours and your residents’ needs. As an example, when it came to potentially hazardous reports (such as dangerous potholes), Island Roads, the company that handles highway maintenance on the Isle of Wight, requested to implement emergency categories to their version of FixMyStreet Pro to help safeguard against accidents and allow them to deal with problems faster.

Want to get started making your pothole reports easier to navigate? Get in touch with us.

 

Image: Editor5807 (CC BY 3.0)

User groups: how we’re involving clients in new feature planning

When it comes to drawing up plans for future features to add to the FixMyStreet Pro roadmap, it’s really important to us that we consult with the people who will actually be using them before we commit to anything.

That’s why we like to run user groups – events to which we invite clients to join us for a couple of hours to learn about what we’ve been working on and get involved in exploring any features which would be of benefit to them if we were to design them next.

 

Digital collaboration

Not wanting to let the pandemic get in our way of hosting these sessions in 2020, we moved them online, using Zoom to meet up and Miro to collaboratively share ideas.

Our most recent user group ran earlier this month as a perfect way to round off the year and influence our 2021 plans.

As part of the session, we broke off into small groups in order to answer this question: What’s the one thing you wished FixMyStreet Pro did that it doesn’t currently do?

Using Miro, each group was given 15 minutes to bounce ideas around for new features they would like to see on the FixMyStreet Pro service by pinning a digital post-it note to a board. Each idea was then discussed to determine what the feature is, what problem it solves and who would benefit from it. 

Before reconvening, the groups selected their favourite idea to be presented to everyone. The top ideas from each group were then voted upon to determine which was best, using a very snazzy feature of Miro’s platform.

 

Screenshot of the SocietyWorks user group Miro session
Our Designer Martin discusses the top ideas from the group sessions using Miro

 

Fast reactions

On this occasion, the winning new feature suggestion was to introduce the functionality to quickly create a report on a mobile device from a photo. Alex Brown from Island Roads, whose idea this was, explained more:

“If you’re familiar with iPhones and Android, you’ll know that there’s a share function which gives you a shortlist of things you can do with your photos.

“For example, you can open up a photo, press the share button, select your messages app and it takes you straight into the app where you can send the photo to one of your contacts.

“We’d like something similar to that [for FixMyStreetPro], where you can take a photo with your camera, open it, share it, hit FixMyStreet and it takes you straight into the app so you can log your report.”

As our Designer Martin said at the time: “Brilliant!”

A simple, yet smart idea that would make it even easier for citizens to act when they spot a problem within their local area. Plus, as we uncovered recently, reports with photos are around 15% more likely to be recorded as fixed than reports without a photo, so anything we can do to encourage the use of photos within reports can only be a good thing.

And here lies the beauty of running these user groups: not only is it the perfect opportunity for local authorities to discuss and share solutions to problems they’re facing, but it’s also the ideal environment to nurture brilliant ideas that we hadn’t thought of before. 

Going forward, we’re taking Alex’s idea, along with a few other suggestions from the day, into some discovery sessions in order to determine whether and when we can add them to our roadmap.

So, watch this space!

If you would like to come along to one of our future user groups, or you’d like to discuss any ideas of your own, do drop us a message.

Image: Dstudio Bcn on Unsplash

SocietyWorks annual report

A look back at a year like no other

Well, it’s been quite a year, hasn’t it?

2020 certainly won’t be one SocietyWorks will ever forget, not least because we didn’t exist as you know us until April!

Expanding our horizons

At the start of 2020, it was all about FixMyStreet Pro. And while our beloved FixMyStreet Pro is very much still the jewel in our crown, we’ve been busy this year exploring how else we can improve local government services for everyone, under the new brand, SocietyWorks.

With that in mind, we rolled out two new offerings around Waste and Noise, while also executing a whole lot of refinements and new features for FixMyStreet and FixMyStreet Pro, including:

 

Friends old and new

New authorities to integrate with FixMyStreet Pro this year are Hackney, Highways England, Transport Focus, Cheshire East and — just this minute — Central Bedfordshire, bringing the total number of Pro bodies to 22.

As well as welcoming new authorities into the SocietyWorks fold, we have also appreciated longtime friends after working together to scope out new services, such as doing some consequence scanning with Hackney Council and helping to create a simple and intuitive mapping interface with Transport Focus

 

Looking ahead

By the end of 2020, more than 500,000 reports will have been made through FixMyStreet this year.

And in a year where we’ve all gained a new appreciation for and desire to protect our local areas, that figure just reminds us of how proud we are to be the home of a service like FixMyStreet.

With any luck, 2021 will be a little less…turbulent, shall we say, than 2020 has been. Whatever happens though, we at SocietyWorks are looking forward to continuing to help bring about improvements through our services for local authorities and citizens alike.

If you would like to, you can read mySociety’s complete annual report here.

A phone with various apps on the screen, including FixMyStreet

Progressive web apps: what are they, and what can they do for us?

As you may have noticed, at mySociety we’ve never been big on apps — we tend to encourage access to our websites via your phone’s mobile browser instead. 

We design all our sites as ‘mobile first’, meaning that they work well on any size of device and automatically resize to fit any screen dimension. That’s good practice anyway, but as a small organisation it also saves us a lot of time and effort. 

But that presents an issue when we’re talking to potential FixMyStreet Pro clients, in authorities and councils, who often see an app as a very desirable part of their offering to citizens.

Now, thanks to the emergence of the ‘progressive web app’ (PWA), we’re exploring a whole new approach that we hope will please everyone, as our Developer Struan explains: 

We’ve been talking about what to do with the FixMyStreet app for a long time.

The app we offer at the moment runs from a separate codebase than the main FixMyStreet site, which means when we update features on FixMyStreet we then have to redo the same work for the app. 

As a result, it sometimes lags behind: for example there are various features — detection of duplicate reports, and display of assets like streetlights or grit bins, for example — that have never made it across.

And in all honesty? We have to admit that apps aren’t really our speciality. Generally speaking, you’d employ dedicated app developers and designers if you wanted to create really excellent app experiences. mySociety is a small organisation without big overheads — can’t complain, that’s what allows us to be nimble and responsive — and so far, we’ve stuck to doing what we do well.

With all that in mind, the FixMyStreet app is beginning to look quite old, and there are various aspects of it that don’t really meet with current expectations of how apps work.

Enter the PWA 

Loosely speaking, PWAs are a collection of technologies that you can add to a website that then give it ‘app like’ qualities. To all intents and purposes, a PWA-ified site looks and acts like an app: our client authorities will be able to add their own logos and colour palettes and tell their residents to ‘download the app’, and for the citizen, that’s just what it will feel like they’re doing.  

In practice, the app is effectively the website being viewed on a mobile screen, just as we sometimes recommend to users. But the PWA tech not only makes it look and feel like an app, it also allows it to be added to app stores and downloaded by users onto their screens via that route. It also adds a more ‘app-like’ navigation and a startup process.

Rather handily, PWAs also permit the addition of offline capability to your website, by downloading a bit of JavaScript (called a service worker) to your device. If you can’t connect to the website then it falls back to the service worker, which can also save reports when you have no connection and then upload them when you do. As a side benefit, all this will work with the standard mobile website too, and is something we’d want to add anyway.

One downside is that only the latest version of iOS supports all the things we need to make this work, although we note that iOS adoption rates are quite high. To make up for this a bit, alongside the PWA work we’ll be adding in some code to make the offline process a bit less jarring for those accessing the website on older versions of iOS.

Meanwhile, as far as we can tell, everything should go smoothly on Android.

So — lots of positives and we hope it will all come together in the near future. We’re continuing to explore this approach and will report back when we can say for certain whether it’s viable.

Image: Saulo Mohana

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