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News

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

We’re making some improvements to our infrastructure platform

One of our main priorities for this year has been to make some significant investments in our infrastructure platform to bring about some key improvements. 

After completing a review, a project is currently underway to make some upgrades to the platform and expand our presence into additional locations, which will enable us to provide more flexible capacity and geographical redundancy for services.

This is a significant update to our platform and is intended to underpin the growth and availability of our services over the next three years. 

Currently, we are engaging with suppliers to bring this capability online and will be focussing on applying this to our core services over the rest of 2021. 

In the interim, we have also completed a number of smaller actions to further strengthen our infrastructure.

  • We have redistributed services across our back-end tier to ensure better capacity management and limit the impact of sudden spikes in activity. This is an ongoing activity and we will continue to make adjustments as necessary.
  • We are updating our emergency response procedures to ensure that a clear process is in place for managing spikes in connections that run the risk of overwhelming the back-end.
  • We have already expanded our monitoring to better capture some aspects of the back-end system and make these available to our engineering staff for real-time troubleshooting. This is already helping us find some areas for potential improvement in resource and connection pool management and we are actively working at adding further capabilities.

We are always reviewing our planning and decision making, and have contingency plans in place as we make improvements.

Image: Zeynep Sümer

Join our session at SDinGov

Next month is SDinGov (Service Design in Government, if you were wondering), a two-day conference that brings together a community of professionals involved in designing and commissioning public services.

This year’s event will take place virtually, and we’re thrilled to announce that our submission to host a speaker session has been accepted.

SocietyWorks will be represented by our designer Martin Wright, who will be taking his popular consequence scanning workshop out for a spin once again. 

During the workshop you’ll take part in a consequence scanning exercise with Martin and the rest of the group, in which you’ll design a fictional new public service for a local authority and help to ensure that its launch doesn’t turn into a costly PR disaster. 

By the end of the session, you will know how to predict, assess and mitigate any potential negative consequences of your future public service design projects.

Martin has run variations of this workshop a couple of times now, so if you’ve missed out before, now’s your chance to see what it’s all about.

Consequence scanning – an exercise you can use when designing new services at SDinGov will take place on 16 September at 10.30am – 11.30am

See you there! 

Find out more about SDinGov here.

Hackney Council noise case management sprint notes: 6 July – 3 August 2021

These sprint notes are part of a series following our work with Hackney Council on the production of a noise case management system. View the previous notes here.

Service assessment

In the previous month we took part in a service assessment, which was a chance for us to share the work we’ve been doing so far with a panel, and to check that we’re meeting the Service Standard by testing our work against fourteen Government Design Service (GDS) criteria.

We have now received the full results and while feedback was generally positive, we have also been given recommendations on criteria that the panel feel we did not fully meet. We have been through each of the comments and recommendations with Hackney, and have agreed on which ones we’ll be taking forward. We’re due to meet again in a few weeks to show some of our changes and what we’ve learned, and are currently in the process of gathering further evidence for the assessors. One of the things they felt we weren’t clear about is what we’d learned from our testing with staff at Hackney. Our plan is to go back through the prototypes and provide specific examples of work we’ve changed based on feedback. Another recommendation we’ll be working on is showing the end to end process through a process diagram with swimlanes, something we had in the earlier stages of discovery, but with all the new information and understanding we have this is something that could be expanded upon. 

Alpha and Beta

As we’ve moved from Alpha and into Beta, we wrapped up our work so far with a report detailing all our findings and links to all relevant prototypes and user stories that were gathered. This is something that we’re currently asking Hackney for feedback on and will form a create base for future documentation.

With the move to Beta we’ve gone through about 70% of the prototypes and started to document the technical functionality of each feature in Github tickets and an accompanying technical specification. To make the work easier to follow and prioritise, we’ve grouped related sections of work together in Github as milestones. This will help show any dependencies between work more easily too. 

The technical specification will be a working document as we develop and test with the team at Hackney, but for now we’ve sent over the first draft which details how high level key functionality, citizen reporting, authentication for staff and the citizen view when authenticated. 

Development work 

As we’ve worked with Hackney before on FixMyStreet Pro we knew certain things would need to be in place, like the way council staff authenticate using Google login. 

We’ve also been working on the reassignment of cases between different officers, and have demoed that at a recent ‘Show & Tell’ meeting to the team at Hackney.

Image: Pawel Czerwinski

New joined-up admin functionality across FixMyStreet Pro and WasteWorks

View and monitor reports for each of your service areas through one visual heatmap, built into the dashboard of FixMyStreet Pro and WasteWorks.

Back in 2019 we worked with Bromley Council to introduce a new heatmap feature to FixMyStreet Pro’s arsenal of tools for council staff. 

The heatmap converts report data into a visual format that is easy to understand, allowing council staff to see at a glance which issues are most prevalent, and where they are being reported.

Since being rolled out to all Pro customers, the heatmap has become one of the service’s most popular and useful features, which is why we built the same functionality for our new waste service WasteWorks.

Bromley also co-designed WasteWorks with us, and so is one of the first councils to go live with the service and benefit from being able to track and manage more than one service area from a single, central dashboard.

Now, when Bromley staff log in to their FixMyStreet Pro dashboard and select the heatmap overlay, as well as being able to view street and highways reports, they can also see where reports and requests are being submitted through WasteWorks for waste services.

The heatmap looks and works in the same way as before for Bromley. Hotter colours represent higher report volume, cooler colours represent fewer reports, and dropdown filters allow staff to view report data by category, status, timeframe and ward.

By default, the heatmap shows every report made to the council in the last month, so initially the map will look something like this:

Bromley Council's heatmap on FixMyStreet Pro

But now, without needing to leave the page, Bromley staff can view reports about, say, fly-tips, made in the last 12 months, which have been closed

Bromley Council's heatmap on FixMyStreet Pro

…or, green garden waste subscriptions, which have been completed in the last 5 days.

Green garden waste subscriptions shown on Bromley Council's heatmap

Heatmaps for both FixMyStreet Pro and WasteWorks are available to all UK councils. If you’d like to see how they work, you can request a demo.

Webinar: Scoping out a successful citizen service: how to get started

Thank you to everyone who joined us on what was an extremely hot afternoon last Thursday for the first in our new series of webinars for local authorities. Scoping out a successful citizen service: how to get started was an exploration of the best way to get started when designing or redesigning an online service for citizens.

Leading the session, our designer and user researcher Martin Wright plotted the route from discovery to successful service uptake, highlighting the importance of carrying out consequence scanning and advising on how best to balance resident requirements with council capacity.

We were also joined by Bromley Council’s Technical Support Team Manager Jonathan Richards, who spoke about Bromley’s recent experience of designing and implementing a brand new online waste service for residents.

If you weren’t able to join us but you’re interested to know what was spoken about, you can watch a recording of the session below, and if you have any questions about anything that was discussed, let us know and we’ll get back to you with an answer!

Full video:

 

Stay updated on our upcoming webinars by signing up to our monthly newsletter.

Hackney Council noise case management sprint notes: 8 June – 6 July 2021

These sprint notes are part of a series following our work with Hackney Council on the production of a noise case management system. View the previous notes here.

It’s a bumper edition of our Hackney noise case management sprint notes, this time covering two very busy sprints.

Service assessment

During the last two sprints, we prepared for and submitted the noise service we’ve been working on with Hackney for a service assessment. This was a chance for us to share the work we’ve been doing so far with a panel, and to check that we’re meeting the Service Standard by testing our work against fourteen Government Design Service (GDS) criteria.

On the day of the assessment, we were joined by Emma Gowan and Selwyn Preston from Hackney, as well as Phillipa Newis from Greenwich. 

We’re still waiting for the full assessment results, but we can certainly say that it was a really useful exercise for us to gain an external view of the service and take some guidance from experienced specialists from the government digital community.

Citizen user experience research

We also spent some time carrying out further research into the citizen experience of creating noise reports. Specifically, we wanted to find out more about what citizens want in terms of creating a diary of noise reports, how they want to see case history and the preferred way to receive notifications.

For this, we spoke to a sample of Hackney residents, 73% of whom had previously made noise reports. Our investigations found that most of them would rather be notified about their noise cases via email than via a text message, phone call or letter.

Interestingly, while 54% of the residents we spoke to say they would likely make their report on a mobile phone, the majority of them don’t want another app. This is fortunate, because we’re looking to build a responsive website that doesn’t leave older devices behind.

Take a look at some of our other findings:

Was it fairly easy to report the noise recurrence?

Was the language clear and easy to understand?

Is it useful to see a log like this, of all the actions following your complaint?

Alpha and Beta

The last two sprints saw us enter the final round of Alpha testing for the noise service. Wanting to be prepared for what happens next, the SocietyWorks team met internally to discuss the Beta part of the project.

First up on the list for this stage is to work out how the product will be built and to start creating tickets to document what we need to build. To start with, we’re focusing on allowing officers to reassign cases to each other. This will involve looking at how real-life staff profiles are set up within the system, instead of just the example profiles we have so far. 

Image: Nick Fewings

Join us for a new series of webinars for local authorities

We’re thrilled to announce the launch of a brand new series of webinars for local authorities all about getting online citizen-facing services for the public realm right for you and for your residents.

After over a decade designing citizen-centric services with councils, this webinar series has been brewing for a while, and we’re pleased to have arrived at the right time to make it happen and more widely share the many lessons we’ve learned along the way, at every stage of process – from discovery to implementation and beyond. 

The series will take the form of regular, hour-long virtual events that will bring together experts from within SocietyWorks and the mySociety team, along with special guest speakers from across local government and the wider sector. Each webinar, we’ll hone in on a different aspect of public realm service design and delivery, discussing real-life experiences and sharing best practices.

And where better to start than at the beginning? 

For the first webinar, our Designer and User Researcher Martin Wright will be sharing his advice on where to start when it comes to building or redesigning a service for citizens. With help from some special guests, he’ll be discussing how to balance council and resident requirements, why consequence scanning is a must and ways you can encourage positive resident uptake.

Scoping out a successful citizen service: how to get started will take place in July. Find out more and register your free place

 

Get involved

Do you have a story to tell or some advice to share about how local authorities can perfect public realm online services? We’d love to have you as a guest speaker – tell us more here.

Image redaction on FixMyStreet Pro

Councils using FixMyStreet Pro can now redact particular areas of images uploaded by a citizen instead of having to remove them. 

FixMyStreet Pro has always provided councils with the ability to moderate the content that citizens upload within their reports. 

Say, for example, a citizen accidentally includes any personal information within the title or description of a report, staff can easily edit the content or remove it from the site using the moderation tool. 

Similarly, if a citizen uploads a photo with their report that contains any personal or inappropriate content (think: licence plate numbers on parked cars or addresses on letters that have been fly-tipped), those photos can be quickly hidden as the need arises.

Redact > remove

Now, hiding or removing the photos from reports is one solution, but we believe that capturing and being able to publicly share photos from citizens is important; it gives the community an even clearer view of exactly what issue has been reported and where. Meanwhile, for council staff and inspectors, photos can help to provide valuable additional context to reports that can’t be as easily gleaned from a description alone, further helping to accurately locate the defect and prioritise its repair.

So, what if instead of removing an entire image you could simply redact the usually quite small part of it that needs to be hidden? 

Well, now you can. 

A new feature for FixMyStreet Pro’s moderation tool allows council staff to redact particular areas of an image uploaded by a citizen when logged into the dashboard. 

FixMyStreet Pro's image redaction tool allows councils to redact particular areas of a photo instead of completely removing it from a report

So if a report contains an image in which a car’s licence plate is visible, you can select the image in question and draw a rectangle over the license plate to block it from view. If multiple licence plates are visible in one image, multiple rectangles can be drawn.

Once saved, the changes to the image will be reflected everywhere it is displayed, giving you complete peace of mind. Of course, if you need to revert a redaction or you want to remove the entire image, you still can with no hassle.

Importantly, and in-keeping with FixMyStreet Pro’s focus on improving the citizen experience, the staff member making the redaction can write a short note to the report-maker to explain why it has happened. This note will be sent straight to the citizen automatically, which should help them when they next make a report.

The image redaction feature is now available to all of our FixMyStreet Pro customers. If you’d like to see the image redaction feature in action, or you have any questions, you can contact us here.

Image: Franco Ruarte

Hackney Council noise case management sprint notes: 25 May – 8 June 2021

These sprint notes are part of a series following our work with Hackney Council on the production of a noise case management system. View the previous notes here.

During the last sprint we focused on prototyping the system’s mobile-optimised interface to get a second round of feedback on some of the suggestions the team has already made in previous sprints, and also identify ways that the product can help officers attending noise complaints ‘on the ground’

The prototypes received some good feedback including:

  • Case list page works well – combination of filtering and searching by address or name addresses the needs of officers prioritising their work.
  • Great suggestion that the case page should display the number of previous cases at the given address, and/or number of notices previously served to the address – again, to help surface context that might affect the priority of a case.
  • Confirmation that officers expect to be notified by email when a case is assigned to them.
  • The concept of logging “actions” on a case generally makes sense to officers. Important to include failed actions as well – eg: “unable to contact reporter” or “phone unanswered”.
  • Extra information about perpetrators was valuable – we now need to investigate what we can show / where it would come from.
  • 100% of respondents said what they’ve seen so far would save them time compared to current or previous tools.

As we’re getting nearer to actually coding up some of these prototypes we’ve also had discussions about the infrastructure and languages used to develop the new NoiseWorks product as well as scheduling time in future sprints to start building the prototypes.

This sprint we’re testing the final set of prototypes around the citizen experience of the service. While most of the case management features are staff-only, we’re keen to get citizen feedback on how they access their past complaints, keep digital ‘diary sheets’ of noise re-occurrences and how they’d expect to be notified about updates to their case.

Image: Frederik Lipfert

Full green garden waste bin awaiting collection

Sprint notes: 26 May – 7 June 2021

Here’s what the SocietyWorks team got up to during the latest sprint.

FixMyStreet Pro

This sprint the team hosted an informative Show & Tell session for Buckinghamshire Council, impressively titled ‘The Art of the Possible’. The aim of this session was to outline some of the new improvements available for FixMyStreet Pro, as well as to provide an overview of how WasteWorks, our waste management service, and ApplyForIt, our licensing application service, could bring further improvements for the Council. These improvements include: an enhanced customer journey; extra streamlined data flow from back office systems; adding additional service areas to reflect unitary status; additional asset layers; augmented mapping.

NoiseWorks

Not satisfied with just one Show & Tell session this sprint, we also met up with our friends at Hackney Council to show them the latest progress on our in-development noise case management service. The focus this sprint was on examining the mobile app experience for officers in the field. We gained valuable feedback and insights, with 100% of officers stating the NoiseWorks experience would save them time. Can’t get better than that!

WasteWorks

Also this sprint, we’ve been working hard with Bromley Council on their online green garden waste payments system – part of the WasteWorks service. This system will allow Bromley to generate income from new subscriptions, renewals and direct debits for their green garden waste collection service. This will be going live next sprint. 

Other projects

Another Bromley project, we’ve been doing some work on a CRM project for them, as well as integrating parks into their installation of FixMyStreet Pro, so that residents can now search by park names. Alongside this, we ticked several smaller Freshdesk enquiries from clients off the list, and added a new logo to Zurich’s version of FixMyStreet Pro.

SocietyWorks Team 

And finally, an exciting update on the SocietyWorks team: we are very happy to announce that we have recruited two new developers who will be joining the team very soon!

Got questions about anything we worked on this sprint? Get in touch.

Image: manfredrichter

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