B&NES opted for top-to-bottom case management with the FixMyStreet Pro Avenue package, bringing digital transformation across the board.
With channel shift being one strong motivation for the project, it’s perhaps apt that mySociety conducts so much of its development process remotely. Why? Because just as frontline staff were going to have to get used to a new online system, so their managers and IT team would also be getting a taste of this style of working! James found it a reasonable way to get things done:
“Our contact with the mySociety development team using Slack and regular conference calls meant the project developed effectively, if organically.”
Slack, an online messaging service that also allows the easy sharing of documents as well as quick, efficient discussion, was where much of the communication took place. We at mySociety are big fans — though we recognise it can take a little getting used to — because it means all decisions, references and documents are in one place, and can be easily searched for if they’re needed again.
Once the FixMyStreet software is all set up, and speaking happily to other council systems, then comes the task of introducing staff to their new ways of working.
B&NES weren’t just switching to FixMyStreet Pro, however: its introduction was one part of a number of changes to working practices for frontline staff, including a drive to get workers away from paper print-outs and onto digital devices. This could have been a daunting situation for all involved, but as James explains, it went quite well:
“FixMyStreet was rolled out by our Digital team to Waste officers as part of a larger set of operational changes, including moving towards using mobile devices to manage reports and other service scope changes.
“Although for many this was a huge leap, the teams were able to adapt quickly and effectively to the changes.The cleansing teams in particular are now able to respond more quickly and directly to reports, and manage their day to day workload effectively.”
As this graphic shows, just after FixMyStreet Pro implementation, online reports represented 39% of the total. By the final three months of the sample period, this had risen to 73%.
Mediated reports, that is, reports where the citizen required some assistance from the council’s staff in order to log them, dropped by a substantial 56% – further proof of FixMyStreet Pro’s ability to bring savings through channel shift.
Ditching the paper is a good thing all round, and not just because of the obvious environmental benefits — it can also play a huge part in maximising efficiency:
“One aim of our Digital programme is to enable the organisation to use more efficient and effective channels wherever possible. This includes using paperless systems.”
And FixMyStreet Pro offers a great amount of help here, with inspectors able to create shortlists of reports and plot their routes online — no print-outs required. If there’s low connectivity in some areas, it’s no problem either, as FixMyStreet can still operate offline: it just syncs everything up when a connection is available again.
“FixMyStreet enables officers to access reports as and when needed, while out and about as well as in offices or depots. This means that we can respond to reports quicker, and using the right resources.”
It’s early days yet to see any concrete figures, and all the more difficult given that FixMyStreet Pro was implemented along with all the other changes in the council’s push to digital. But James says there’s been a definite result when they look at channel shift, even though they’re holding off from publicising the service so the official launch can coincide with other changes to their own website:
“For our Highways reports specifically we now get around 35% of reports made online, opposed to 20% before FixMyStreet was deployed, the rest being made through our contact centre. This has been a very positive outcome as we have not yet engaged in any public comms about the system.”
And report numbers also appear to be reduced:
“It’s still early to make definitive assessments, but the data collected so far suggests that where FixMyStreet has been deployed, services are now receiving fewer reports. This could be attributed to a reduction in duplicate reports being made, or by fewer customers chasing reports.”
This would align with our own expectations: because FixMyStreet publishes all reports online, it is easy for people to see if something’s been reported before, and therefore doesn’t need a new input. And since B&NES opted for full integration, status updates get pushed automatically back to the report-maker and to the report’s webpage, keeping everyone informed, hence the cut in customers chasing up to see where their report has got to.
OK, so that sort of result looks set to keep the management happy. But what about the frontline staff who have to use the software every day? James says things are positive:
“Feedback from staff across the organisation is almost unanimously positive, in stark contrast to that of the system FixMyStreet replaced. Reports are much more accessible to the people who need to see them, and this enables B&NES to give more consistent feedback to residents then we were previously able.
“Some teams are finding it much easier to manage their workload. In particular Cleansing team supervisors are finding they have to intervene less in their team’s day-to-day work management, giving them more time to complete their own work.”
That’s great, though as James points out, as you might expect with any new system, there are a few issues to resolve. In particular, he identifies the templated responses as something that will need tweaking over time.
FixMyStreet Pro allows an automated response to go back to the report-maker, and the report web page, when the status changes — so for example, when the issue goes from ‘report received’ to ‘under inspection’ and ultimately to ‘resolved’.
Of course, within a few simple status categories there can be a wealth of different real-world experiences, so templated responses do not always satisfy the person making the report. If you’ve taken the time to report a problem, not knowing that it doesn’t actually fall within the council’s responsibilities, for example, then ‘issue closed’ may feel like a smack in the face, as James understands:
“One unforeseen challenge has been getting customer expectation management and feedback right.
“For some users the simple improvement FixMyStreet brings over previous systems, in providing status changes on reports, is very welcome. However for others the level of feedback we provide using the template function isn’t sufficient in terms of their expectations or the complexity of the issue they reported.
“The challenge we face is how to provide the required amount of information to a resident within a limited set of templated responses that have to cover a broad and often complex set of issues. This is one aspect of FixMyStreet that could be improved in future — it’s possible that a cleverer template system could respond in a more personal way to customers, without staff having to provide ad-hoc feedback for each problem report.”
We love to hear this sort of feedback from councils, because we can feed it directly into our development plans for the constantly-evolving product.
Other concerns we were interested to hear about were around just how easy it is for customers to make reports, and the fact that they, and follow up comments, are all published online.
Of course, usability and transparency are two of FixMyStreet’s great selling points: we pride ourselves on providing a service that pretty much everyone can use with ease; and we see great value in publishing all reports so that councils and residents alike can get a true picture of what the issues are within their neighbourhood, and how much work the authority is putting in to resolve them.
But with these advantages, some would argue, comes the potential for too many reports, or for abuse:
“Some parts of the organisation have had concerns, ranging from the availability of online reporting uncovering latent demand , to the impact that residents discussing issues on FixMyStreet might have on the council’s reputation.
“Although some issues have not materialised and some early concerns have been unfounded or even turned out to be more positive, there are still things that the organisation would like to look at to help with wider advocacy for the system. This is not always about how the system works, but may be inherent in moving an organisation from more traditional methods to online digital solutions like FixMyStreet.”
As James acknowledges, it’s as much an issue of internal buy-in as it is a reputational one. In our experience, the incidence of abusive reports or comments on FixMyStreet is extremely low — the borough of Bromley, for example, recently told us that these days they’re only finding around 0.05% of all reports require removal or amendment.
And of course, our moderation tools make it simple for customer services staff to unpublish or edit any content which is unsuitable.
When it comes to the potential for receiving more reports, we’d suggest that it’s better for councils to know about every issue within their boundaries, so that they can prioritise, plan and budget accordingly — not to mention managing their residents’ expectations. There are a number of ways that FixMyStreet can help with the latter, for example with messaging placed within the report-making process, in consultation with the council.
But all in all, B&NES are happy with their new street reporting system. We hope we’ll be able to continue working together to hear what works, and what new features would be welcomed. The final word goes to James:
“Working with mySociety has been a very unique and positive experience, from which both sides have learned a lot. We were fully supported through the development process and were always able to get feedback, advice, etc. when needed.”
That’s what we like to hear!