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FixMyStreet Pro can display defect pins on the map to show when work has already been scheduled

No report needed: new FixMyStreet map pins show citizens when remedial work has already been scheduled

Developed for Oxfordshire County Council’s instance of FixMyStreet Pro, useful new map pins show citizens when a fix has already been scheduled by the council, further helping to avoid report duplication and manage citizen expectations.

When a citizen makes a report on FixMyStreet.com or on one of the council branded Pro versions of the website, that report is published publicly with a little pin on the map indicating where the defect is. Among the various benefits of this transparent approach to defect report making is the way in which it helps to reduce duplicate reports; the citizen can see that the council has already been made aware of the issue and therefore doesn’t need to submit a new report.

Wanting to take extra advantage of this feature, Oxfordshire County Council approached us last year with a request to display some brand new pins on their maps to show where highways inspectors have already made note of a defect and have scheduled contractors to carry out a repair, thus eliminating the need for anyone to make a report in the first place. 

To collect the information for the new pins, Oxfordshire set up a new standard asset layer feed for FixMyStreet Pro especially for defects that have already been flagged by the Council’s highways inspectors. 

Taking data straight out of Oxfordshire’s backend management system, FixMyStreet Pro’s frontend produces a pin on the map to represent those defects, which can be seen to citizens from the ‘All Reports’ page when zoomed in to a certain level over the corresponding map tiles. These pins are shown in blue to differentiate them from those indicating a citizen-made report.

New defect map pins for Oxfordshire County Council's version of FixMyStreet Pro

Before a citizen places a pin of their own on the map to begin a report, FixMyStreet Pro will display the blue defect pins to helpfully suggest that this could be a problem that’s already been flagged by the Council.

Upon clicking one of the new pins, the citizen will be shown a pop-up containing up-to-date information on the defect, including when a repair is estimated to be completed. 

All of this should help to save the citizen the bother of submitting a report, while for the Council it helps to not just save time and money, but to also instil confidence in residents that defect repairs are all in hand.

SocietyWorks’ services are under continual development and we love taking suggestions for new features from our council partners, like this one from Oxfordshire. If you’d like to find out more about FixMyStreet Pro, or any of our other services, you can schedule a demo here.

Image: Miguel Teirlinck on Unsplash

Northamptonshire FixMyStreet

Smooth sailing through a unitary split: FixMyStreet Pro and Northamptonshire

As you probably know, earlier this month two unitary authorities replaced the two-tier council structure in Northamptonshire – an area where street and highways defect reports are managed via our FixMyStreet Pro service.

Integrated directly into Northamptonshire County Council’s asset management system of choice Yotta Alloy, FixMyStreet Pro, known as Street Doctor in Northamptonshire, acts as the all-important, user friendly front door for citizens who need to report any local problems. This being the case, as well as preparing for some behind the scenes rerouting to ensure that reports would go to the correct place for the two new councils, the pressure was on for the SocietyWorks team to ensure that there would be no interruption to the service for citizens on 1 April when the two councils came into effect.

So how did we do this?

Preparing for the split

One of the main reasons citizens prefer to use FixMyStreet to report issues to the council is that they don’t need to know which council is responsible for what problem, so our first priority was to understand where FixMyStreet would need to send reports after the split, all based on category and location data provided within reports. 

Our MapIt service, which FixMyStreet uses to match councils to the area for which they’re responsible, would have the new authority boundaries in place from 1 April ready to direct reports to the correct council.

The new councils, North Northamptonshire Council and West Northamptonshire Council, were each to absorb responsibility for Northamptonshire’s district councils, which meant writing some code that would work out which council was previously responsible for an issue, and ensuring that those reports continued to go to the correct place until such time as the new councils have designated a new way to receive them.

Next we created two new bodies for North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire, covering their respective district areas and ensuring the report categories were the same across both for consistency. For highways issues, we renamed the existing Northamptonshire County Council body to Northamptonshire Highways.

On the front-end, our design team rebranded Northamptonshire’s instance of FixMyStreet Pro to align with the two new unitary councils. Instead of creating a new website for each council, both councils would be represented on the existing Street Doctor site, making it very easy for citizens to make a report – they wouldn’t need to search for a new place to make a report, nor would they need to know which of the new councils is responsible; we would work all of that out for them.

As before, the website would work seamlessly on any device, giving citizens the ability to make reports wherever suits them best, while helping the new councils to drive channel shift and continue to create savings.

It all comes together

North Northamptonshire Council and West Northamptonshire Council came into being on 1 April 2021. On that date, citizens in Northamptonshire needing to report local problems such as potholes, broken street lights or graffiti were able to do so with no disruption. 

The updated version of Northamptonshire’s FixMyStreet Pro went live at midnight on 1 April, providing citizens with a familiar, easy-to-navigate place to make reports to the two new councils.

At the same time, the new boundary areas were set on MapIt, ready to ensure that reports went to the correct council. These boundaries may be updated again as standard after the upcoming local elections should there be any changes.

Got a question about FixMyStreet Pro? Ask away.

Hackney Council new noise case manegement system sprint notes

Hackney Council noise case management: sprint notes

Those of you who’ve been following our blog closely over the last few months will know that we recently launched a new front-end noise reporting workflow for Hackney Council, designed to give citizens an easier, more secure way to submit a noise-related report to the Council.

Following on from that, we’re now working with Hackney to create a robust, well-tested case management back-end system that simplifies processes for the teams responsible for responding to and managing noise reports.

After a kick off meeting on 16 February, we started our first sprint on the 2 March – 16 March, during which our designer Zarino met with various key stakeholders at Hackney to capture information on how they currently work, and what they would need in order to make their working lives easier when handling noise reports. So far, we’ve had some really useful and insightful conversations and are getting a sense of pain points and areas of complexity. For sprints from 16 March onwards, Gillian will first be working with Louise, Operational Director, and then taking over as DM on the project for SocietyWorks.

Communication is key to any project, especially for one of this size, so as part of the project we’re holding two-weekly Show and Tell meetings, as well as an internal status update call in the weeks between. The Show and Tell meetings are hosted by Hackney, and recorded for stakeholders who aren’t able to attend. This also means they can invite the most relevant people to ensure it keeps everyone updated, but without having to take up too much of their time. We’ve also created a slide template together through which we share information beforehand and allow time for Q&As.

The internal status update acts as a check-in half way through the sprint to make sure things are going as planned, and to see if there are any new risks or blockers that need addressing. As with all of our calls, this is documented and then added to our communication tool, so the notes can be referred back to at a later date. 

We’ll be keeping you updated on the progress of this project every two weeks, so keep a lookout for the next post! 

If you’d like some more information about our new noise service development, or about SocietyWorks’ services in general, you can contact us here

Image: Paul Esch-Laurent on Unsplash

Road in the UK

Sprint notes: 16 Feb – 1 Mar 2021

The arrival of March (how fast did that come around?!) brought with it the end of the fourth SocietyWorks sprint of the year, so here’s your update on what the team got up to.

Magnificent maps

Peterborough City Council's FixMyStreet Pro reporting platform, with new OS maps

This sprint we worked with Peterborough City Council to introduce some new maps to their instance of FixMyStreet Pro using Ordnance Survey’s Maps API (which is totally free for PSGA members such as councils). The high-level OS maps available this way show a lot more detail to citizens, which should result in more accurate reports. We might be biased, but we think the new maps look beautiful.
The new maps are available to all FixMyStreet Pro customers – let us know if you want to display them, too.

Good-looking bins

Also with Peterborough City Council, we created some new bin icons to include on their in-development waste management system. This system will be integrated with Bartec and will allow citizens to report missed bins to the council easily online. Find out more about our new waste service here

Green garden waste

In more waste-related news, our green garden waste project with Bromley Council continues.  This sprint we have been focusing on the citizen forms and how to make the process of completing them as easy as possible. This was based on prototypes first, and is now being coded up after feedback from the client.

Pre-filled forms

Thinking about how we can improve the FixMyStreet Pro citizen user experience further still, we worked on creating the functionality to populate citizens’ details if they’ve already logged in to FixMyStreet to make report-making even smoother.

Customisable email templates

Another FixMyStreet Pro improvement, we’ve been working with London Borough of Bexley, who have recently created new email templates to keep their citizens informed on report progress. This is a key part of the product, and is very flexible, allowing our clients to send custom wording per status and category. 

Talking about noise

Also this sprint, we started our first rounds of interviews for the new noise case management project we’re working on with Hackney Council – we’ll be creating separate sprint notes every two weeks for this too, so look out for them.

Strategic thinking

As there is light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic, we’ve also been looking at what the next three years could look like for SocietyWorks by creating a three-year strategy, giving us a clear path to follow and goals to work towards.

Awards

If you read our previous sprint notes, you’ll know that we’ve set ourselves the goal of celebrating our hard work more from now on. Sticking to our promises, we entered another award this sprint – this time it was the Digital Leaders Impact Awards. We decided on the Social Transformation category, focusing on the positive impact FixMyStreet Pro has on councils and their residents. Wish us luck!

New hires

Last not definitely least, we’re very excited to announce that we have recruited a new Project Manager, who will be starting next week! Once they’ve settled in we’ll introduce them to you all. 

Got any questions about anything we’ve mentioned here? Ask away.

Image: Jack Bassingthwaighte on Unsplash

How FixMyStreet Pro is continuing to improve the user experience for Buckinghamshire Council

The SocietyWorks team has always been very confident in FixMyStreet Pro’s ability to create real, positive change for councils. Better user experience, more intelligent use of data, easier case management for council staff and dramatic savings – and that’s just to name a few.

But of course, the proof is always in the pudding. So we were very pleased to hear recently that, since making the switch to FixMyStreet Pro, Buckinghamshire Council has seen a significant improvement to their customer user journey when it comes to online reporting of highways defects. As a result of this, the Council has been able to create over £32,000 in savings per year.

The story so far

Buckinghamshire Council chose to make the switch to FixMyStreet Pro back in 2018 as a way to improve their street and highways fault reporting customer experience. While residents still have a choice of channels through which they can make highways reports, the Council wanted to be able to offer the most intuitive digital process possible for reports that residents want and are able to make online.

Calls to Buckinghamshire Council’s Customer Service Centre about highways defects have decreased by 49%, which equates to over £32,000 in savings per year

It didn’t take long for FixMyStreet Pro to start delivering against Buckinghamshire’s desired outcomes. Since launching the service, calls to the council about highways defects have decreased by 49% – a clear sign that the online user experience has improved. In fact, for street light defects in particular, calls have decreased by 58%, more than likely helped by the Council’s intelligent use of FixMyStreet Pro’s asset layers, which can display ID numbers for street lights (as well as a number of other assets) to help the user make an accurate selection on the map and reduce duplicate reporting.

The benefits of this improved user experience stretch beyond just the user; for the Council itself the cost per highways report has dropped by up to 98.69%, taking an average report cost down from £7.81 to just 9p. According to Buckinghamshire Council, this equates to over £32,000 in savings per year. So it’s a win for the user and for the Council – and that’s what we love to hear.

What’s next for Buckinghamshire Council and FixMyStreet Pro?

We’re so delighted that FixMyStreet Pro has had such an impact on Buckinghamshire Council already, but we’re not stopping there when it comes to improving things even further.

In light of how successfully FixMyStreet Pro has improved the user experience when it comes to reporting street faults, we’ve been looking into how we could do the same for the process of making claims, too. Buckinghamshire residents can already make claims online to the Council about highways defects, but compared to the defect reporting process, the making a claim process could be much more user-friendly for both residents and council staff. Currently, residents need to provide lots of information up-front, even before it has been established that the claim can be upheld, while staff have to copy information over from the claims form into the Council’s backend management system Confirm, which includes downloading and re-uploading attachments.

After running some service discovery sessions on this, we’ve already made some progress here by improving the connection between Buckinghamshire’s existing claims form and Confirm to drive efficiencies for officers. The next step would be to expand our integration with Confirm and allow users to be able to file an incident report within FixMyStreet itself, as well as reporting the highways defect that caused the incident.

As always, we’ll let you know how the development on this project goes, and hopefully we’ll have some more positive results to share with you in the future!

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If you’d like to find out more about FixMyStreet Pro and have an informal discussion about how the service could work for you, book a short demo here.

Image: Samantha Borges on Unsplash

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

Image by Gautam Lakum - post-it notes and stationary next to a book about sprints.

Sprint notes: 23 Nov- 4 Dec

Here’s everything the SocietyWorks team has been up to this sprint.

  • During the last sprint it was mySociety’s organisation-wide retreat. In one key session, we looked at our strategy for SocietyWorks, including setting some key performance indicators. With colleagues, we participated in a series of workshops to help plan and understand what the next three years could look like for the company.
    One of the methods we used during our workshops was  a ‘lightning decision jam’, which helps get ideas out in the open without judgement or doubt getting in the way; it also helped us prioritise tasks and put the next steps into action.
  • We’ve been working with the team at Central Bedfordshire, putting finishing touches on their FixMyStreet Pro integration: we hope that will be going live in the next week.
  • As part of our progressive web app work, we’ve successfully uploaded a trial version to the Android store and are currently working on the same for the Apple Store (which is proving more complex than we’d originally hoped).
  • We’ve also seen the opportunity to bid for a piece of commercial work, so the whole team has been putting together answers to questions and pulling information from different case studies to show how good FixMyStreet Pro is.
  • We’ve appointed a new Marketing and PR Manager who’ll be joining the team next week.
  • We’re also busy preparing for our Christmas user groups, where we’ll gather clients together online and talk through some new developments, while munching on some mince pies.

Image: Gautam Lakum

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

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.

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