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
When it comes to improving the FixMyStreet user experience, we’ve recently been giving a lot of (well-deserved) attention to the mobile experience of our website, through which around 40% of website reports were made in the last three months.
You might have seen us talking in December about how we’re exploring the use of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) to help the FixMyStreet site look, work and feel like an app without actually being one.
Well, following on from that, here’s a rundown of some of the new improvements we have been, and will soon be working on to make using the website on a mobile device an even smoother experience.
Continuing to ensure that the process of submitting a report on FixMyStreet is as smart and uncomplicated as possible, we’ve been designing a simpler reporting form for mobile users.
Taking inspiration from some user groups we carried out over the course of the last year, we’ve been building on some of the best bits of our existing mobile app and applying them to the web version of the site so that more users can benefit from them – including users of the various council versions of FixMyStreet Pro.
One of these ‘best bits’ takes the form of a ‘one detail at a time’ question and answer format, delivered in a logical order. This approach helps to avoid overwhelming the user – they don’t have to think of everything at once and are less likely to exclude key information, or indeed include irrelevant information.
Plus, if a citizen wants to make a report on-the-go from their mobile, this simplifies the process for them by making it much more digestible and permitting much easier map asset selection without needing to interrupt the report flow.
In a bid to make FixMyStreet’s interface more forgiving for mobile users, we’re working on applying an even more touch-friendly design to the site, which will further help to make it feel and respond like it’s an app.
To make this happen, we’ve introduced a more responsive category picker, better map controls and a more obvious ‘use my location’ feature to facilitate selecting location data that’s as accurate as possible.
With these changes in place, FixMyStreet will be faster and easier to use on a mobile device, dramatically improving the citizen user experience.
When a citizen cares enough about their local neighbourhood to make the effort to report a problem to the council, the last thing you want to do is to make them feel like the process of doing so is too difficult or long-winded to be worth it.
Councils using FixMyStreet Pro will know that the service already provides a report summary at the final stage of the process to help increase report accuracy and reduce the risk of users abandoning their report before inputting their contact details.
Wanting to take that one step further with our new ‘one thing at a time’ format, our eventual aim is to have the report summary show up at the top of each stage of the form filling process, so that citizens can see their progress and receive a constant reminder of why they’re here and why it would be a shame to quit without completing the report.
Following some research we carried out recently into how photos make FixMyStreet reports 15% more likely to be recorded as fixed, we wanted to dedicate some time to thinking about how we can encourage users to begin a report with a photo, instead of it being an optional extra.
While it’s a long way off being something we can implement, our thinking is that, aside from increasing the likelihood of reports being marked as fixed, one of the key advantages of enabling this feature would be that, under the right circumstances, it could give us the capability to use the photo to autofill other details, such as recognising the category the report belongs to, the GPS location and other useful data that is embedded into photos taken on mobile devices. This means reports which start with a photo would be much quicker and easier to complete for citizens, and much more accurate and actionable for council staff.
Last but by no means least, another new feature we’re still in the exploration stage of working on is one that we hope will make reports easier to read and browse for citizens and council staff alike. Although this one isn’t specifically a mobile feature, it would likely benefit mobile users of the website the most, if and when we’re able to implement it.
Knowing that FixMyStreet users sometimes get confused between the summary field and the details field, which can lead to one or both of them containing repeated or irrelevant information, we’re exploring how we can remove the burden of inputting this information from the user by automating the process and reducing the amount of user-generated information we need to ask for.
We’re still exploring how best we can do this, but the end result should be a better standard of information available for council staff to browse, with clearer email subject lines, easier case prioritisation and no time wasted by users writing what ends up being unhelpful information.
And that’s it for now! As we’ve mentioned, some of these improvements are still in the exploration or developmental stage, so while we can’t say exactly when they will be rolled out just yet, there’s certainly lots to look forward to!
In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about any of the work we’re doing on FixMyStreet, or you want to chat to us about any of our other services, do get in touch with us.
When citizens are subscribed to receive email updates about a FixMyStreet report by council staff, they will now receive an email to acknowledge their subscription straight away.
If you’re familiar with our FixMyStreet Pro service, you’ll know that it allows citizens to subscribe to updates on existing issues rather than re-reporting. It’s a nifty feature that helps to give citizens a transparent view of how problems are being dealt with and reduces duplicate reports, saving councils time and money.
But did you know that council staff can also manually subscribe citizens to FixMyStreet reports if they need to?
Say, for example, a citizen has called your customer service centre to report a pothole that’s already been reported to you via FixMyStreet. If that citizen wants to stay informed about what happens next regarding fixing the pothole, you can subscribe them to the original FixMyStreet report. This way, they’re kept in the loop whenever an update is issued by staff within your case management system, and they shouldn’t need to call you back about the issue.
All sounds good, right?
It is, but there was one thing that Oxfordshire County Council pointed out could make it even better.
They realised that, on certain occasions when the time between the citizen being subscribed to a report by council staff and an email being sent with an update was a little longer, the citizen was sometimes forgetting why they were receiving the email, and would call the council again to ask.
So to combat this, we’ve now introduced a new subscription confirmation email to the FixMyStreet Pro service. This means that when council staff manually subscribe a citizen to a report, the citizen receives an email to acknowledge the subscription straight away. It’s a simple step that should help to alleviate any confusion in the event of the first email update about the report not arriving for several days.
The subscription acknowledgement email is now in place for all councils using FixMyStreet Pro.
If you have any questions about this new feature, or you have an idea for another, let us know.
Image: Steven Phillips on Unsplash
Were you aware that councils, as registered Public Sector Geospatial Agreement (PSGA) members, get free, unlimited access to Ordnance Survey’s Premium Maps API?
Peterborough City Council were, and so, using an API key, we’ve just completed some work updating the OS maps displayed on their instance of FixMyStreet Pro – and don’t they look magnificent?
So what’s different about these maps, aside from being very nice to look at?
Well, the high-level OS maps available in this way show a lot more detail to citizens, especially when tiles are zoomed in, which should help them to make more accurate reports about streets and highways defects.
Using the API should also produce a faster loading time for tiles and removes the need for watermarks.
Another benefit of displaying maps like this is that councils don’t need to provide us with the source data for the maps or worry about keeping it up to date; OS will take care of that.
Of course, councils who have their own map servers can already display data in this way via FixMyStreet Pro, but for those who don’t host their own map tiles, the OS Maps API offers a really neat solution.
Or, if you’re a council already using FixMyStreet Pro and you would like to explore connecting up your OS Maps API, let us know.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
FixMyStreet Pro customers can now take advantage of a new feature for the service: the ability to connect to Notify and send status updates via text.
Just like a lot of the new service features we develop at SocietyWorks, they often start off as a great idea from a client.
On this occasion, it’s Hackney Council we have to thank; they came to us a few months ago with the desire to connect their GOV.UK Notify account with their FixMyStreet Pro instance in order to give citizens more options for staying informed about their reports.
It made perfect sense to us, so together we’ve been working on this co-funded piece of development, which, now that it’s completed, is available to all of our Pro customers. The work involved adapting the FixMyStreet SMS authentication functionality and adding the Notify functionality as the new SMS backend provider for the verification step.
For Hackney, the integration with Notify means that when a report is made to them, the site asks the report-maker for either their email address or mobile phone number, which, once verified, will create an account and enable the Council to provide text or email notifications about the report.
If you’re a Pro client and you’d like to connect your Notify account to your instance of FixMyStreet Pro, send us a message in helpdesk.
Not a Pro client yet but interested in becoming one? Get in touch with us here.
Image: Ono Kosuki on Pexels
There’s been lots happening during the second sprint of the year – here’s what the SocietyWorks team has been working on.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
At LocalGovCamp, our designer Martin ran an interactive exercise that took attendees through a ‘consequence scanning’ exercise, as a way to predict and mitigate all the outcomes, both positive and negative, of a proposed piece of development.
In this case, the service under discussion was a fictional parking violation reporting app.
Let’s just repeat that, in case of any angry reactions: fictional!
So, what could possibly go wrong with a piece of tech designed to encourage residents to grass on fellow citizens for their poor parking? You can see how it played out in this video:
Now you’ve seen a consequence scanning exercise in action. If you’d like to understand more about the process, read on: this is how Martin explained the whole idea to us here at mySociety, with more detail on the underlying principles:
We’ve been working on a few sensitive projects recently – specifically our work expanding FixMyStreet Pro to cover issues of a more social nature, like noise reporting, antisocial behaviour, that sort of thing.
As experienced as we are with the ‘make a report by sticking a pin in a map’ style of interaction design, we recognise the need for extra care when applying this to issues that are about people, rather than things. There’s an increased risk of building a tool that results in unintended negative consequences; especially where the service concerns an area already prone to controversy.
mySociety Board member Jonathan Flowers put us in touch with Connected Places Catapult, who had been using ‘Consequence Scanning’ for this very thing, and we realised it was just what we needed.
It’s a structured system for drawing out the consequences of a new idea, and giving people a say in what actions are used to mitigate or address them. It originated from the Doteveryone thinktank, and CPC have taken it forward and customised it for their needs.
In Consequence Scanning, consequences are classified as either intended or unintended, with the important distinction that intended consequences aren’t always positive, and unintended consequences aren’t always negative.
The process is delivered in a workshop format and works best with a good mixture of participants with diverse views and backgrounds, directly involved in the service on both sides. This means ideally both service users and service officers should take part and be prepared to be honest about consequences. For this reason it’s important to create a safe space where information can be shared honestly and openly.
The process is split into three parts:
Part one: What are the consequences?
Part two: What are the positive consequences we want to focus on?
Part three: What are the unindented consequences we should mitigate?
This system works best on a new, but defined idea. If it’s done too early in the design process, the consequences end up being very general, or people bring their own assumptions and often focus on the wrong things. It’s best to bring it in once scope has been defined.
The primary function is to identify the consequences and not to “solutionise” the mitigations, but the group should be free to discuss possible mitigations where they feel it’s important.
We’ve been using Consequence Scanning in our work on noise reporting and antisocial behaviour, and it’s also proving useful for our internal anti-racism action group, where we want to understand the potential unintended results of any future development in terms of who our services reach, and who they exclude.
Image: Drew Graham