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Automatically triage reports to parish and town councils with FixMyStreet Pro

Recently we’ve been working with Buckinghamshire Council on introducing some new functionality to FixMyStreet Pro, our integrated street, highway and environment reporting service, to enable automatic triaging of reports to town and parish councils, and better ways of passing reports between authorities.

Parish and town councils

Map showing all the town and parish councils in England and Wales

Parish and town councils cover almost the entirety of England and Wales, except for the main urban areas. There are 10,000 parish or town councils in England (National Association for Local Councils), and over 730 town and community councils in Wales (Welsh Local Government Association).

These councils take responsibility for a variety of things within the community, such as bridleways, bus shelters and litter bins, and they sit within larger principal authorities which may also sometimes be responsible for the same things in certain cases.

For this reason, when there’s a problem that needs reporting, it can be hard for citizens to know which level of authority is responsible for what problem and when.

New functionality for FixMyStreet Pro

FixMyStreet has always been able to automatically divert fault reports to other councils and authorities, based on the location and category of the report – but not at the parish level. Until now.

With the new functionality in place, parish and town councils can be set up as sub-bodies to a principal council within its instance of FixMyStreet Pro, and on the national FixMyStreet site. 

This way, categories can be assigned to more than one body, and asset layers can be placed over the map to enable the service to work out for the report-maker whether the report needs to go to the principal authority or the parish level council.

Case study: Buckinghamshire

Buckinghamshire’s town and parish councils

Buckinghamshire Council is a unitary authority, but the county itself is made up entirely of parish and town councils. Residents can report numerous issues via Buckinghamshire’s FixMyStreet Pro site, some of which are the responsibility of the unitary council, others the responsibility of the parishes.

Previously, Buckinghamshire staff were forwarding reports to individual parish councils wherever necessary, but this wasn’t ideal, so they asked us to make it possible for FixMyStreet Pro to work out for the resident where the report needs to go, and to send it there without the need for any manual intervention. 

For example, any reports of fly posting are now diverted straight to the correct parish, based on the geo location information provided within the report.

In more complex cases, such as grass cutting, the recipient of these reports depends on the speed limit of the road. So, at one end of the road a grass cutting report might need to go to the parish, but at the other end of the road the report needs to go to the unitary council. 

Aylesbury Town Council’s own section of Buckinghamshire’s FixMyStreet Pro service

Thankfully, the report-maker never needs to worry about this, because Buckinghamshire’s FixMyStreet Pro uses a speed limit asset layer, in addition to the geo-location and category, to work out where to send the report.

Additionally, from Buckinghamshire’s FixMyStreet Pro site, you can now view each individual parish or town council on its own map, along with the reports it has received. 

Wider benefits to councils

While Buckinghamshire and its parishes were the focus when building this new functionality, a few of the features we introduced are beneficial to all users of FixMyStreet Pro.

Updating report statuses via email

Arguably the most important one of these features is the ability to provide updates on reports without integration into a backend system. 

As you can imagine, most small parish or town councils don’t have expensive backend systems from which to manage inbound reports. In the past, whenever there’s been no backend system with which to integrate FixMyStreet Pro to facilitate a two-way flow of data, the only option would have been to email the reports.

In the spirit of keeping the feedback loop closed and being able to publicly display a report’s status (eg ‘fixed’ or ‘in progress’) on the site, we’ve made it possible for parish councils to update reports via email using a special code in the subject line, which will correspond to the new status of the report.

Of course, lots of councils or other authorities receiving reports from FixMyStreet may not have a backend system, so this feature is a really positive step forward in ensuring that feedback can always be provided transparently via the platform.

Private text updates

Another feature that will be of use to more than just parish and town councils and their principal authorities is the ability to specify different text to be displayed on the public report update and the private update sent directly to the report-maker. 

This is useful for sharing any extra information that you may not want to display publicly, such as feedback surveys.

Recategorising reports

Finally, Buckinghamshire wanted to be able to recategorise reports, because citizens sometimes select the wrong category. This could lead to reports being sent to a parish council when they should go to the unitary council, or vice versa. 

Now, council staff have the option to reassign a category if needed, which will ensure the report gets to the right place in the end.

For more information about FixMyStreet Pro, you can contact us here.

Image: Beth Jnr on Unsplash

Schedule out of hours messages to display on FixMyStreet Pro

Evenings and weekends, bank holidays or special occasions – there are lots of times when councils and other local government bodies using our street and highway fault reporting service FixMyStreet Pro need to communicate out of hours information with citizens. 

On such occasions, it’s important that this information is shared with them before a report is made, to manage expectations, divert emergencies and reduce the likelihood of failure demand.

Happily, doing exactly that just got a lot easier, thanks to a new feature of FixMyStreet Pro, which enables staff to schedule out of hours messages in advance.

 

Easily share out of hours information

This new feature builds upon some existing functionality, which, until now, enabled a message to be hardcoded onto the homepage of FixMyStreet Pro sites, to be displayed at all times, most commonly used for communicating emergency contact numbers.

Now, not only can messages can be easily set up from the FixMyStreet Pro dashboard for both the homepage and reporting pages, a separate message can also be scheduled to display during pre-selected out of hours time periods, to explain, for example, how reports will be handled during this time, when to expect a reply and where to go if the issue is an emergency.

This is especially beneficial to councils and other agencies that have different procedures for handling emergencies within and outside of working hours – procedures which citizens cannot be expected to know off by heart.

For example, your out of hours emergency phone number might be different from the one you want citizens to use during normal working hours.

An example of how Central Bedfordshire Council uses FixMyStreet Pro’s emergency message functionality on the homepage of their Pro site

 

Setting up messages

Messages for both the homepage and reporting pages can be set up by your staff within the admin dashboard of FixMyStreet Pro, with the option to write a different message for each page if required. 

During scheduled out of hours time periods, the out of hours message will be displayed to report-makers. At all other times, the normal message will be displayed. 

If you only require messaging to be displayed during out of hours, then only the out of hours text box needs to be filled in and a time period selected. Equally, if no messaging is required, then both can be left blank.

There’s no limit to how many time periods can be scheduled, and schedules can be edited or removed easily whenever necessary.

 

Thinking outside the box

As with most of FixMyStreet Pro’s features, the out of hours message scheduler originated as a great idea suggested by a council using the service. 

Although it was originally intended for sharing emergency procedures and out of hours information, the message function can also be used for other purposes.

For example, Bromley Council uses it to advertise its green garden waste service.

Bromley Council uses FixMyStreet Pro's message functionality to signpost to its green garden waste service

To find out more about FixMyStreet Pro, why not request a short demo with the SocietyWorks team?

Image: Frank Busch on Unsplash

SocietyWorks is launching a new online applications and licensing portal for councils

We’re thrilled to be introducing a new product for councils into our suite of citizen-centred digital services: ApplyWorks will provide a user-friendly front-end workflow for taking online applications and payments for a variety of residential and business purposes.

From dropped kerbs and H-bar markings to trading licences, taxi licensing and skip hire ApplyWorks will adapt to whatever combination of service areas a council requires, while providing the same easy and intuitive user experience for applicants, and for customer services making applications on their behalf.

 

Sequence showing how ApplyWorks will work from a resident's perspective

Like all of SocietyWorks’ cloud-based products, ApplyWorks will enable integration with councils’ existing systems to streamline the application experience and close feedback loops. In this case, it will be payment providers and CRM systems, such as Confirm, Civica Pay and Worldpay. 

Using our smart geo-location technology and in-application prompts, ApplyWorks will help people to make more accurate and comprehensive applications. 

Specialised licensing features will be available for more complex service areas such as market trader pitches and taxi licensing. These features include asset layers, calendars and attendance registers.

ApplyWorks will be launching later on this year. If you would like more information or to get involved with the development process, please drop us a message.

Assign reports to inspectors with FixMyStreet Pro

For councils that don’t have an existing case management system, FixMyStreet Pro’s inspector tool allows staff to receive, manage and respond to reports directly from the front-end of the service.

The inspector tool works by enabling council staff to build up a shortlist of reports that they’re responsible for dealing with. It’s a neat little feature – and it just got even more useful.

Up until recently, reports had to be found and self-assigned by the individual staff members who would be taking ownership of them. 

Now, after working with our clients Cheshire East Council, we have developed the functionality to allow managers to directly assign inspectors to particular reports on their behalf.

Assign inspectors to reports with FixMyStreet Pro's inspector tool

This means that, when logged in to the front-end of FixMyStreet Pro, managers can view who’s been assigned to each report, and can assign or reassign reports to individual team members. 

Managers can also filter by report status to see how reports are progressing, and can bulk assign or reassign reports as needed.

Council staff can filter by report status via the inspector tool on FixMyStreet Pro

For inspectors, the tool’s new feature means less time assigning themselves to reports and more time carrying out their inspections. Plus, because FixMyStreet Pro provides offline support, reports can be updated on-the-go, even without connection to the internet.

For councils like Cheshire East, the inspector tool replaces legacy pen and paper systems, improving the way reports are assigned and managed without the need to integrate with an external case management system.

The inspector tool has been made available to all FixMyStreet Pro customers.

Got any questions? Let us know.

FixMyStreet version 4.0 is here

We have released a new version of our open source report-mapping software on FixMyStreet Platform, which enables citizens across the world to set up and run websites like FixMyStreet and match geographical points to email addresses, for free.

FixMyStreet 4.0 incorporates numerous new features, and is available to anyone running a site on the platform, including our own fixmystreet.com, the versions we provide for councils and other public sector organisations and the many international FixMyStreet websites run by others from Croatia to Uruguay.

Here’s an overview of what you can expect from version 4.0.

Multi-page reporting form

An even more simple and logical reporting form which takes a ‘one detail at a time’ approach, helping the report-maker to provide the most accurate information without getting overwhelmed. You’ll also notice that we’ve switched from a category drop-down to radio buttons, for the particular benefit of mobile users.

 

Photo redaction

Version 4.0 also includes photo redaction support, enabling you to moderate parts of a photo that should not be public without removing the whole photo. Photos can be modified individually, and once saved, the changes to the image will be reflected everywhere it is displayed. If you need to revert a redaction or you want to remove the entire image, you still can with no hassle.

Development Docker environment

There’s now a development Docker environment, which should make it easier for anyone wanting to create their own website using the platform to spin up a local copy of the code for development. If you have Docker and Docker Compose installed, a fresh clone and then docker/compose-dev up should set everything up for you.

Other improvements

Report-makers can now specify a radius when signing up for an email alert, the mobile site has an improved navigation menu and the search box supports Maidenhead Locator references.

See the full list of version 4.0 features and all the information you need for upgrading on the FixMyStreet Platform blog.

Image: Sri Jalasutram

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

SocietyWorks is working with Hackney Council to produce a noise case management service

Hackney Council noise case management sprint notes: 11 May – 25 May 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.

We are now halfway through the Alpha phase of the project, which involves prototyping, testing and iterating the noise case management service. This sprint the testing focussed on how we could allow Hackney staff to filter and manage multiple cases, and this led to some really useful follow-up conversations with Principal Officers, which identified a more action-based approach as an intuitive way to help them quickly pick up and understand cases.

Findings from this sprint’s prototype testing included:

  • The importance of displaying full addresses when listing cases – including street and flat numbers.
  • Being able to find or filter cases by letters or notices that have been served to the perpetrator – this would help officers identify cases that need follow-up.
  • Ideas for better ways of prioritising cases – for example, by repeat offenders, breaches of notice, multiple complaints, or priority categories (like car alarms).
  • The usefulness of displaying actions that have been taken on a case, such as contact with residents, visits, notices, referrals.

Whilst ASB isn’t within the scope of this phase of the project, there is naturally some crossover between the noise and ASB teams at Hackney. This sprint we had a really energising meeting with members of the ASB team, where Beth and Soraya (the leads on this project at Hackney) took the team through the work we’ve done so far, to ensure we’re sharing as much knowledge as possible and learning from each other.

We’re proud to be working alongside Hackney Council to develop the new NoiseWorks product, and have already had some great feedback the staff at Hackney – Gerry, the Service Manager for Enforcement, in particular, thanked us for the work we’re doing, and appreciates that we’re taking the time to really involve and listen to the team.

Next sprint, we’ll be 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’.

Image: Justus Menke

Noise case management with Hackney Council

Hackney Council noise case management: sprint notes 27 April – 11 May 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.

We’ve moved to Alpha!

Work continues on the NoiseWorks product that we’re undertaking with Hackney Council to produce a robust, well-tested case management system for resident noise reports. 

While our Discovery phase saw us interviewing Hackney staff to understand everyone’s working processes and pain points with both current and past case management systems, the Alpha is an opportunity to test what we’ve learned, and really narrow down on a user needs focussed noise case management product. 

Each sprint during the Alpha we’ll be testing a different aspect of the workflow. This most recent sprint has been dedicated to the experience of creating, viewing and updating a single case. 

Hackney Enforcement team members have been individually invited to check out a Google Form which contains step-by-step questions and screenshots, as well as links to clickable prototypes. Forms like these are a great way to gather Alpha feedback that works around officers’ busy schedules, and also ensures we get clear, actionable information that can inform future rounds of prototyping and carve the path towards Beta.

We’ve seen some interesting feedback come out of the prototypes, for example: 

  • A much clearer steer on the first thing officers need to do when faced with a new case – 85% said they’d first check that all the complaint details and contact details were present and correct, so we’ll be looking to make that quicker to verify.
  • An increased emphasis on the exact location or identifying features of the noise source, such as vehicle registration numbers – especially when it comes to detecting multiple complaints that could be treated as part of the same “case”.
  • A reassuring sign that two thirds of respondents thought this product could help them save time compared to their current or past case management systems.

We’ll continue to work and evolve the prototypes with the feedback we’re receiving from the team at Hackney. 

We’re also making sure we maintain a balance between what staff users need without compromising on the citizen experience by asking Hackney residents to get involved with testing. Hackney have added a call-out on their Hackney Matters emails, which are sent to local residents, asking for citizens to get involved and give feedback – 22 people have already signed-up! Plus, we’re asking people who submit noise complaints whether they’d like to take part too. We’ll be making use of these contacts in a later sprint.

Got a question about this project? Ask us here.

Image: Possessed Photography

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

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