While we pride ourselves on building digital solutions that make it easier for citizens to interact with local authorities, we also want our products to be just as easy to use for the staff members at those authorities. In this blog post, Bekki Leaver, our Head of Product, talks about how we’re currently working on enhancing the admin user experience of SocietyWorks’ digital solutions.
An often neglected facet of designing digital services and the tools that enable them is the experience of the staff user. In SocietyWorks’ case, staff users of our products would be the council staff and sometimes external contractors who use both the administration interface and the front end of our solutions.
Giving equal priority to the admin user experience alongside that of the end user is something I’ve got a keen interest in, because during the course of my professional career I have seen the remarkable benefits to organisations that well thought out staff interfaces and tools can have.
When you’re on the phone to a contact centre and they’re apologising for their slow or unresponsive system, that’s poor customer and staff user experience. When an employee is having to copy and paste fields from a spreadsheet into another tool, that’s poor staff user experience. When you have to know the foibles of a piece of software on top of your area of expertise, that’s poor staff user experience.
For many years the expectations staff have of the tools and software they are required to use in their roles have been low. Using archaic HR platforms to request leave was just something you put up with, but as the workforce changes, and staff become more digitally literate, doing complex, previously unachievable things online every day, their expectations are higher and their tolerance for bad experiences is lower.
The value of good staff user experience parallels that of good customer experience; lower barriers to entry, higher satisfaction, improved relationship. There are also the benefits of better efficiency where intuitive, easy to use interfaces speed up interactions while also involving less training.
Improving the user experience for a product is never a finished task, with expectations changing all the time. Here at SocietyWorks, there’s a lot we would like to do to enhance the staff user experience of our products, which have advanced at a fast rate over the last few years.
Take FixMyStreet Pro for example, which now provides staff users with greater access to more controls and options through its administration interface.
As we continue to grow and expand the administration features and functionality of our products, we are keen to make sure that any improvements we make for the benefit of staff users are guided by those users themselves.
We’ve reached out to a group of authorities that use our solutions to participate in some research involving the staff users of the tool(s), exploring their roles, how our technology fits into their responsibilities and how they use the solution(s) on a day-to-day basis. I’ll be talking to them about their daily tasks, what other tools they might use and where things could be made better for them.
The results of that research will then inform our decisions on improving our products, not just in the case of what it can do, but where information and controls are and how staff users can interact with them. We’ll then set about designing new features, experiences and interactions, with regular testing and feedback opportunities before a phased implementation.
I’m expecting some pretty significant design changes, so watch this space!
Image: Will H McMahan on Unsplash
Mobile users of FixMyStreet and individual branded versions of FixMyStreet Pro can now make reports using a new crosshairs feature.
The crosshairs should make it even easier for report-makers to position the pin accurately on the map when using touchscreens, particularly those on smaller mobile devices.
Here’s an example of how the new crosshairs look within the FixMyStreet reporting workflow, starting with finding the location of the issue you want to report on the map (the crosshairs will automatically display in your location if you select “Use my current location”), placing the pin and then repositioning if needed. Report-makers can pan and zoom in/out of the map as required.
And here’s how the crosshairs look on one of our cobrand FixMyStreet Pro sites (we have used Oxfordshire County Council’s version of FixMyStreet Pro as an example).
The crosshairs have been automatically added to all FixMyStreet Pro sites.
If you are a FixMyStreet Pro client with a question about the crosshairs, please raise a ticket via the helpdesk.
If you are a council or other public body interested in learning more about FixMyStreet Pro, you can get in touch with us here.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
To find out more about FixMyStreet Pro, why not request a short demo with the SocietyWorks team?
Image: Frank Busch on Unsplash
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Image: Sri Jalasutram
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.
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.
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
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:
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
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:
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