FOI Works, our citizen-friendly FOI service for public authorities, can now integrate with the iCasework FOI case management service.
Back in 2018, we started working with Hackney Council on a new Freedom of Information service that would improve citizen access to FOI and which could be integrated into their existing case management system via an API.
That service is FOI Works, and we’re very pleased to say that we have recently added a new standard integration for it: iCasework.
FOI Works is an unobtrusive, open-source FOI service for public bodies that provides a user-centred FOI request process, while intelligently leveraging already published information to reduce request volume.
Acting as the easy-to-navigate front door to FOI for citizens, FOI Works integrates seamlessly with case management systems to help divert citizens to potentially relevant responses already published within the case management system’s disclosure log.
Through this integration, FOI Works also removes the need for authorities to do any manual data entry; sending requests straight through to the case management system and immediately allocating a case number to the citizen.
After initially using the Infreemation case management service to manage their FOI requests, Hackney Council recently told us they were switching to iCasework. So, sticking to our promise of connecting our services up to whichever systems our customers choose, we jumped straight into expanding FOI Works’ integration workflow, allowing for a new API connection with iCasework.
While we made some tweaks to the software behind the scenes, the in-built flexibility of FOI Works meant that there has been little to no change or disruption to how the service works for the Council and its residents. This is important because it allows our public authority partners to grow with the software, rather than needing to change everything whenever new or alternative systems are introduced.
Our top priority when it comes to providing public authority services is the citizen, so we’re always thinking about how we can ensure that no matter what integration is required on the backend, the citizen gets the best possible experience on the frontend.
Looking ahead for FOI Works, we’d like to partner up with another public body to build a disclosure log into the service to further ensure that no matter what’s going on behind the scenes, FOI Works can provide citizens with easy access to all of the information they seek, while at the same time helping authorities to reduce the quantity of duplicate or unactionable FOI requests submitted.
FOI Works can be procured as a bolt-on to any case management system for public authorities – find FOI Works on G-Cloud.
Image: Samuel Regan-Asante
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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
2021 might not have gotten off to the easiest of starts, but one thing that will be a bit easier from now on is street reporting in Central Bedfordshire, as we welcome them into the FixMyStreet Pro fold.
For residents of the area, this means that any and all street and highways reports can now be made through the FixMyStreet website or app, or via the council’s website. Wherever a report is made, they’re all going to end up neatly in the same place, thanks to our integration with Central Bedfordshire’s backend management system, Symology Insight.
Frustrated at finding themselves experiencing a higher volume of calls from residents over online reporting (somewhere in the region of 400 extra calls per month!), the Council was in search of a channel shift that would produce a better experience for residents and council staff alike.
While there are cheaper alternatives to FixMyStreet Pro, the savings Central Bedfordshire will now be able to make using a fully integrated system made the investment worth it. That coupled with FixMyStreet’s high-performing, user-centred interface and our years and years of experience integrating into any existing backend set-up made it the ideal solution.
“This is an exciting development for Central Bedfordshire residents as the FixMyStreet system is not only easier, faster to use, and more interactive, it can also connect with other systems to ultimately lead to smarter more efficient services.”
– Councillor Ian Dalgarno, Executive Member for Community Services
There were a number of key issues that Central Bedfordshire wanted to address through this integration with FixMyStreet Pro.
Firstly, they wanted to improve the accuracy of their highways reports, something that FixMyStreet helps to achieve thanks to its user-friendliness, its intelligent asset layer displays and its flexible categories.
Another requirement was to remove the ability for residents to submit reports anonymously, with a view to encourage better quality reporting, easier case management and to facilitate a stronger relationship between resident and council.
They also wanted to reduce the burden on and cost of their customer service team having to manually build reports, double key information and answer calls from residents wanting updates on their case. From now on, rather than having to call the Council for an update or needing to decipher an unfamiliar Symology Insight status code, residents will now receive clear updates on their reports automatically to the contact details they provide. Plus, our transparent approach to reporting means that anyone can view previous reports and subscribe to updates for easy progress tracking, which helps to reduce duplicates and creates a better user experience for residents and council staff alike.
Talking about what a difference this channel shift will make to Central Bedfordshire, Councillor Ian Dalgarno, Executive Member for Community Services, said: “This is an exciting development for Central Bedfordshire residents as the FixMyStreet system is not only easier, faster to use, and more interactive, it can also connect with other systems to ultimately lead to smarter more efficient services.
“As the new system allows users to submit reports against specific council assets, it will be a lot simpler for officers to locate and assess any problems.”
We’re no stranger to integrating with Symology Insight both on premise and hosted, but as with any integration into an existing business system, it takes a lot of hard work and hiccups can happen.
In this case, we ran into an obstacle getting updates to sync from Insight. Thankfully, Central Bedfordshire and Symology were quick to jump into action and we worked together to improve our connector and enable the systems to speak to each other fluently. The end result is a seamless experience for users, who are kept in the loop as soon as their report is updated in Symology by Central Bedfordshire staff.
Now that the button’s been pushed and the Central Bedfordshire version of FixMyStreet Pro is live, we hope it will help to make at least one part of 2021 a little bit easier to manage for the Council and its residents.
If you’re a council and you’d like to explore how SocietyWorks’ services can help you drive efficiencies and save money this year, do get in touch.
Image: Jack Bowers, Central Bedfordshire Council
Here’s everything the SocietyWorks team has been up to this sprint.
Image: Gautam Lakum
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
Here’s everything SocietyWorks is up to this sprint.
As we’ve mentioned previously, we’re working on new functionality around bins and waste as part of the ongoing SocietyWorks brand and product expansion.
This service is coming on apace, and we’re creating a showcase site to demonstrate the new features as they become ready: as yet it’s really just a clickable prototype, but you can have a quick play with it here.
We’re moving forward on a couple of the tickets on our public Roadmap:
We’re a step closer to getting completion photos out of Alloy, and will be adding this to one of our client’s staging sites next week for feedback.
FixMyStreet mobile improvements were demonstrated to everyone at mySociety last Friday — and board members also joined to see what progress has been made. We’re now scheduling in the development work to get these changes live with one of our Developers.
Image: Jilbert Ebrahimi
Here’s everything SocietyWorks is up to this sprint.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, Designer Martin has been looking into the user experience on mobile, making improvements for what is increasingly the most popular way to report.
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.
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.
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.
We’ll be conducting one of our regular scheduled pen tests to ensure the security of FixMyStreet Pro.
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.