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.
Residents of Nantwich, Crewe, Wilmslow, Macclesfield, and every other part of Cheshire East will benefit from the council’s decision to implement FixMyStreet Pro as their official report-making system for highways issues.
FixMyStreet’s interface should come as a step improvement for both citizens and council staff, making the reporting process much simpler for all.
FixMyStreet Pro will be integrating with the council’s existing Confirm CRM. Confirm is a popular choice for UK councils and we’ve dealt with it a lot, so the hook-up was very straightforward.
Customer service staff will also continue taking reports over the phone. They’ll input details into the system for inspectors to pick up — and these reports will also be shown on the council’s website (and fixmystreet.com) so the public can see what’s in progress and doesn’t need re-reporting.
A further benefit is that because FixMyStreet can define the information required from the report-maker (precise location, category, etc), the customer services team won’t need to review it as they had been doing previously.
So there are efficiency wins all round for Cheshire East. We welcome them to the growing number of councils who’ve opted for FixMyStreet Pro.
We know that people are out and about much less during the current lockdown, but here’s something to bear in mind for Peterborough residents who pass a tree that needs attention during their daily excursion. And when this is all over, we hope it will be more widely used.
Tree related issues reported by citizens in Peterborough can now be submitted online using FixMyStreet Pro.
Thanks to collaboration with Peterborough’s tree management system provider RA Information systems, reports made on FixMyStreet are now raised as enquiries directly in Peterborough’s Ezytreev tree management system.
When a citizen picks ‘trees’ as a category, they’ll be shown the location of every tree in the area on the FixMyStreet map. This ensures that they identify the precise positioning, saving time for surveyors.
They’re then presented with categories ranging from ‘fallen branch’ to ‘problem with fungi’, so council staff know precisely what needs attending to. Photos can be added to reports to help depict the issue.
The joined-up system means that tree admin staff no longer have to manually key in enquiries from the public into Ezytreev, while members of the public are kept informed at every step of the way.
Peterborough Council’s trees team can triage the reported issues immediately, and assign to a tree surveyor in the field who receives the inspection straight to their mobile device through Smart-sync. As the tree enquiry is progressed on the Ezytreev tree management system the citizen is kept informed via updates automatically sent through FixMyStreet Pro.
The system was put to the test during the recent storms, which damaged trees and brought down branches. Everything went smoothly: report-making was easier for citizens and dealing with those reports more efficient for council staff.
The new system also allows citizens to suggest where new trees might be planted.
FixMyStreet Pro Sales Director David Eaton said, ‘We’re always pleased to be able to show FixMyStreet Pro’s flexibility by integrating with a system we haven’t previously worked with. This EzyTreev integration is just the latest example of how FixMyStreet Pro can join up with any existing asset management system. And it’s great to know we’re playing a small part in helping citizens to look after their all-important trees across Peterborough.”
Every road user relies on signs, so keeping them tip-top is in everyone’s interest. Now Transport Focus have launched their Sort My Sign campaign, asking road users to help them do just that.
They’d like everyone to report any signs they spot that are dangerous, dirty, broken, or obscured.
To support this programme digitally, Transport Focus came to mySociety, asking if we could help create a simple and intuitive mapping interface where these issues could be reported.
Specifically, the scheme covers signs on roads managed by Highways England, which means motorways and some A roads.
FixMyStreet was the obvious starting point — we already have a data layer for these roads, which means that your everyday FixMyStreet reports can be routed to Highways England rather than the council if they are the responsible body.
Plus, as we’ve detailed many times before, the FixMyStreet platform can be repurposed for any project dealing with location-based reports, and has in the past been put to all sorts of uses, from reporting empty homes to helping fight corruption.
Nonetheless, we perceived one potential challenge when it came to setting up sign reporting.
FixMyStreet is generally well-suited for people making reports on the go — in fact, thanks to the ‘use my location’ functionality, it is ideal for reporting issues like potholes or broken pavements on your mobile while out on a walk. But obviously, road signs are a slightly different matter. If you are driving, you certainly mustn’t be fiddling with your mobile phone, so ‘use current location’ is only helpful if you have an amenable passenger to make the report.
That’s fine — you can always make the report later of course: but that means you’ll need to know roughly where you were when you saw the sign, something that’s a bit trickier on a long drive than it might be on a stroll around your neighbourhood. FixMyStreet allows you to find any UK location with the input of a postcode or street name, but these are details you’re unlikely to have to hand if you have simply driven through.
After some thought we realised that, on a motorway, the location identifier most people will find easiest to recall will probably be the junction number.
So that set us a challenge: how could we best enable ‘search by junction number’?
Ideally, we wanted a user to be able to visit the Sort My Sign site and enter the name of a junction, just as they’d enter a postcode or street on the FixMyStreet homepage — and then to be taken to a map centred on that point.
But sourcing a mapping between motorway/junction number and co-ordinates proved surprisingly tricky. mySociety developer Matthew takes over the story.
“I first looked at OpenStreetMap data — its geocoder, Nominatim, worked really well for some junction numbers, but didn’t work at all for others. If a junction has been assigned a name (like J23 on the M6, which is known as ‘Haydock’) it can only be looked up by that name, not by number. But we wanted users to be able to look up junctions by number.
“I could also export all the junction data from OpenStreetMap, but the junction nodes alone aren’t linked to the motorway, so that looked like it would prove tricky to match up.”
“But by a stroke of luck, I then discovered that someone had used another of mySociety’s services, our Freedom of Information site WhatDoTheyKnow, to make a request to Highways England asking for the positions of all the driver location signs (the repeaters every 100m or 500m along the motorways giving the name and distance from start).
“In response, Highways England had provided that information, so I knew I could use that to at least provide a mapping between location sign and geographic co-ordinates.
“Each sign also had information about what junction it was nearest or between, so by constructing an average of all the location sign co-ordinates associated with a particular junction, I came up with a pretty good estimate for the location of the junction itself.
“I added all the sign and junction data into a small SQLite database (which means it’s portable and doesn’t need to be associated with the main database) and wrote a little bit of code to spot when someone entered a junction name in any of a variety of different formats, then look up the matching location in this database”.
To test this out, Matthew had all his colleagues name their favourite junction… perhaps not to be recommended as a party game, but it did at least prove that his code had cracked the problem.
Something much appreciated by Head of Strategy at Transport Focus, Guy Dangerfield, who says, “mySociety has been excellent in understanding what we needed and finding ways to achieve our objectives.”
You can give the new system a go here — and perhaps bookmark the site so that you know where to report a sign next time you see one that needs fixing.
Once you’re safely off the road, that is.
Bexley’s installation of FixMyStreet Pro went live in June 2019, and as we noted at the time, it integrated with their existing Symology asset management to process reports of highways issues like potholes, graffiti and abandoned vehicles.
Once the system had been running for a little while, Bexley started examining other ways in which FixMyStreet could improve internal workflows and save the borough time and money.
As a result, they have now also integrated with a further two systems: Confirm for trees, parks and ground maintenance issues, and Uniform for some fly tipping issues.
For the report-maker, this keeps things nice and simple: they only have to visit one place and can report any issue across this range of categories. Meanwhile, the council are benefiting from the ability to collect consistent data, which is then passed on to the most relevant back office system depending on which category the reporter selected.
FixMyStreet Pro’s two way integration across all of these linked systems means that when the council update the relevant issue in any of them, it also updates the website and lets the citizen know that there’s an update on their report, or that it’s been resolved. Both citizen and council save time, with no need for a follow-up call to see how the issue is progressing.
We’re also pleased to hear that the customer service centre have adopted FixMyStreet as their main reporting platform internally, as well. This means that staff don’t have to learn and use three different systems: they can easily create a report on behalf of a citizen within FixMyStreet, and rest assured that it will be sent to the correct department.
Back in November, we announced our new partnership with Transport for London. We’re now pleased to say that the new Street Care service is live.
If you’re a seasoned user of FixMyStreet, there’s no learning curve required: you can proceed exactly as normal. If you prefer, you can carry on making reports through the national website at FixMyStreet.com or via the FixMyStreet app.
The only difference is that now, if the issue is the responsibility of TfL, that’s where your report will be routed, and that’s where updates will come from to let you know when the fix is in progress or completed.
The new service covers potholes, roadworks, bus shelters and traffic lights on the capital’s busiest roads — the ‘red routes’, which make up only 5% of the city’s highways, but account for a whopping 30% of traffic. Users can also report graffiti and flyposting, problems with hoardings, scaffolding and mobile cranes, street lights and damaged trees.
As ever, the underlying FixMyStreet platform means that you don’t need to think about who is responsible for your issue. If a problem is reported and it’s nothing to do with TfL, it’ll be automatically routed to the relevant borough or authority.
Glynn Barton, TfL’s Director of Network Management, said: “The TfL Street Care service will give people more information about the work we are doing on London’s road network and at bus stops and reassure Londoners that we really care about getting things fixed.”
It’s one more bit of joined-up thinking for the capital, that will make reporting easier for residents, commuters, and visitors, while also bringing increased efficiency at every stage of the process. We’re delighted to see it up and running.