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SocietyWorks sprint notes for 2 - 15 February 2021

Sprint notes: 2 – 15 February 2021

Days are getting longer, nights are getting shorter and the SocietyWorks sprints are getting busier! Here’s a summary of what we’ve been up to recently.

Working on waste…

If you’ve been following our sprint notes closely, you’ll know that we’ve commenced phase 2 of developing Bromley Council’s new waste service. This sprint we delved a bit deeper into the different APIs we’ll be using, and drafted a technical specification that we shared with Bromley and the third parties involved to get their feedback. We do this because, as part of our processes, we like to make sure we prepare fully, rather than jumping straight into code. This makes for a smoother roll-out, and is also an opportunity for the our customers and any relevant parties to raise any potential issues that may need to be addressed. 

We also continued our work on Peterborough City Council’s new waste service, which involves an intelligent integration with Bartec. It’s coming along nicely and we’ll have more to update you on in the near future.

…and on FixMyStreet Pro, of course

On the FixMyStreet Pro side of things, we worked on several smaller work orders this sprint, including projects for London Borough of Bexley and Bath & North East Somerset Council.

We also looked at how we can roll-out the functionality to send an email when a user is subscribed to a report by council staff on a wider scale – this is something we’ve already built with Oxfordshire County Council, but we see real value in it, so we would like to offer it to all of our council partners. Let us know if this interests you.

Plus, we caught up with our friends at Buckinghamshire Council about how they’ve been getting on with FixMyStreet Pro, which they first switched to back in 2018. We were thrilled to learn that, as the service has improved the user experience for citizens when making a report online, calls to the Council have decreased by 49%, saving Buckinghamshire more than £32,000 per year. Not bad, eh? If you’d like to learn more, we wrote a blog post here.

Giving ourselves more credit

As a team, we’re all really proud of what we do and why we do it, and yet very rarely do we shout about it. Now that our new Marketing & PR Manager Sally is here, we’re going to change this. To that end, we’ve been busy preparing submissions for entering a few awards in the areas of system integration and digital transformation – two things that we live and breathe here at SocietyWorks. Keep your fingers crossed for us, and watch this space!

Growing the team

Sally’s not going to be the new person for very much longer; this sprint saw us conducting interviews for a new Project Manager role. We’re all very excited about this new addition to the team, and we’ll be sure to introduce you as soon as they get started!

Image: Max Conrad on Unsplash

Sprint notes 19 Jan - 1 Feb Featured Image

Sprint notes: 19 Jan – 1 Feb 2021

There’s been lots happening during the second sprint of the year – here’s what the SocietyWorks team has been working on.

Waste product development 

We’re very excited to have started phase two of our work on Bromley’s waste product, which includes incorporating green garden waste and payments into the service. 

We’re working closely with the team at Bromley, Capita and Veolia to create this new system.  Currently, we’re designing the prototypes for the citizen forms to understand what information we’ll need to capture and how to make this as easy as possible for the user to fill in.

Client feedback

In other waste-related news, we’ve been speaking to a few of our clients to get their feedback on features and pricing for our general waste product. We’ll also have a new name for the product confirmed in the next few weeks! If you’re interested in learning more about our new waste service, drop us a line.

GOV.UK Notify

Also this sprint, we’ve applied the finishing touches to the GOV.UK Notify work we’ve been doing for Hackney. This new service is going live on the 4th Feb and is available to all FixMyStreet Pro Gold clients – find out more about how to buy here.

Cookie banners

A hangover task from just before Christmas, we ticked updating client cookie banners off our list this sprint, making sure they’re all as up-to-date as possible.

Marketing and social media

Our new Marketing & PR Manager Sally has been getting her feet under the table and is looking at our overall Marketing goals for the next 3 years, as well as the best ways to spread the news about all the good work we do. You might have noticed during the last sprint that we now have a SocietyWorks LinkedIn account, a SocietyWorks Twitter account and a FixMyStreet Instagram page – go give us a follow!

Internal processes

We’ve taken some time this sprint to look at our internal processes, including how we operate and organise the sprint itself. This is something we’re going to be mixing up a little over the next few weeks – we’ll let you know how it goes!

User groups

Last but definitely not least, with it being February already (we know, we’re shocked too), we’ve started to plan for our summer user groups. We look forward to running these groups every year, and this one is no different. If you’re not familiar with them, have a read of this blog post about our most recent user group and keep an eye out for more details coming soon.

Image: William Santos on Unsplash

Featured Image for Sprint notes 5 - 18 January

Sprint notes: 5 – 18 January 2021

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:

Noise reporting for Hackney

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.

FixMyStreet Pro

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.

Integrations

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.

Service discovery

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.

GOV.UK Notify

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

Communications

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

User groups: how we’re involving clients in new feature planning

When it comes to drawing up plans for future features to add to the FixMyStreet Pro roadmap, it’s really important to us that we consult with the people who will actually be using them before we commit to anything.

That’s why we like to run user groups – events to which we invite clients to join us for a couple of hours to learn about what we’ve been working on and get involved in exploring any features which would be of benefit to them if we were to design them next.

 

Digital collaboration

Not wanting to let the pandemic get in our way of hosting these sessions in 2020, we moved them online, using Zoom to meet up and Miro to collaboratively share ideas.

Our most recent user group ran earlier this month as a perfect way to round off the year and influence our 2021 plans.

As part of the session, we broke off into small groups in order to answer this question: What’s the one thing you wished FixMyStreet Pro did that it doesn’t currently do?

Using Miro, each group was given 15 minutes to bounce ideas around for new features they would like to see on the FixMyStreet Pro service by pinning a digital post-it note to a board. Each idea was then discussed to determine what the feature is, what problem it solves and who would benefit from it. 

Before reconvening, the groups selected their favourite idea to be presented to everyone. The top ideas from each group were then voted upon to determine which was best, using a very snazzy feature of Miro’s platform.

 

Screenshot of the SocietyWorks user group Miro session
Our Designer Martin discusses the top ideas from the group sessions using Miro

 

Fast reactions

On this occasion, the winning new feature suggestion was to introduce the functionality to quickly create a report on a mobile device from a photo. Alex Brown from Island Roads, whose idea this was, explained more:

“If you’re familiar with iPhones and Android, you’ll know that there’s a share function which gives you a shortlist of things you can do with your photos.

“For example, you can open up a photo, press the share button, select your messages app and it takes you straight into the app where you can send the photo to one of your contacts.

“We’d like something similar to that [for FixMyStreetPro], where you can take a photo with your camera, open it, share it, hit FixMyStreet and it takes you straight into the app so you can log your report.”

As our Designer Martin said at the time: “Brilliant!”

A simple, yet smart idea that would make it even easier for citizens to act when they spot a problem within their local area. Plus, as we uncovered recently, reports with photos are around 15% more likely to be recorded as fixed than reports without a photo, so anything we can do to encourage the use of photos within reports can only be a good thing.

And here lies the beauty of running these user groups: not only is it the perfect opportunity for local authorities to discuss and share solutions to problems they’re facing, but it’s also the ideal environment to nurture brilliant ideas that we hadn’t thought of before. 

Going forward, we’re taking Alex’s idea, along with a few other suggestions from the day, into some discovery sessions in order to determine whether and when we can add them to our roadmap.

So, watch this space!

If you would like to come along to one of our future user groups, or you’d like to discuss any ideas of your own, do drop us a message.

Image: Dstudio Bcn on Unsplash

What is consequence scanning?

At LocalGovCamp, our designer Martin ran an interactive exercise that took attendees through a ‘consequence scanning’ exercise, as a way to predict and mitigate all the outcomes, both positive and negative, of a proposed piece of development.

In this case, the service under discussion was a fictional parking violation reporting app.

 Consequence Scanning

Let’s just repeat that, in case of any angry reactions: fictional!

So, what could possibly go wrong with a piece of tech designed to encourage residents to grass on fellow citizens for their poor parking? You can see how it played out in this video:

 

Now you’ve seen a consequence scanning exercise in action. If you’d like to understand more about the process, read on: this is how Martin explained the whole idea to us here at mySociety, with more detail on the underlying principles:

We’ve been working on a few sensitive projects recently – specifically our work expanding FixMyStreet Pro to cover issues of a more social nature, like noise reporting, antisocial behaviour, that sort of thing.

As experienced as we are with the ‘make a report by sticking a pin in a map’ style of interaction design, we recognise the need for extra care when applying this to issues that are about people, rather than things. There’s an increased risk of building a tool that results in unintended negative consequences; especially where the service concerns an area already prone to controversy.

mySociety Board member Jonathan Flowers put us in touch with Connected Places Catapult, who had been using ‘Consequence Scanning’ for this very thing, and we realised it was just what we needed.

It’s a structured system for drawing out the consequences of a new idea, and giving people a say in what actions are used to mitigate or address them. It originated from the Doteveryone thinktank, and CPC have taken it forward and customised it for their needs.

In Consequence Scanning, consequences are classified as either intended or unintended, with the important distinction that intended consequences aren’t always positive, and unintended consequences aren’t always negative.

The process is delivered in a workshop format and works best with a good mixture of participants with diverse views and backgrounds, directly involved in the service on both sides. This means ideally both service users and service officers should take part and be prepared to be honest about consequences. For this reason it’s important to create a safe space where information can be shared honestly and openly.

 

The process is split into three parts:

Part one: What are the consequences?

Part two: What are the positive consequences we want to focus on?

Part three: What are the unindented consequences we should mitigate?

Part one: What are the consequences?

  1. What are the intended consequences for:
  • Organisation – How might this affect our organisation?
  • Users – How might this affect the users of this service?
  • Community – What are the consequences that could affect the wider community?
  1. What are the unintended consequences? For the kind of work we do, unintended consequences tend to emerge in these areas:
  • Lack of digital understanding:
    • What can happen in a situation where there is a lack of digital skills or access to technology?
  • Unintended uses and users
    • What could be the unintended uses of this service?
    • What could be the unintended users of this service? Eg private companies using public services for profit
  • Weak security/reliability/poor support/monitoring
    • What could happen in situations of technical failure, poorly equipped staff, or lack of budget etc?
  • Changes in norms and behaviours
    • How could this cause changes in societal norms and behaviours?
  • Displacement (what will people do this instead of… )
    • If people use this service instead of others what could result?
  • Impact on environment
    • How might this service result in consequences for the planet or local environment?

Part two: What are the positive consequences we want to focus on?

  1. Sort the list of intended consequences into groups by affinity (affinity sorting)
  2. Add further details or related information

Part three: What are the unintended consequences we want to mitigate?

  1. Sort the list of intended consequences into groups by affinity (affinity sorting)
  2. Use causal mapping to work out the relationships between the consequences and help determine where mitigations could have the greatest impact: eg, solve A before B, solve D and prevent E,F,G
  3. Use grouping and categorisation of consequences to show relationships

This system works best on a new, but defined idea. If it’s done too early in the design process, the consequences end up being very general, or people bring their own assumptions and often focus on the wrong things. It’s best to bring it in once scope has been defined.

The primary function is to identify the consequences and not to “solutionise” the mitigations, but the group should be free to discuss possible mitigations where they feel it’s important.

We’ve been using Consequence Scanning in our work on noise reporting and antisocial behaviour, and it’s also proving useful for our internal anti-racism action group, where we want to understand the potential unintended results of any future development in terms of who our services reach, and who they exclude.

Image: Drew Graham

Image by Gautam Lakum - post-it notes and stationary next to a book about sprints.

Sprint notes: 23 Nov- 4 Dec

Here’s everything the SocietyWorks team has been up to this sprint.

  • During the last sprint it was mySociety’s organisation-wide retreat. In one key session, we looked at our strategy for SocietyWorks, including setting some key performance indicators. With colleagues, we participated in a series of workshops to help plan and understand what the next three years could look like for the company.
    One of the methods we used during our workshops was  a ‘lightning decision jam’, which helps get ideas out in the open without judgement or doubt getting in the way; it also helped us prioritise tasks and put the next steps into action.
  • We’ve been working with the team at Central Bedfordshire, putting finishing touches on their FixMyStreet Pro integration: we hope that will be going live in the next week.
  • As part of our progressive web app work, we’ve successfully uploaded a trial version to the Android store and are currently working on the same for the Apple Store (which is proving more complex than we’d originally hoped).
  • We’ve also seen the opportunity to bid for a piece of commercial work, so the whole team has been putting together answers to questions and pulling information from different case studies to show how good FixMyStreet Pro is.
  • We’ve appointed a new Marketing and PR Manager who’ll be joining the team next week.
  • We’re also busy preparing for our Christmas user groups, where we’ll gather clients together online and talk through some new developments, while munching on some mince pies.

Image: Gautam Lakum

Someone taking a photo of some fly tipping to report on FixMyStreet

Sprint notes: 12-23 October

Here’s everything SocietyWorks is up to this sprint.

New development on FixMyStreet Pro

Photo first

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.

Geolocation

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.

Mobile design and PWAs

Meanwhile, Designer Martin has been looking into the user experience on mobile, making improvements for what is increasingly the most popular way to report.

Design in progress on FixMyStreet mobile

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.

New development on Waste and Noise

Waste testing

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.

Noise and ASB

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.

Security

Pen testing

We’ll be conducting one of our regular scheduled pen tests to ensure the security of FixMyStreet Pro.

New integrations

Symology and Alloy

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.

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