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Road in the UK

Sprint notes: 16 Feb – 1 Mar 2021

The arrival of March (how fast did that come around?!) brought with it the end of the fourth SocietyWorks sprint of the year, so here’s your update on what the team got up to.

Magnificent maps

Peterborough City Council's FixMyStreet Pro reporting platform, with new OS maps

This sprint we worked with Peterborough City Council to introduce some new maps to their instance of FixMyStreet Pro using Ordnance Survey’s Maps API (which is totally free for PSGA members such as councils). The high-level OS maps available this way show a lot more detail to citizens, which should result in more accurate reports. We might be biased, but we think the new maps look beautiful.
The new maps are available to all FixMyStreet Pro customers – let us know if you want to display them, too.

Good-looking bins

Also with Peterborough City Council, we created some new bin icons to include on their in-development waste management system. This system will be integrated with Bartec and will allow citizens to report missed bins to the council easily online. Find out more about our new waste service here

Green garden waste

In more waste-related news, our green garden waste project with Bromley Council continues.  This sprint we have been focusing on the citizen forms and how to make the process of completing them as easy as possible. This was based on prototypes first, and is now being coded up after feedback from the client.

Pre-filled forms

Thinking about how we can improve the FixMyStreet Pro citizen user experience further still, we worked on creating the functionality to populate citizens’ details if they’ve already logged in to FixMyStreet to make report-making even smoother.

Customisable email templates

Another FixMyStreet Pro improvement, we’ve been working with London Borough of Bexley, who have recently created new email templates to keep their citizens informed on report progress. This is a key part of the product, and is very flexible, allowing our clients to send custom wording per status and category. 

Talking about noise

Also this sprint, we started our first rounds of interviews for the new noise case management project we’re working on with Hackney Council – we’ll be creating separate sprint notes every two weeks for this too, so look out for them.

Strategic thinking

As there is light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic, we’ve also been looking at what the next three years could look like for SocietyWorks by creating a three-year strategy, giving us a clear path to follow and goals to work towards.

Awards

If you read our previous sprint notes, you’ll know that we’ve set ourselves the goal of celebrating our hard work more from now on. Sticking to our promises, we entered another award this sprint – this time it was the Digital Leaders Impact Awards. We decided on the Social Transformation category, focusing on the positive impact FixMyStreet Pro has on councils and their residents. Wish us luck!

New hires

Last not definitely least, we’re very excited to announce that we have recruited a new Project Manager, who will be starting next week! Once they’ve settled in we’ll introduce them to you all. 

Got any questions about anything we’ve mentioned here? Ask away.

Image: Jack Bassingthwaighte on Unsplash

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

Image by Leo Sammarco. Trails of car lights on a motorway at dusk.

Sprint notes: 9 – 20 November

Here’s everything SocietyWorks is up to this sprint.

We prepared for the soft launch of the Bromley Waste service.

The new FixMyStreet Pro features we’ve been working on have taken a little longer than we anticipated, but we’re confident that they should be completed this sprint. We’ll be letting clients know all about them as soon as they’re live.

We’ve been prepping for our user groups and creating an agenda for the day. The challenge here is to make sure it’s not death by PowerPoint. We’re working with mySociety’s Events Manager Gemma to decide how best to shape it, and to explore the various online tools that make online events that bit more dynamic.

Since April 2020 Highways England have been trialing FixMyStreet in their East Midlands area to evaluate the response by users to a new digital channel for reporting highways issues. As of 9 November this trial has been expanded in size and scope to cover the whole of England, running until March 2021.

Image: Leo Sammarco

Image by Jilbert Ebrahimi - a wheely bin against a sunny concrete wall

Sprint notes: 26 Oct – 6 Nov

Here’s everything SocietyWorks is up to this sprint.

A demo Waste site

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.

Roadmap progress

We’re moving forward on a couple of the tickets on our public Roadmap:

  • Hint tips that can be customised according  to the category
  • A newsflash banner that clients can add to their own cobrands.

Photos that show it’s all fixed

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.

Making mobile better

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

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.

Four wheely bins

Waste control

We’re rolling out two new SocietyWorks offerings, to extend the capabilities of FixMyStreet Pro while providing new and much needed services for councils. In this blog post, we’ll be introducing what we’ve been doing around Waste, and in the follow-up, you can find out how we’re approaching Noise

In the past 24 months FixMyStreet Pro has become the street report service of choice for dozens of local authorities. This has given us the investment that we have needed to broaden the range of services we offer to cater to the myriad ways that citizens might want to contact their council.

Working with you

As always, that has meant going back to our clients to ensure that we have a full understanding of what they really need, before looking at how we can transform that into a proposition that helps with efficiencies and cost savings, whilst ensuring easy engagement for citizens.

In this case, we’ve been working closely with the team at the London Borough of Bromley, asking them all sorts of questions: how do citizens order a new bin or container? What do we need to know about collection schedules? And if a bin gets missed, what’s the ideal route to resolving the problem?

We ran workshops with the Bromley team, which helped us fully understand the requirements of a busy council in the handling of complex residential waste offerings. They’ve had full input into the build of the new service, testing and feeding back on our early prototypes and alpha stages. 

“It’s great to be working with our partners at SocietyWorks on developing a new feature for FixMyStreet Pro. 

“There are some unique demands of the Waste Service which make it a little different to how our other services interact with FixMyStreet, as well as being a service that ranks high on the citizen and political agenda.  

“The SocietyWorks team have really taken the time to understand those demands and we’re looking forward to completing the testing and tweaks and going live!”

– Jonathan Richards, Technical Support Team Manager at Bromley

Getting it right

As with any new development, piecing together a really effective online Waste service brought its own set of fiddly issues to work through.

As just one example: we’ve had to understand the windows of time within which a citizen can report a missed bin collection, and how a bank holiday affects those timings — all second nature to those who have been working within those timescales for years, but a definite coding challenge for us! Just to be sure, we’ve conducted in-depth tests to make sure that no missing bin reports fall through the cracks.

“Designing a service that serves the citizen, but also works for the authority is a balancing act. 

“But we’ve found it’s entirely achievable. The first step is to listen to citizens’ needs: that sets you on the right path. 

“Then, that understanding can feed into the workflow, so long as you’re open to working in a responsive and flexible way — which might mean being proven wrong at some points along the line, and changing direction accordingly.”

Martin Wright, mySociety Designer

The plan is to launch the new service in the next four to six weeks, and then we’ll be working on phase two, which will include workflows that allow citizens to take actions such as ordering a bulky waste collection, and making payments. The discovery work for this has already started, and we’ll be sure to post updates about the progress over the next month. 

Need better waste services? Get involved

We’re currently integrating with Bromley’s Veolia system, but as with our street services we already integrate with all of the popular CRM and asset management systems and we’ll  apply the same approach to all of the main Waste management services  – we’d love to hear from councils who might be interested in this. 

If you’d like to chat or find out more details of the new waste product, please contact David through our online form or the details at the foot of this page.

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