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
Litter is one of many local issues that can be reported using FixMyStreet, mySociety’s nationwide, map-based street reporting service.
Each report received by FixMyStreet is sent to the council or authority responsible for dealing with the problem, which is established by the selected category and geo-location information within the report.
Should a report be made about an issue on one of England’s highways, FixMyStreet knows to send it to National Highways instead of the local council, thanks to integration with the highways agency.
Because all Pro sites are connected to the main FixMyStreet platform, wherever a report is made, they all end up in the same place, and the map will be able to display all existing reports to report-makers to help reduce duplication and improve transparency.
National Highways manages a vast stretch of motorways and some A roads, but not all problems found on those roads are its responsibility. Depending on the type of road, some issues, like litter, actually fall to the local council to take care of.
It would be unreasonable to expect citizens to know who is and isn’t responsible for different issues on different roads, which is where FixMyStreet’s ability to create an asset layer-based connected network for reporting problems really shines.
As mentioned above, the national FixMyStreet site automatically sends reports to the correct place based on the category and location of the problem. So if a citizen uses FixMyStreet to report litter on a road managed by National Highways but on which the council would be responsible for litter, the service will work this out behind the scenes and ensure the report goes to the correct place.
If a citizen goes to National Highways’ own FixMyStreet Pro site to make a report about litter on a road where the council is responsible, when the pin is dropped on the map and the ‘litter’ category is selected, a message will appear explaining that National Highways is not responsible.
From here, the report-maker is encouraged to continue onto the nationwide FixMyStreet site, where the details of the report will be carried over, the remaining information can be filled in and the report can be submitted to the correct council.
FixMyStreet was built to make it easier for citizens to report any local problem, without needing to know who is responsible. FixMyStreet Pro gives councils and other public authorities the opportunity to adopt the service as their own – hosted and managed by us.
To find out more about FixMyStreet or FixMyStreet Pro, request a demo.
Image: Wilhelm Gunkel
FixMyStreet, our map-based reporting tool for street and highway problems, and FixMyStreet Pro, the fully branded, hosted and integrated version of the service, enable you to assign a status to each report you receive that is visible to the public and reflects the issue’s journey to resolution.
With all reports displayed on the map, this report status adds an extra layer of transparency for councils and other public sector organisations using the service, allowing citizens to see not only what problems have already been reported, but also what’s being done about them.
When used properly, report statuses help to build trust and increase transparency, while also deterring duplicate reports and failure demand, which pushes report-makers back onto the phone to your customer contact centre in search of clarification or more information.
Councils and other public sector FixMyStreet Pro customers can choose from a number of statuses, designed to help you accurately share where a report is up to within your internal processes in a way that is easy for citizens to understand.
Report is open and confirmed (automatically applied to all new reports once report-maker has verified their email [if not signed in at the time of reporting])
Report has been reviewed and action has been scheduled
Report is awaiting internal review or re-categorisation
Report’s resolution is in progress/action is being carried out
Report is under investigation
Report’s resolution has been planned/scheduled as part of a wider maintenance project
Report has been closed for one of a number of reasons (this is a generic status only to be used if another cannot be assigned, such as ‘fixed’, ‘not responsible’ or ‘no further action’ – reasons for closure can and should be included within the response template, which can be done manually or automatically via integration)
Report is about an issue that’s already been reported
Report has been referred to another team within the council/public body
Report is about an issue that is the responsibility of another council/public body/private organisation
Report’s issue cannot be fixed/issue does not meet intervention criteria
Report’s issue has been fixed
We leave it up to you to decide which statuses best suit your internal processes – report status names can be modified across the FixMyStreet platform (this includes the national, free-to-use FixMyStreet.com site) to better reflect those used by your customer service and inspection teams, and terms used within your integrated back-end systems.
You can also make use of hardcoded statuses, which are named differently on the front and back end to make them easier to understand for citizens on one side and staff on the other.
Equally, additional statuses can be added if required, or you can restrict those which you do not want to be visible to the public.
However, we do recommend that, when changing the status of a report, you make use of FixMyStreet’s ability to provide a tailored, explanatory response update that will be attached to the report and emailed to all subscribers, giving more context about what the status means to help manage expectations.
For example, when marking a report as ‘no further action’, it’s important to say why this is to help the report-maker and anyone else who’s interested understand your reasoning.
Similarly, when marking a report as ‘action scheduled’ it is worth explaining your service level agreements to set expectations for when the action should be carried out.
You can also use automatic templates that can be added to the FixMyStreet Pro front-end workflow based on back-end codes. For example, multiple codes used in your asset management or CRM system can be attached to different ‘action scheduled’ responses.
Or if you’re using FixMyStreet Pro as your case management system, you can create your own templates and simply select the most relevant as you go.
Whichever way you organise your report statuses, our golden rule is to ensure that reports are not marked as ‘fixed’ until the problem has actually been resolved, or assigning one of the closed statuses (eg. ‘closed’, ‘no further action’, ‘not responsible’) without providing an explanation as to why and what this means to you.
For example, ‘closed’ to you could mean ‘action scheduled’, but to the report-maker ‘closed’ could be interpreted to mean that the issue has been fixed, so when they see that the problem is still there, it may provoke them to call you or try to reopen or duplicate the report.
Sometimes this occurs because your customer contact centre hasn’t been provided with enough guidance on what each status means in relation to your processes or how to use the response templates. Other times it’s because your front-end status mapping isn’t quite matched up to your back-end (asset management and/or CRM) status mapping.
We can help with training sessions or report status mapping, so please speak to your account manager if this is something you’d like to explore.
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
Fly-tipping is one of the most expensive problems councils face. And incidents are on the rise.
In 2020, as the pandemic limited places and times to dispose of rubbish, fly-tipping reports increased by 44% on the FixMyStreet website, where citizens across the UK can report a variety of local issues to the correct authority. FixMyStreet Pro can help councils bring the increased costs of dealing with fly-tipping under control.
According to new data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), local authorities in England dealt with just under 1 million fly-tipping incidents for the 2019-20 financial year.
With councils largely relying on residents to spot and report fly-tipping incidents, how can you encourage continued vigilance while also saving money as more reports come in? More importantly, how can you better demonstrate to your residents that you’re acknowledging the growing issue and responding to it accordingly?
Designed by a team with over a decade’s worth of experience putting citizens at the heart of local authority services, FixMyStreet Pro makes the reporting and handling of street and environmental issues like fly-tipping much easier and, as a result, cheaper.
Councils adopting FixMyStreet Pro for their citizen reporting can:
To discover how FixMyStreet Pro could help you better manage and respond to issues like fly-tipping, potholes, street lighting and much more, book a one-to-one demo with one of the SocietyWorks team.
Image: Karl Bewick on Unsplash
When it comes to improving the FixMyStreet user experience, we’ve recently been giving a lot of (well-deserved) attention to the mobile experience of our website, through which around 40% of website reports were made in the last three months.
You might have seen us talking in December about how we’re exploring the use of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) to help the FixMyStreet site look, work and feel like an app without actually being one.
Well, following on from that, here’s a rundown of some of the new improvements we have been, and will soon be working on to make using the website on a mobile device an even smoother experience.
Continuing to ensure that the process of submitting a report on FixMyStreet is as smart and uncomplicated as possible, we’ve been designing a simpler reporting form for mobile users.
Taking inspiration from some user groups we carried out over the course of the last year, we’ve been building on some of the best bits of our existing mobile app and applying them to the web version of the site so that more users can benefit from them – including users of the various council versions of FixMyStreet Pro.
One of these ‘best bits’ takes the form of a ‘one detail at a time’ question and answer format, delivered in a logical order. This approach helps to avoid overwhelming the user – they don’t have to think of everything at once and are less likely to exclude key information, or indeed include irrelevant information.
Plus, if a citizen wants to make a report on-the-go from their mobile, this simplifies the process for them by making it much more digestible and permitting much easier map asset selection without needing to interrupt the report flow.
In a bid to make FixMyStreet’s interface more forgiving for mobile users, we’re working on applying an even more touch-friendly design to the site, which will further help to make it feel and respond like it’s an app.
To make this happen, we’ve introduced a more responsive category picker, better map controls and a more obvious ‘use my location’ feature to facilitate selecting location data that’s as accurate as possible.
With these changes in place, FixMyStreet will be faster and easier to use on a mobile device, dramatically improving the citizen user experience.
When a citizen cares enough about their local neighbourhood to make the effort to report a problem to the council, the last thing you want to do is to make them feel like the process of doing so is too difficult or long-winded to be worth it.
Councils using FixMyStreet Pro will know that the service already provides a report summary at the final stage of the process to help increase report accuracy and reduce the risk of users abandoning their report before inputting their contact details.
Wanting to take that one step further with our new ‘one thing at a time’ format, our eventual aim is to have the report summary show up at the top of each stage of the form filling process, so that citizens can see their progress and receive a constant reminder of why they’re here and why it would be a shame to quit without completing the report.
Following some research we carried out recently into how photos make FixMyStreet reports 15% more likely to be recorded as fixed, we wanted to dedicate some time to thinking about how we can encourage users to begin a report with a photo, instead of it being an optional extra.
While it’s a long way off being something we can implement, our thinking is that, aside from increasing the likelihood of reports being marked as fixed, one of the key advantages of enabling this feature would be that, under the right circumstances, it could give us the capability to use the photo to autofill other details, such as recognising the category the report belongs to, the GPS location and other useful data that is embedded into photos taken on mobile devices. This means reports which start with a photo would be much quicker and easier to complete for citizens, and much more accurate and actionable for council staff.
Last but by no means least, another new feature we’re still in the exploration stage of working on is one that we hope will make reports easier to read and browse for citizens and council staff alike. Although this one isn’t specifically a mobile feature, it would likely benefit mobile users of the website the most, if and when we’re able to implement it.
Knowing that FixMyStreet users sometimes get confused between the summary field and the details field, which can lead to one or both of them containing repeated or irrelevant information, we’re exploring how we can remove the burden of inputting this information from the user by automating the process and reducing the amount of user-generated information we need to ask for.
We’re still exploring how best we can do this, but the end result should be a better standard of information available for council staff to browse, with clearer email subject lines, easier case prioritisation and no time wasted by users writing what ends up being unhelpful information.
And that’s it for now! As we’ve mentioned, some of these improvements are still in the exploration or developmental stage, so while we can’t say exactly when they will be rolled out just yet, there’s certainly lots to look forward to!
In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about any of the work we’re doing on FixMyStreet, or you want to chat to us about any of our other services, do get in touch with us.
Since FixMyStreet first launched back in 2007, we’ve always loved hearing stories from citizens about how they use the service within their local community.
Earlier this year, we heard from Lauren and John, who told us about how they’ve been using FixMyStreet to help make roads in their local area safer for blind people by reporting any pedestrian crossings with faulty or missing audio, tactile or visual indicators.
These indicators are essential for anyone with sight or hearing loss to be able to safely navigate crossing the road, so when they’re broken, it is a serious hazard. A hazard that most people probably wouldn’t notice, let alone report.
We were so inspired by their story that we asked if we could share it and encourage more people to make use of FixMyStreet in this way.
Happily, not only did they agree, but they also made a video for us! So, meet best friends Lauren and John:
John is deafblind and relies on using tactile indicators (those little plastic or metal cones beneath pedestrian crossing boxes, sometimes referred to as ‘twirlers’ or ‘spinners’) to know when it is safe to cross the road.
The pair say they started reporting any broken pedestrian crossings during lockdown as a way to make the most of their daily exercise: “We wanted to use our time to do something positive that would make journeys safer for other cane and guide dog users in the local area.
“Covid has hit visually impaired people quite hard and there have been lots of changes to street layouts, one way systems and social distancing is pretty difficult for those that cannot see.”
There are several things that Lauren and John look out for and report on FixMyStreet: “We look at all aspects of the crossing, including buttons, lights and the spinner.
“The wait light is surprisingly important because even John, who has very little remaining vision, can see if the light is on or off. If a tactile spinner isn’t working he can work out when it’s safe to cross using this light, as it will go off when the man turns green.”
That’s not all, though. Broken glass is also high up on their reporting priority list. Lauren explains, “[Glass] is a real hazard for John’s guide dog Daisy who will walk through it if there is no easy way around or if it is very small pieces she can’t see.”
Lauren says it was a local litter picking group that recommended using FixMyStreet to report all the issues she and John were finding at pedestrian crossings.
“Before finding the website I actually wouldn’t have known where or who to report the issues to.”
FixMyStreet uses the location data provided within a report to automatically send it to the correct authority. In Lauren and John’s case, it was Birmingham City Council that received their reports.
John and Lauren say using FixMyStreet has made reporting problems “easy”, and that they’ve been impressed by how quickly Birmingham City Council has responded to their FixMyStreet reports: “We have had issues fixed in less than 48 hours, which is great.”
This is something we’re very pleased to hear, and serves as a reminder of why we encourage all UK councils to give their residents the option to make reports via FixMyStreet (currently, around 2% of councils don’t accept reports from third party websites like ours).
Although lockdown will hopefully be over in the near future, John and Lauren have no plans to stop their walking and reporting routine: “Finding so many problems has motivated us to keep checking and reporting issues.
“It could be a missing button, broken light or the tactile spinner could be missing or broken. If nobody knows they are broken, then they can’t be fixed!”
Thanks so much to Lauren and John for sharing their story with us, and for being such active members of their community through FixMyStreet – this is exactly why we created the service in the first place.
Next time you’re waiting at a pedestrian crossing, why not check that everything’s working as it should, and make a quick report on FixMyStreet if it’s not?
If you want to follow more of Lauren and John’s adventures, check out their Facebook page.
How do you use FixMyStreet? Share your own story with us here.
Image: Valou_c on Unsplash