FOI Works, our citizen-friendly FOI service for public authorities, can now integrate with the iCasework FOI case management service.
Back in 2018, we started working with Hackney Council on a new Freedom of Information service that would improve citizen access to FOI and which could be integrated into their existing case management system via an API.
That service is FOI Works, and we’re very pleased to say that we have recently added a new standard integration for it: iCasework.
FOI Works is an unobtrusive, open-source FOI service for public bodies that provides a user-centred FOI request process, while intelligently leveraging already published information to reduce request volume.
Acting as the easy-to-navigate front door to FOI for citizens, FOI Works integrates seamlessly with case management systems to help divert citizens to potentially relevant responses already published within the case management system’s disclosure log.
Through this integration, FOI Works also removes the need for authorities to do any manual data entry; sending requests straight through to the case management system and immediately allocating a case number to the citizen.
After initially using the Infreemation case management service to manage their FOI requests, Hackney Council recently told us they were switching to iCasework. So, sticking to our promise of connecting our services up to whichever systems our customers choose, we jumped straight into expanding FOI Works’ integration workflow, allowing for a new API connection with iCasework.
While we made some tweaks to the software behind the scenes, the in-built flexibility of FOI Works meant that there has been little to no change or disruption to how the service works for the Council and its residents. This is important because it allows our public authority partners to grow with the software, rather than needing to change everything whenever new or alternative systems are introduced.
Our top priority when it comes to providing public authority services is the citizen, so we’re always thinking about how we can ensure that no matter what integration is required on the backend, the citizen gets the best possible experience on the frontend.
Looking ahead for FOI Works, we’d like to partner up with another public body to build a disclosure log into the service to further ensure that no matter what’s going on behind the scenes, FOI Works can provide citizens with easy access to all of the information they seek, while at the same time helping authorities to reduce the quantity of duplicate or unactionable FOI requests submitted.
FOI Works can be procured as a bolt-on to any case management system for public authorities – find FOI Works on G-Cloud.
Image: Samuel Regan-Asante
Spring is in the air, the clocks have gone forward and it’s been another busy sprint for the SocietyWorks team – here’s what we got up to.
We attended the first mySociety team meeting of the year (online, of course), where we took a look at what we’d achieved over the past 12 months, and what we need to achieve in the next 12. It was a great opportunity to speak to colleagues and share the SocietyWorks strategy and vision with the rest of the team.
During the meeting, we hosted various breakout sessions, including a marketing catch-up to see all the new things our Marketing & PR Manager Sally has been working on. We also reviewed our internal coding practises with Senior Developer Chris. We’ve got our fingers crossed for an in-person meeting soon, as much as we did all enjoy receiving cookies in the post to nibble on throughout the meeting!
As well as the team meeting, we’ve been continuing work on Bromley Council’s new waste project and have started our internal review process, in preparation for handover to the client in a few weeks’ time.
We also made progress on our new product NoiseWorks with Hackney Council (read more about it here). We’ve been getting up to speed on the discovery interviews Zarino, one of our wonderful designers, has been holding and working out what our next set of priorities will be.
We’ve also been meeting with lots of our FixMyStreet Pro customers, with Account Manager Clare holding her quarterly account management meetings. These meetings give us the chance to regularly check in and catch up with our clients to discuss feedback, issues and any concerns they may have. We also talk about the latest feature developments to FixMyStreet Pro, as well as providing a SocietyWorks product update, which currently includes our new WasteWorks product. Here again, we are very much looking forward to being able to see our clients face-to-face once more in the near future!
Image: Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash
Those of you who’ve been following our blog closely over the last few months will know that we recently launched a new front-end noise reporting workflow for Hackney Council, designed to give citizens an easier, more secure way to submit a noise-related report to the Council.
Following on from that, we’re now working with Hackney to create a robust, well-tested case management back-end system that simplifies processes for the teams responsible for responding to and managing noise reports.
After a kick off meeting on 16 February, we started our first sprint on the 2 March – 16 March, during which our designer Zarino met with various key stakeholders at Hackney to capture information on how they currently work, and what they would need in order to make their working lives easier when handling noise reports. So far, we’ve had some really useful and insightful conversations and are getting a sense of pain points and areas of complexity. For sprints from 16 March onwards, Gillian will first be working with Louise, Operational Director, and then taking over as DM on the project for SocietyWorks.
Communication is key to any project, especially for one of this size, so as part of the project we’re holding two-weekly Show and Tell meetings, as well as an internal status update call in the weeks between. The Show and Tell meetings are hosted by Hackney, and recorded for stakeholders who aren’t able to attend. This also means they can invite the most relevant people to ensure it keeps everyone updated, but without having to take up too much of their time. We’ve also created a slide template together through which we share information beforehand and allow time for Q&As.
The internal status update acts as a check-in half way through the sprint to make sure things are going as planned, and to see if there are any new risks or blockers that need addressing. As with all of our calls, this is documented and then added to our communication tool, so the notes can be referred back to at a later date.
We’ll be keeping you updated on the progress of this project every two weeks, so keep a lookout for the next post!
If you’d like some more information about our new noise service development, or about SocietyWorks’ services in general, you can contact us here.
Image: Paul Esch-Laurent on Unsplash
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
FixMyStreet Pro customers can now take advantage of a new feature for the service: the ability to connect to Notify and send status updates via text.
Just like a lot of the new service features we develop at SocietyWorks, they often start off as a great idea from a client.
On this occasion, it’s Hackney Council we have to thank; they came to us a few months ago with the desire to connect their GOV.UK Notify account with their FixMyStreet Pro instance in order to give citizens more options for staying informed about their reports.
It made perfect sense to us, so together we’ve been working on this co-funded piece of development, which, now that it’s completed, is available to all of our Pro customers. The work involved adapting the FixMyStreet SMS authentication functionality and adding the Notify functionality as the new SMS backend provider for the verification step.
For Hackney, the integration with Notify means that when a report is made to them, the site asks the report-maker for either their email address or mobile phone number, which, once verified, will create an account and enable the Council to provide text or email notifications about the report.
If you’re a Pro client and you’d like to connect your Notify account to your instance of FixMyStreet Pro, send us a message in helpdesk.
Not a Pro client yet but interested in becoming one? Get in touch with us here.
Image: Ono Kosuki on Pexels
Built in collaboration with Hackney, this has been a really interesting project to work on; delving into what form noise reports should take, how to help citizens make a noise report that’s useful to councils even if the reporter is not exactly sure where the source of the noise is and how such reports can be made as securely and sensitively as possible.
The finished product is a secure, user-friendly and highly efficient private reporting form that Hackney’s teams and its residents will be able to make use of.
Recognising the timely need for a better frontend noise reporting system, Hackney saw the early value in making the process of submitting such a report a smoother one for residents and for council staff. That’s where we came in.
By identifying whether the noise is commercial or residential before sending it directly to the team that can deal with it, our new noise service will help to make handling noise reports much easier. Meanwhile, providing a form which enables citizens to submit a better standard of location information using UPRNs first and foremost or broader map locations if the exact source of the noise cannot be confirmed will help to deliver reports that are more accurate, actionable and faster to address.
Aside from being able to use a form that’s designed to help them provide the correct information to councils, another bonus for Hackney residents is that they will now be able to see all of their own reports, whether noise or otherwise, all in one place when they’re logged into Hackney’s version of FixMyStreet.
With the potential for noise reports to be of a more sensitive nature, it was important to us and to Hackney that we get this noise service right. That’s why as part of the service development we ran a series of consequence scanning workshops to identify and mitigate potential negative outcomes.
As a result, each noise report that’s made to Hackney will be private and will always be dealt with by a council staff member – no automated decision making involved. This helps to ensure that, whatever the report is about, it can be dealt with appropriately without anyone other than the reporter and the council needing to know about it.
Being a new service, we’re looking forward to seeing how Hackney gets on with using it now that it’s soft-launched and listening to residents’ noise reports.
If noise reporting is something you are also interested in, the service can either be plugged into an existing FixMyStreet Pro package, like we’ve done for Hackney, or it can be fully integrated into whichever backend management systems you are using.
Image: Brett Jordan on Unsplash
In our last post we explained how we’ve been developing a new Waste service with the London Borough of Bromley. At the same time, we’ve also been working with the team at Hackney Council to develop a simple, efficient path for citizens’ noise reports.
As with our explorations into Waste, the work on noise first required us to learn a lot in a very short period of time. What exact form do noise reports take; and how can a citizen make a useful, actionable report if they’re not sure precisely where the noise is coming from?
We also had to examine the characteristics that would class a report as an anti-social behaviour (ASB) complaint, and whether the report path should differ for these.
We’re now at the stage where we’ve created early prototypes for two workflows — noise-related ASB reports, and standard noise complaints. Next we’ll be thinking about whether the two journeys can be combined into a single tool.
The handling of ASB reports carries its own potential hazards: we need to consider the possibility of unintended harm, such as the stigmatisation of at-risk individuals and families.
The team at Hackney are well aware of the risks: and introducing process efficiencies through a new online service could make these issues much more acute if not considered properly. As such we are conducting an extended discovery process to go deeper into these issues upfront.
During our workshops with Hackney so far, we have been able to look at the positives and negatives from the different viewpoints of council staff, citizens and the wider community, incorporating ‘Consequence Scanning’ into the discovery.
This exercise was originally developed by Dot Everyone and has more recently been adopted by Future Cities Catapult. It ensures everyone can take a 360 degree view of the possible consequences — both positive and negative — that might arise from a new service design, and consider what additional mitigations might need to be put in place.
Armed with these insights, we’ve created an alpha version of the Noise reporting tool that we’ll be sharing with Hackney shortly so that they can test it and give us feedback for the next phase.
Our Designer Martin, who ran the workshops, says, “There’s a limit to what you can find out verbally, so we aim to get to the alpha version of a service as quickly as we can.
“The knowledge and understanding we get from seeing people using a new service for the first time is invaluable and can be immediately fed back into the design process to become improvements or new features.”
If you’d like to chat or find out more about how we’re progressing with the development of our noise services, or any other aspect of the SocietyWorks local government suite, then please contact David through our online form or the details at the foot of this page.
Image: Brad Stallcup