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New research: citizen expectations for local authority reporting services

Our new report Citizen reporting in the UK 2022, which explores whether and how citizens make reports about problems in their local area, has been published. 

Based on a nationwide YouGov survey commissioned by SocietyWorks, the report aims to help councils and other public sector organisations that need to take reports from citizens about a variety of issues to stay informed of ever-changing expectations. 

Among some of our key findings, we discovered that the majority of citizens surveyed said they haven’t reported a problem in the last few years due to experiencing previous disappointment caused by unresolved reports. 

We also learned that only 22% of respondents wanted a dedicated mobile app for making reports, while 43% would prefer a website that works well on mobile devices.

Alex Parsons, senior researcher at our parent charity mySociety, with whom we collaborated on this research, said: ‘Citizen reports of problems both help citizens feel guardianship over their area, and alert authorities to problems. Managing the feedback loop and the expectations of citizens is important because problems being reported and not fixed makes citizens less likely to report again. 

‘The philosophy of our services is that citizens should not need to understand how overlapping systems of government work to report problems, and this is validated by strong support for a tool that can route the request to the right place. 

‘Making it easy to report problems and keep citizens informed about progress improves the relationship between local councils and citizens and means citizens don’t need to follow-up through other methods.’ 

Councils that are keen to transform their service delivery for citizens can carry some key priorities forward from this research to help them harness the full potential of proactive citizen-made reports, without increasing the burden on customer services teams.

Read the full report, Citizen reporting in the UK 2022, here.

Image by Matt Brown - letters spelling out 'Hackney' in a bush

Noise sprint notes: 12-23 Sep 2020

Welcome to the first of our sprint notes.

For anyone who’s interested in our work around Noise, or who would just generally like to understand more about how development is managed at SocietyWorks, these regular catch-ups will allow you to follow along as we progress through the various stages of making a new service.

So: here’s what we did last sprint.

  • Our designer Martin ran workshops with our contacts at Hackney, to find out more about their needs around Noise and AntiSocial Behaviour (ASB) reports.
  • He’s written these up, along with our recommendations, and will be sending a report back to Hackney very soon, ready for their feedback.
  • We’ve already made progress on what we’re now calling the Noise extension (in that it will be an add-on to the core FixMyStreet Pro service), and we’re now looking specifically at the more delicate area of ASB reports.
  • We’ve had some feedback from Hackney on this, but this sprint Martin will be chatting a bit more to the Noise Enforcement team, since they are the ones who deal with ASB issues and know best what they need from a piece of software.
  • Once we have that additional feedback, we’ll be looking at how best to incorporate those needs into the ASB development.

Image: Matt Brown (CC by/2.0)

Image by Abraham Barrera - several roads converge into one, aerial view

Subcategories in multiple categories

Sometimes the route that’s best for the user isn’t the most obvious one. And sometimes, it takes talking to users to find that out.

When someone goes to make a report on FixMyStreet, they’re asked two things: the location of the issue, and its category.

Categories are set by each individual council and usually reflect their own internal structure — so for example, reports about potholes might be routed to the road maintenance crew, while reports about overflowing bins go to the waste management team.

Some councils have just a few categories (covering all bases with the broad titles of roads, graffiti, fly tipping, parks, pavements, and ‘other’) while many have a very detailed list (potholes, road markings,street signs, road blockages, spillages, and that’s just for starters…).

For a few years now, we’ve grouped subcategories under main headings, to make it easier for users to navigate what can turn into quite long drop-downs. And that seemed to deal with that.

Picking a category and subcategory on FixMyStreet

Until one of our council contacts did a little user research and discovered something that’s actually quite clear once it’s pointed out: users don’t necessarily all think the same way about categories that the council does.

It’s easy to assume that every subcategory of report has its own natural place — so for example, potholes sit under road repairs, while a pile of rubbish at the side of the road would go under fly tipping.

But say you want to report a piece of graffiti in the park loos. Would you look under ‘parks’, ‘public toilets’ or ‘graffiti’? Ideally the user picks the correct category so that the report can be forwarded to the cleaning crew, but we can’t assume they have the required insider knowledge on which is the best choice.

Now, with a bit of clicking round, the chances are that most users will eventually find the most relevant category — but why make them put in the effort? Our contact suggested that we introduce a simple change that should make things easier for everyone: so FixMyStreet Pro client councils can now opt to put any subcategory under one or more headers. If this is something you’d like to explore, drop us a line.

Our developers say: “The techy detail is that this is mostly getting in to FixMyStreet via the standard Open311. We fetch a list of services which contains details like category name, sometimes a description, the code to use for the council’s backend system and, optionally, a group.

“We’re now allowing the group to be a comma separated list of groups rather than a single one. It’s slightly trickier than that as it’s possible you want a comma in your group name so what we’re really doing is allowing the group item to be a single line of CSV which handles things like commas etc. We then parse this and where we stored a single group per category we now store a list of groups.”

If you didn’t follow that, don’t worry: all you need to know is that categories can now go under more than one header, and that life should be slightly easier for your residents as a result.

Image: Abraham Barrera

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