Neighbourhood Fix-It makes it as easy as possible for citizens across
the UK to report local problems like fly tipping, broken lights, graffiti etc, whilst opening the problems up to browsing and public discussion of solutions.
The problem tackled
Councils across the UK do an excellent job of fixing local problems when they’re reported by citizens. However, the model for handling the information is a system of doctor-patient style confidentiality. A citizen who makes a report normally knows about a problem, and so does the council, but there is no general public way of finding out what has been reported or fixed.
Given that the nature of public problems being reported is that they are public, this seems a strange situation.
Neighbourhood Fix-It opens up and democratises the process of discovering and reporting problems, so people can see what other reports have been filed locally using the site, and can leave extra feedback and comments on the problems if they see fit.
In quiet beta test for a few weeks prior to launch, several hundred problems have already been reported across the UK. Fixes by councils so far include:
- Fixed paving slabs
- Redundant estate agent signs removed
- Filled pot holes
- Removed graffiti
Funding and Partnership
The project was funded with £10,000 of support from the Department of Constitutional Affairs Innovations Fund, and is a partnership with the Young Foundation’s Transforming Neighbourhoods Programme, a consortium of 15 local authorities, government departments and community organisations working together on practical ways to give more powers to neighbourhoods.
Tom’s quote from the press release: “Neighbourhood Fix-It aims to change the act of reporting faults – turning it from a private one-to-one process into a public experience where residents can see if anyone else in the neighbourhood has already spotted and reported a problem, and to see how their council is acting on it. We hope the website will make the process of reporting faults more efficient, possibly reducing the number of individual reports that councils receive because people will be able to see that their neighbours have already made the call.”
Neighbourhood fix it seems very similar to a scheme already in operation in a number of Boroughs, the most high profile being http://www.lovelewisham.org. This allows people to report images via a mobile phone and for everyone to view the response and actions taken by the council.
This site has been in operation for over 2 years and recently won the New Media Awards sponsored by New Statesman & Atos Origin. Mysociety were at that event and launched “fix it” with public funding money later. Do you pay them copyright?
Well done. I saw the story on bbc website
Have tried the service and look forward to seeing how it works.
Nick – we know and have met the people from Lovelewisham, which is a cool and interesting project. However, the two are really very different:
1. Love Lewisham is mostly about using mobiles and photos.
2. Neighbourhoodfixit.com is mostly about using maps
3. Neighbourhoodfixit.com encourages discussion about problems.
4. LoveLewisham is local, Neighbourhoodfixit is national.
As we discussed when we met, both are different technological approaches to the same issues. We’ll hopefully both learn of each other’s successes and failures: is there anything so wrong with that?
Love Lewisham allows users to provide a photographic image which can be from a mobile or from a camera and e-mailed. The image is put up on a site and then everyone gets to see the councils responses. The council benefit from also being provided with a pin point location which is taken from GPS or from information given and are provided with an exact mapped location.
If you input Love Lewisham into a search you will begin to find that it has stimulated debate internationally and there are comments from around the world in regard to a) the problem and b) this as a solution.
My understanding is that LoveLewisham is local to Lewisham but there are other models in place.
This solution was already in place and you seem to have used public money to replicate an existing commercial solution which seems to be against your very reason to exist.
“is there anything so wrong with that?” I think there might be.
Maybe I am missing the point here, but using the thinking from the governments transformational agenda regarding shared services.
Would this project not allow one single reporting system for all councils that do not have a solution in place?
Hence giving value for the money you have invested, by councils not having to procure separate software commercially.
I appreciate that the Lewisham model provides before and after pictures but for councils with no GIS system available publicly, this provides an ideal vehicle to enable us as a council to respond to complaints quicker.
But I have not researched this area to well and may be missing the bigger picture.
I would be interested in any comments.
I think the real problem here is that the government have funded a number of projects in this area of work (Project Encore, Project Nomad etc.) that sought to help develop and share specifications, XML Schema and good practice. The ‘Love Lewisham’ project was a’proof of concept’ idea for Project Encore. It was developed with the input of service providers to make sure that it helped, rather than hinder their work. There have been a number of other really good solutions that have emerged from these projects (Project Parsol, for example). I’m not blaming the MySociety techies for taking the opportunity to build NhoodFixIt. I just think that the Department for Constitutional Affairs might have been better off checking with Defra or the ODPM (now Communities & Local Government) before handing over the money!
I agree with Nigel on Governemet department such as Department of Constitutional Affairs handing out the money without checking with DeFRA or DCLG – just further evidence of how this government is in a mess – also go on to show that there isn’t any cross-government joint-up. Shame on DCA and specificly to the so called innvoation funds!
To pick up on Andy’s point, both the My society solution and the “lovelewisham” solution, provide a centralised public facing interface for fault or issue reporting.
The question is : should the solution be provided from the commercial market place and be readily available to be purchased or funded from the public purse and developed by communities such as My society.
If My society wishes to take status as a public funded “service” then they should not attend award ceremonies and then launch services that are already in existence.
The “lovelewisham” solution has been in place for 2 years and My society seem to have used public money to replicate it, this seems to be against the very reason as to why My society exists.
Commercial entities will cease to invest in technology, solutions and development within the Govt sector if they feel that their ideas are replicated and duplicate solutions are funded from the public purse.
â??is there anything so wrong with that?â?? I think there might be.
Maybe Nick can tell me why lovelewisham.org doesn’t work for me. When I click on a picture I just get a “The page cannot be found”. Hardly punter friendly, I’d say.
Dear Dusty Bin,
It works for me and it works for lots of others, don’t know why you had a problem.
Good luck if you try again
If you live in Lewisham, yes, a solution already exists. A few other local authorities probably have silimar versions. But for the other 50 million or so people in Britain, this is a new service. Surely you cannot think that it would be a better use of public money for each individual local authority to develop their own system?
Also, I’d be surprised if you could find a nationwide private sector solution that was cheaper and better than mySociety’s site. Even if mySociety did borrow Lewisham’s idea (and there are sufficient differences to suggest that they didn’t) it should not be a case of “me me me! I got their first!”, but of sharing ideas and innovations to make things better for everyone.
I reported an issue through Neighbourhood Fix-It to my local authority, Lambeth, who replied to me within 24 hours. That suugests to me that it’s an improvement.
Wow, robust stuff. So let me pick up on a few things here. First, from Nick, who says:
“If My society wishes to take status as a public funded â??serviceâ?? then they should not attend award ceremonies and then launch services that are already in existence.”
So, I think we’ve already pretty completely established that the premise of this question is empirically wrong: there isn’t a single solution that covers the whole of the UK and all local authorities except Neighbourhood Fix-It, or one that includes a substantial component of public discussion of problems. This is largely because of the tribalism of council IT politics, buying everything bespoke 400 times over, rather than working together to make one or two really good shared services. mySociety exists to teach various lessons to the public sector, and one of the most obvious is “Don’t build everything 400 times over!” If people want to give us awards for doing that, I’m not sure why we shouldn’t be allowed to go and get them.
Nick, you won’t know this, but one of mySociety’s criteria for selecting projects from the many dozens of ideas floating around at any one time has always been to do things that nobody else is doing. This is for two reasons, first because we don’t like treading on other people’s toes, and second because it is easier to succeed in an unoccupied ‘market’. We didn’t build GiveItAway because Freecycle came about, for example. But as the reception given by the media, blogs and users suggest, Neighbourhood Fix-It *is* something quite new. If they’re wrong about this, I can only turn it around and ask “Why don’t they know about the alternatives?”
Next, Nigel’s question about joined up conversations inside of government is an interesting one, but being outside of government I can’t help much on exactly what DCA did or didn’t do. However, as I said above, whilst I’m against the same thing being built 2,3,400 times over, I just don’t think lovelewisham and Neighbourhood Fix-It are similar enough, or costly enough (Â£10,000) to say that one absolutely ought to have been cancelled to allow the other to thrive. I think any civil servant who said Fix-It shouldn’t be funded because Lovelewisham exists would have made the wrong decision based on a misunderstanding of the differences, and there’d already be dozens or hundreds of small improvements to the local environment around the UK that wouldn’t have been made in the last couple of weeks, ignoring the thousands more that will be made in the year ahead.
Now, a couple of words on the economic concept of ‘crowding out’, where government’s reduce private sector innovation and investment by funding inferior services themselves. I have one particular problem with the application of this venerable theory in this case: the theory assumes that the good purchased by the government consumes a significant proportion of a finite resource available in the economy, significant enough for capital to flow away from the sector. In the case of a Â£10,000 project in Â£20bn sector, this seems rather unlikely.
One motivation for setting up mySociety was that despite the amount of money that government was spending on IT, the range of really excellent, innovative and public-value adding projects being offered by companies in the public sector IT community seemed inexplicably low. Often they seemed unwilling to challenge government on the question “Do you *really* want that, will it *really* help people?”.
mySociety, consequently, is all about nudging and challenging the government and the voluntary sector, which is why we’ve built a service that affects all councils without asking them if it’s OK first, because it’s better for citizens this way. Bravo to the DCA for letting us do this, and boo sucks to any department which would ever compromise the citizen benefits to allow agencies, departments or councils to feel an ounce more powerful.
We did the same thing (build without asking explicit permission) with Parliament, for councillors and MSPs on WriteToThem, and we will do it with all of central government in relation to FOI this summer, using money from a big philanthropic foundation. Whilst we will always work in a friendly way with bits of government who want to work with us, and we’ll make modifications to make their lives easier and the services better, we will never stop challenging the bits that need to get a clue in order to provide citizens with those simple, tangible benefits in the civil and community sides of their lives that things like Neighbourhood Fix-It supply.
all the best,
Tom is right to say…..
“…the tribalism of council IT politics, buying everything bespoke 400 times over, rather than working together to make one or two really good shared services. mySociety exists to teach various lessons to the public sector, and one of the most obvious is â??Donâ??t build everything 400 times over!â??
He’s also right to say….
“One motivation for setting up mySociety was that despite the amount of money that government was spending on IT, the range of really excellent, innovative and public-value adding projects being offered by companies in the public sector IT community seemed inexplicably low. Often they seemed unwilling to challenge government on the question â??Do you *really* want that, will it *really* help people?â??.”
On the other hand, Nick is correct to say…
“Commercial entities will cease to invest in technology, solutions and development within the Govt sector if they feel that their ideas are replicated and duplicate solutions are funded from the public purse.”
But I think that Tom’s rebuttal of this ….
“the good purchased by the government consumes a significant proportion of a finite resource available in the economy, significant enough for capital to flow away from the sector. In the case of a Â£10,000 project in Â£20bn sector, this seems rather unlikely.”
… is fairly solid.
I’m curious about what commercial development that Nick beleives has been stymied by this project though? And I’d be interested to know if Neighbourhood Fix-It will struggle because of any lack of ‘wrap-around’ services (training, white-label marketing, buy-in etc)
The following question arises though – and maybe this would provide another useful purpose for MySociety.
I work for a techie co-op. For some years now, we have not been a traditional commercial enterprise. One of the things that we have done as part of our attempt to be different is to try and create a demand for something that *we think* that local government *should* be doing. Normal commercial investors would be reluctant to invest in anything that requires institutional change in order to create the market. Small and non-traditional companies often have an ambition for their prospective clients, and this is something that – I beleive – should be cultivated.
So, here’s one example. As I (personally) have a particular penchant for representative democracy, I tried to encourage Councils to provide Councillors with their own websites and the kind of support that they’d need to manage them effectively.
Councils weren’t that disposed to do this, and the handful of Councillors who wished they would be were unable to persuade them to do so either. We found a dozen Councils to jointly fund the software / backup services to run it for two years and we thereby proved that it was a useful and desireable thing for local authorities to do. We now run it as a successful commercial service (yay!).
Now, you can argue with me about whether this is *really* a good thing (please – not here!), but the one thing that I think that is needed is a forum whereby lots of Councils can meet and partner developers to develop a well-managed service – one that can be owned collectively by the Councils concerned – and one that commercial partners can help roll out (and be rewarded for doing so).
At the moment, the idea of collective and co-operative procurement – and the development of services that have a transformational potential (like Neighbourhood fix it) – is something that doesn’t happen very often. Procurment rules tend to preclude it, and local authorities often seem to have their noses too close to the grindstone to do the kind of creative thinking that is needed in order to do things properly.
How can Councils be encouraged to get the mix of MySociety’s imagination and can-do, while at the same time, contribute to a vibrant commercial sector with which it has an engaged and (moderately) trusting relationship?
Take a look at http://local.direct.gov.uk/mycouncil/
This site offers pretty much the same thing as nhoodFixIt, but was built in consultation with Local Government. My point is that one bit of Govenment (DCA) seems to have funded MySociety to produce something that may have been more effectively delivered as an enhancement to the direct.gov service, funded by another bit of government(ODPM). Now I’m fairly sure there will be lot of jobs generated by NhoodFixIt flying around without sufficient consultation having taken place with officers in those authorities to deal with them properly. That could end up with more frustrated residents than we have already. Maybe NhoodFixIt, LoveLewisham and DirectGov should sit down together and look at how we could all work co-operatively for the public good?
What seems particularly unique about the approach of this site is that each flagged problem is public to other users. Each pothole is a conversation.
I am not aware of any government e-service platform that allows the public to see their joint demand for service in such a granular way. I doubt any government organization would host such openness or transparency on their own servers.
Tom, is there a way E-Democracy.Org can link to a council level starting point map so we can tie a link into our local Issues Forums in the UK: http://e-democracy.org/uk
Also, I could see this working in other countries. Why not use Google Maps?
Youâ??re certainly in a bullish mood! There has been a debate raging on the Public Sector Forums noticeboard about this but, as Tom offered the invitation to raise issues here too, Iâ??ll summarise the issues as they affect our processes (ignoring the â??somebody-else-has-already-done-itâ?? stuff):
Good points about â??fixit:
1. Anything that gives people more options to communicate with their council is great.
2. Maps that show other potential complainants that the matterâ??s already been reported are excellent.
3. You can report issues without caring which council is responsible.
5. It proves that you can get as far with a bit of common-sense and a bit of programming skill as any flabby national project you care to mention.
Points of council-style whingeyness:
1. â??fixit does the easy bit â?? reporting â?? but the hard job is in routing the enquiry to the best person to deal with it as quickly as possible.
2. Once the “submit” button’s been pressed, the customer’s expectation of a response will have been raised. This can be hard to manage when the request has just been plopped onto a big e-doormat with no routing.
3. Thereâ??s no mechanism (as yet) to differentiate between councils and districts in two tier areas (both get the same e-mail) thereby putting extra pressure on council staff to sort out the problem.
Councils are a soft target for a headline-grabber like this because weâ??re easily held to account. Nobodyâ??s set up an “insurancefixit” or “bankingfixit” or “estateagentfixit” or “thebloodyroyalmailhavelostanotherparcelfixit” and you’d probably want to get through to them just as easily. Has anyone tried complaining to BT recently? I rest my case!
As someone concisely put it on the other noticeboard, it seems like, “Dear councils, look, we’ve done the easy bit for you, now all you have to do is the difficult bit.”
Just one quick bit on Nigelâ??s comment. Directgovâ??s /mycouncil site wasnâ??t built in consultation with me! I was told under threat of “reporting me to my headmaster” to produce spreadsheets of URLs and to maintain them so that Directgov could refer us seven more hits during the take-up campaign.
as I have pointed out on my blog – http://paulcanning.blogspot.com/2007/03/neighbourhoodfixit.html – if you think your ‘troubles’ end with neighbourhoodfixit being absorbed into directgov – shudder – then have another think.
nfixit isn’t the only people populating what lgov people appear to still assume is solely our territory. plus this is an opportunity, if you stop and actually think about it.
have a look at the web we’re *part of (not separate from in some sort of walled garden or maybe silo) …
and another thing…
I can see at least two very basic usability errors staring me in the face on ‘connect to your council’:
1. the sole search field which a ‘connect to your council’ branding naturally leads you to actually searches the whole site.
2. the image isn’t clickable.
just those two things would lose you lots of people. oh but let’s not care about that, let’s *force them through this!
how the hell did they get that wrong with the price charged? how can one lowly officer know that basic, web technique and not whoever’s responsible?
*please don’t get me started!
Nigel, Steve has hit the nail on the head. This is a project primarily about the community aspect of being able to see other people’s reports, and to talk about them: DirectGov’s tool can’t do that. That’s why it was funded by a bit of the DCA connected with democratic engagement, you see.
Just a quick meta-point here: whilst I disagree with some of the things being said here, I think this is exactly how disagreements about public funding should be carried out – in public, on record, not just back-room sniping 🙂
all the best,
I have been invited to comment on this blog by Tom as I am resposible with my company BBITS for writing Mediaklik the software behind Love Lewisham. As stated it has been in existence for a number of years and brings together a number of elements – an image and issue can be submitted from the public or an employee via the web site, an email, any camera phone or using our rich pda client which captures location and other data automatically.
We geocode all this data and provide Microsoft live Maps and an interactive website BUT most importantly we also provide workflow management that links into the councils process’s – this allows them to schedule work and work with submitters. We can integrate this into their GIS and CRM systems.
As the council have bought into the solution they also allow their employees to submit images and it has become ingrained in their process’s – therefore the council can plan and schedule work and not work in a constant knee jerk response mode.
There are other installations (e.g. http://www.tidyoldham.co.uk) and we are in dialogue with others the view to rolling out Mediaklik nationally – so in that respect our thunder has been stolen slightly by Tom and the guys, however our emphasis on a partnership with the council as well as the citizen distinguishes our product and makes it, I believe, more beneficial to all.
That said I would welcome the opportunity to work with the Neighbourhood Fix-It team so that the data is processed in one place. We are developing an open web service API that would mean this would be easy for them to do (whatever platform the development is on), and it would mean the public and the councils would have a simpler and more effective route to reporting and dealing with environmental issues.
Tom, if you really would like to help build a better solution that addresses some of the concerns that councils have raised here (“‘fixit does the easy bit – reporting – but the hard job is in routing the enquiry to the best person to deal with it as quickly as possible”) then I think we should talk.
Further to Ian’s post (#20 above, last para), I said it on the other board and I’ll say it in public here too. If you want my contribution to the development of the project as a constructive critic, I’m happy to be involved too. James
Firstly, I agree with everything James has said. We want to improve the forwarding of reports, which I believe is his main concern. Incidentally, I’m not sure a user (customer? whatever)’s expectation of a response has been raised by submitting a problem on our site. Those who have got in touch with us seem to just like the fact the problem has been reported and is publically viewable – one person had been reporting something for five years, he says, and it’s now been fixed within days of being reported on our site! Another has been reporting something for ages and the council still haven’t done anything a month later, but they don’t seem that fazed.
Ian, I should point out that lots of councils have emailed us and said it’s a great idea and seem quite happy with the current setup; obviously they have no reason to post in this thread. 🙂 Now, I’m not happy which is why I have two major tickets: some way of directing queries more appropriately as James and others have asked; and sending the nearest postal address to the problem’s location automatically to help locate problems, which again some people have emailed nicely and asked for.
Well for me both sites don’t work.
In Neighbourhood Fixit I typed in my Belfast post code and got the message “We do not cover Northern Ireland, I’m afraid, as our licence doesn’t include any maps for the region.”
In Connect to your council” I selected Potholes. That site then required me to find my local authority (rather than doing that automatically for me). I typed in my Belfast postcode again, and got in reply the lie “The postcode you have entered is invalid. Please try again.” So I clicked on the link to Find a local authority in Northern Ireland. That took me just to a list of councils, expecting me to know which of the 26 councils (for 1.5 million people) the pothole is in. This process had already taken me a long way from pothole reporting.
Yet on Google maps I can see large scale maps of Belfast and Derry, and small scale maps of the rest of Northern Ireland, and use Community Walk to overlay markers on the map (e.g. http://www.communitywalk.com/map/5267).
As a council e-gov person, I think some of the “council-style whingeyness” that’s emerged about this (more apparent in the Public Sector Forums discussion than here) is a reaction to the fact that Neighbourhood Fix-It has undermined part of the e-gov dream, as it was seen in many councils. Unintentionally, I’m sure, but it has.
The dream was that by providing access to services online we could make them better for the customer and simultaneously reduce our transaction costs. We know transaction costs on the web can be significantly lower than those for call centres or other channels – but only with a fully integrated process that takes the data from the web form into the operational systems that get the work done. If a human has to intervene, the costs are much the same as other channels, maybe even a bit higher.
A part of the original e-gov dream was standards-based interoperability. That would have meant that something like NFI could send councils data in a published XML schema that all their systems would accept. But that part of the dream mostly died, or at least went into long-term hibernation, some time ago.
So many councils set out to provide web forms that linked into their back-office systems. Since they each have different systems, they did that in various, non-interoperable ways. It wasn’t cheap, but they could make a business case based on the reduction in transaction costs they could expect.
And then along comes NFI and starts encouraging their customers to use a different channel that leads to the council getting an email, needing human intervention to process. If a lot of customers go for that, the council’s investment in web integration was wasted and they aren’t going to meet their efficiency targets. No wonder some council people are a bit upset.
With hindsight, you could argue that they were unwise to assume that customers would (have to?) use their web forms. As Paul Canning’s already commented, the web isn’t their territory. But councils are prone to thinking they don’t have competitors.
Now maybe we’ll see a battle for market share between things like NFI and the “official” council channels, at least in those areas where the councils have already committed themselves too far to pull back. Should be interesting …
Do you know of any website or program like this in the United States?
David: If you can find out how we could get access to OSNI maps, that’d be great. Google Maps, ignoring things like it could add adverts or be removed, just isn’t good enough quality at a street level in my opinion.
Peter: “That would have meant that something like NFI could send councils data in a published XML schema that all their systems would accept.” – with API keys (e.g. like Flickr) to prevent abuse, that would have been great! What a shame. 🙁
1) In terms of competition between NFI and other sites, I think it’s a good thing – and necessary for different approaches to be tried to find out what works best. Sure there’s some issues around should public money fund more than one project but at these cost levels not such a big deal.
2) I’m pleased that it only cost £10,000 – not that it should cost any more than that to develop – but government websites usually seem to be more expensive.
The NZ Immigration Dept recently spent NZ$1,000,000 on a jobs website for potential immigrants, which currently lists 8 jobs.
We could use a few more mySociety’s around here…
I just don’t know you guys are making a big deal about this project – I have been living in US and such projects started well but ended in a DUST BIN within few months. I can see that this project is also heading in the same direction. Waste for public money – Shame on DCA and Tom.
Jim will fix it.
Well done Tom, if anyone embarrasses local government to improve their online accountability it will be My Society. I do have sympathy with Nickâ??s view that it is a bit odd to use central government funding, however small, to replicate a service provided by local government. But if the result is an improved service then the end will have justified the means.
I also agree with Peteâ??s point that to use a different channel that leads to the council getting an email, needing human intervention to process is not as efficient as the Council receiving a message pre-formatted in a standard compatible with their own systems. And that is the Councilâ??s problem for not making people more aware of their own reporting system. Pete goes on to say that maybe we will see a battle for market share between your Neighbourhood Fix It and â??officialâ?? council channels. But is your site any less â??officialâ??? As long as you receive any funding from central government that has to be questionable. A bit like the Citizens Advice Bureau saying it is independent when actually most of its funding comes from government.
So I guess my main point is I would not want to see a battle for market share, but some nudging in the right direction will be helpful.
I’ll need to read all this at more leisure, but very interested as I’ve just spent 5 months nominally art-time (but increasingly full-time) ‘doing’ directing managing an environmental project that is all about street defects (u/s lights, potholes, ponding, noise pollution, recycling, refuse collections, overlapping with ‘greening’ tree planting, bad tree management, poor maintenance, blocked gullies, flooding, etc etc) – and reporting via westminster and Camden’s web reporting, and finding the big holes between these and actually getting work done, responded to, replied to, and any understanding of local needs, problems – or indeed any knowledge of the area.
Key and critical is the remoteness of the councl employees, the problems of extedned contracting and sub-contracting, lack of effective or present management ……
We – and this has included rebuilding a local eyes and ears network, so far with limitations – I’m either doing most of the inspections, photographing, sometimes with local reps/members – but has had some impact and successful achieved repairs and action that had been absent.
Systems are critical – and need to interface with and be part of the council’s workflow management out to and including those who actually do the work.
There are other systems developed – not sure as I looked through above whether this had been picked up – like Community Alert http://www.communityalert.org.uk/ developed at UCL I think with Met Police money see http://www.casa.ucl.ac.uk/news/newsStory.asp?ID=116. The ‘system enables the community to report anti-social behaviour in an anonymous way that enables us to protect and enhance community values. The system is backed by the Bloomsbury Association and supported by UCL.’
But as far as I can see it doesn’t interface other than with a paper output for the police, or for re-inputting to the local authorities web reporting ….. and adds to the growing workload for volunteers or staff. Maybe it could be adapted.
And don’t forget that many, especially the more elderly and still active, or on low income and/or in social housing like in our area, will maybe phone or write in (if they are persistent enough) maybe to the Council hotlines etc, or perhaps to the Community Association.
I have a big backlog of data to input into a spreadsheet to analyse all the defects noted, reported etc., what really bugs people (our questionnaire earlier), and write a fuller snappy report ……. and organise the digital photo image library, paper, and try and keep something ticking over ’til I get some more funding to do, including a GIS approach.
Phew! Hope that interests or helps.
On this subject, and the point of ” materiality “. The MySpace solution is built and works.
This BBC report in October 2004 on NHS for IT predicted then an overspend of between £ 12,000,000,000 and £ 18,600,000
We do not know if it will ever work.
If people were as concerned about this in proportion to the £ 10,000 on Neigbourhoodfixit, then democracy really would be working.
Itâ??s fascinating how much of this discussion seems to focus on the software. It appears disconnected with how local Council services actually work (or not); and how they can learn and improve.
The debate seems another example of the fallacy â?? shared by the Government of course â?? that improved “access” automatically produces better services.
This is especially odd when most of the contributors to the debate appear to be ICT professionals and know that an attractive and accessible â??front-endâ?? is no guarantee that the programme works. This project independently adds yet another front-end to the existing front-ends. Under criticism, its big idea is the “community aspect of being able to see other peopleâ??s reports, and to talk about them”.
As a customer phoning a call centre, how does it help me to see list of all the other people waiting â??for one of our agents to be freeâ?? and the problems they are calling about? Does anybody want an online dialogue with the other customers waiting to get through?
I assumed too that ICT professionals would accept the need for systems thinking in the design of the entire process. (See: John Seddonâ??s work – freely downloadable from: http://www.lean-service.com/home.asp ) One of Seddonâ??s key themes is how badly designed systems themselves generate failure demand and lock-in more waste.
Suppose there are now twenty instead of two reports of the same pothole or pile of dumping; generated now via Neighbourhood Fix-it, as well as a Councilâ??s own switchboard and website. Will the pothole get fixed or rubbish get cleared more quickly? Or will staff spend an ever larger part of their day meeting dysfunctional â??targetsâ?? for customer response times in answering phones and emails?
And while all this activity – accessing, reporting, and fixing â?? is going on, has anyone got any time to do some â??single-loop learningâ??. Are these potholes a symptom of a deteriorating stretch of roadway?
Or â??double-loop learningâ??: How do we get people to recycle and not dump at all?
you’re correct about the underlying issues with processes. We are coming up against this in attitudes expressed by the public – legacy issues, what a mate told them and their experience on other websites. Expectations of action are not great.
But in terms of the multiplicity of information/reporting, can’t we use this for our benefit? sites like patientopinion are doing this already.
I can see issues here in terms of who gets heard but the technology (web 2.0 essentially) has the potential to, for example, be a great aid to the learning/wider picture you point to.
Thanks for your comment Paul.
At your suggestion I looked at Patient Opinion website. I checked my local hospital – the North Middlesex. There are two comments: 30 November 2006 and 4 March 07. One was a concrete suggestion for improvements. One a complaint about a relative’s treatment – “my mum was left in a wet bed”.
I’m a local councillor. If you were one of these two people and came to me, what advice should I have given? To put it in your blog? To post a message on a website? Or to use the hospital’s own complaints procedures and insist on a proper investigation of the issues raised?
Of course, there’s no guarantee that such formal procedures will achieve the needed change. But multiplying the outside reporting channels won’t guarantee that either. At least, no more than raising things via a councillor, or the CAB, or your MP, through a host of voluntary agencies, or your local newspaper.
At some point the service itself needs to listen and learn; and to improve the systems it runs.
Of course, as an outsider myself I know it’s a lot easier, less stressful, more fun, and better paid (excluding me) to be outside “advocating” and “facilitating”; than inside actually running a day-to-day service.
Which isn’t an excuse for excluding public criticism and dialogue about services. But I try to remember that multiplying the reporting channels might just worsen the noise-to-signal ratio and even make things worse.
A further vital point. Public dialogue about services needs far more than service users reporting and complaining. There’s a key issue of mutual learning and shared responsibility.
Take the apparently simple issue of reporting dumping so the Council can come round promptly and clear it. I’ve visited cities which are clean because labour is cheap and an army of cleaners constantly sweeps up litter and dumping. And I’ve been in cities which are clean because residents value cleanliness, recycling, civilised public spaces – and accept their own civic responsibility for helping to produce this.
Improved ICT “Access” without improved Civic Pride is just an update of the old Alexei Sayle joke.
“I went to the toilet last week and I’ve posted to the Fix-it website. But the bloody Council *still* haven’t come round to pull the chain.”
1 Improved access, or even choice, does not make for more effective service – whether it be fixing a u/s street light (having to coordinate between two departments of the council AND their supplier/contractor over three months), getting the Inland Revenue finally after 8 months to both concede a correction but at the same time make it clear it’s still ‘your’ fault, or getting one part of the local Council finance department to talk to another to stop prosecution for an unpaid business rates bill that had been fully waived …….
2 Making it easier to report and/or complain, and having that clearly visible, and having all reports visible and public, is a good first step. Having alternative reporting services available run by different people – great! Having them directly interface with the relevant public body – even better! It is then the lack of integration starts unravelling everything – with no system or systematic follow through or follow up, reporting back, or effective management. Individual employees, and individual departments, within local authorities can be very good and effective, and get things fixed. But this is usually in spite of the wider bureaucracy, systems, and lack of systems, and in one good example in Camden is of an individual who certainly goes way beyond his job description in trying to get work done.
3 I’m still databasing the data I’ve collected over the last 5 months, but it became pretty clear early on that peoples anecdotal experience in reporting problems by phone, in writing, on pre-paid cards, via the web, via councillors, community associations, etc., was being replicated. The range of experiences include being ignored, being told that something would be done but nothing happening (one egregious example: the notorious rising bollards in James Street Covent Garden, that have not worked for apparently 5 years, despite repeated assurances that they were going to be or had been repaired), and being told the problem was already known about but still nothing happening, the problem being fixed. And invariably there will be no confirmation back that action has been taken, or a defect fixed.
4 I’ve looked at patientopinion, and can see the limitations of relying for example on 1 person’s rating of a hospital.
It reminded me though that in one local forum earlier this year someone asked about local GP surgeries. After some searching I was able to report back:
To find GPs etc, go via http://www.westminster-pct.nhs.uk/services/index.htm Each practice should provide brief details of services, availability etc.
I don’t know of any rating or quality assessments – a gap in the market?
There are walk-in centres: http://www.westminster-pct.nhs.uk/services/walkin.htm
Given that the majority of peoples needs are going to be handled by local doctors, dentists, or the walk-in centres, these would be more a priority for ratings and assessment of their care and treatment.
The local forum I mentioned – should have provided the link – is at http://www.westmin.co.uk/index.php
I’d also observe that the more reports made by one person or organisation does have an impact. At least to the extent that more senior managers get asked to explain the reasons for the growing volume! Even if the defects don’t get get fixed any faster or at all. One of Westminster’s directors was quite candid at the last West End Area Forum, that they knew that their systems weren’t working very well, especially but not solely in the extended relationships and communications with contractors and then their sub-contractors.
I’d also add that it isn’t just the local councils (and their contractors whether well managed or more typically not) who are involved. Some of the worst problms are caused by the utilities and their contractors – e.g. Thames Water, EdF, NationalGridGas.
One of the requirements I’m specifying for the community association web site (currently very passive and content-lite 🙂 at http://www.coventgarden.org.uk/ and I’m not convinced of its usabilty let alone accessibility) is to include GIS mapping and plotting for service and campaigning work – linked to image / photo library, to LAs planning, licensing etc applications, environmental defects, outages, greening – and also to member organisations (services or products available), crime, local services, attractions, activities (link with calendar) etc.
Re: neighbourhood Fix It
I am disappointed by some of the adverse remarks about Neighbourhood-Fix-It. The most important factor about this system is that it provides a One-Stop shop for the public to report any environmental matter to the borough council. As a member of the public I simply want to report the matter and forget about it!
One of the great benefits of a system such as this is that it is NOT owned by the Council!
I am the coordinator for this system.
Again this system provides a One-Stop shop for people to report anti social behaviour to their local Safer Neighbourhood Team – it is NOT a crime reporting system, and it is NOT intended to integrate with police systems, but more to help improve communications and relations between the public and the police LOCALLY.
The system is currently set up for the Bloomsbury Ward in London and is about to be launched in Holborn and Covent Garden – it is still a beta system. The Bloomsbury system handled 1600 incident reports in the past 12 months, that provided valuable intelligence concerning street based drugs activity and was able to provide early-warning of changes in drug dealing locations and other incident types. It is managed on a day to day basis by a long time local person from within each ward who is connected to or sits on the local Safer Neighbourhoods Panel.
Jim, the ‘adverse remarks’ about Neighbourhood Fixit are part of a serious debate about how such systems work or – far more likely in my view – fail to work.
I can understand your view that members of the public would like to report something and forget about it. That’s how I feel about lots of services which I pay for. Unfortunately, neither the private sector nor the public sector work like that. Nor does Neighbourhood Fixit bring that goal any nearer.
On a very basic level, consider the problem in not being able get back to the person who reported a problem. It’s a serious drawback if they haven’t specified which potholes they mean. Or the model and regsitration number of the abandoned car which is perfectly obvious to them.
Is the ‘abandoned car’ really abandoned or untaxed? If the latter then the DVLA needs to be involved – so blaming the local council does not help. How we can local Council explain that to A. Nonymous?
Is a noise nuisance a one-off party or a regular event? To take somebody to Court and confiscate their equipment, staff may need to access someone’s home and measure the noise. They can’t do that if somebody made an anonymous report via a website.
Underlying the whole idea is the quaint notion that local councils should be a sort of ‘environmental fairy’. That their job is to go round quietly and remove dumping, litter, graffiti etc. For quite a lot of people all this does is ‘educate’ them to dump more. A resident once congratulated me on the way they could leave stuff on the pavement, report it to the Council and see it moved within 24 hours.
Just reporting and forgetting it ignores the reality that, for example, clean cities with recycled waste require a joint effort between citizens and local government and agencies. It certainly requires a behavioural change for the many thousands of Londoners who assume that they should leave rubbish and then complain if somebody else doesn’t clear it up.
That essential behaviour change will require a medium and long-term programme of persuasion and education. No quick fix there.
The Neighbourhood Fixit scheme also ignores current reality of how organisations work or fail to work when it comes to seeing and acting on patterns, and ‘framing’ problems.
For instance let’s take the argument put by Dominic –
‘that more senior managers get asked to explain the reasons for the growing volume! Even if the defects don’t get fixed any faster or at all.’
Really? Most of the time the Government’s dysfunctional attempts to micromanage local services by ‘targets’ means most local authority and contacted staff are forced to focus on their response times. They ‘score’ highly if they can ‘open’ and ‘close’ an inquiry within a set time-frame. There is no incentive to stop and reflect and try to respond in a different more intelligent way.
Imagination, lateral thinking and organisational learning don’t show up on the Performance Indicators. Nor does it help ‘Star’ ratings and other gradings if somebody takes the trouble to collect data, reflect on and reframe a problem.
But let’s assume this does happen. That staff use their brains and commitment to offer more than Call Centre scripts. They try learning from the thousands of requests made and experiment with new ways to tackle old problems. It does happen!
But consider what happens if experiments are ‘real’ and carry a risk of failure. The Government wants success. ‘Quick wins’ if possible. Fresh thought and experiments which may not succeed are not the stuff of congratulatory press releases.
A final point. Councils and their contractors can only spend public money once. It would be great if we could immediately resurface every road, re-light every street, remove every graffito, every dumped car and pile of rubbish. With a lot more money we might even be able to do this as fast as the requests come in. But budgeting really does means choosing.
It would be great if local people were involved in those choices. But choosing also means saying: ‘No’; or ‘Not yet’, to residents’ perfectly reasonable requests. Maybe your street a couple of years before my street.
Or what if the majority of local people actually prefer a lower Council Tax to paying for all these ‘public goods’? If resources aren’t available to tackle the problems, adding more websites to report problems adds nothing.
In fact they make it worse by multiplying the pile of problem reports which cannot be acted on.
“On a very basic level, consider the problem in not being able get back to the person who reported a problem.” and “They can’t do that if somebody made an anonymous report via a website.” – there are no anonymous reports on Neighbourhood Fix-It. People can choose not to show their name on the front end, but their details are, as it says, forwarded to the council and their email address has been checked as existing so that the council can reply to the problem reporter.
First my apologies for getting it completely wrong about reports through Neighbourhood Fixit being anonymous. And thanks to Matthew for putting me right.
But my other points still stand. By the way, I accept that many of the same criticisms apply to the Direct.gov.uk website. Recently, this was heavily advertised with a half-page ad featuring a photo of a fire-damaged house in Tottenham. Even if someone knew the address of this property and had followed the Direct.gov links, they wouldn’t be any wiser about what’s actually going to happen to this site!
Meanwhile, there seem to be some glitches with the Fixit site. I’ve been trying to check what actually happens to reports which go to Haringey. This was the response from our Customer Services:
“We have only ever received four enquiries via this method, three in February 2007 and one in March.
In all four cases, sufficient information was provided… we have not needed further information. The attachments sent are supposedly ‘maps’, but we cannot access these attachments, so this doesn’t actually offer any additional facility.”
Every report to Haringey has been sent to the same address and been successfully delivered, so I can’t really offer any more explanation on that point. Good to hear that we are supplying sufficient information, anyway; I’m not sure what they mean by attachments, as our reports don’t contain any. If you’re in contact with them, feel free to ask them to get in touch so we can help clear things up and find out what they mean; I’m surprised they haven’t already done so.
I started reading this, because I noticed the UK corrected to Britain and guessed why. OSNI is accessible, but maybe not in the way you need, at http://www.osni.gov.uk/
I registered and was able to access individual addresses and see previews of, admittedly, not very clear constituency maps.
Hope this helps, keep up the good work.
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