If you live almost anywhere in the UK, you can use FixMyStreet to report problems to councils.
The vast majority of councils have no problem with this, and they do a good job of responding to and dealing with reported problems. A bunch of councils even like the service enough that they’ve actually become clients, paying for customised versions that sit on their own websites.
But there have always been a small number of councils that have said ‘no dice’ to FixMyStreet: they either refuse to accept reports at all, or they tell FixMyStreet users to re-submit problems through another channel. Today the total number in the ‘no thanks’ column stands at ten councils – that’s out of about 430 in total.
Idealism versus Pragmatism
Recently we had a bit of a debate about what to do. On the one hand we want users to succeed in getting their problems fixed. But on the other we don’t want councils to simply opt out of the transparency and convenience that FixMyStreet offers.
We could digress into a long post with many other related issues, but today we’re simply talking about how we have decided to change the user interface for users trying to report problems to the minority of councils that claim not to be able to cope.
What to expect if you report a problem in the unlucky 2% of the UK
When you first try to report a problem, you’ll be alerted that the council doesn’t accept our reports.
In order not to leave you high and dry, we’ll provide a link to the council’s own reporting system—because, irrespective of the platform, your report still needs to be made.
But we don’t think that this situation should be quietly accepted, by us or by our users, especially since it means some councils get to simply opt out of transparency about problem handling.
So at the same time we’re telling a user how to report the problem, we’ll also invite them to tweet about it, and/or contact their local councillors.
Why the situation arose
You may be wondering why some authorities won’t accept our reports. We do not, after all, ask councils to adapt or modify their internal systems in any special way, unless they actively want to adopt the Open311 standard.
The messages our users generate are just plain text emails, and they go into the same email inboxes as any other message to a council would.
These reports are carefully appended with lots of useful details, too, including the category of the problem, its exact longitude and latitude, and the postcode or street address where available. Users can also attach photos.
Generally the reason cited for not accepting such email reports (or the same reports made by the industry standard Open311 API) is that the computer system inside the council can only handle problems reported via the council’s own official web interface. Why this is only a problem in 2% of councils is a mystery that remains to be solved.
Does your council accept FixMyStreet reports? Input your postcode on the site, and see if you get the alert. If not – there’s no problem.
Image: Nick Veitch (CC)
both Lanarkshire counties count as 2 of the small minority but too bad I live in West Dunbartonshire so it doesn’t matter.
You don’t seem to be flagging up Cambridgeshire County Council but unless things have changed recently they reply to fixmystreet messages about potholes by asking that we repost using their web site. 🙁
They seem to be rather undecided about whether to accept them or not Paul. I think that’s why. Some officers will reluctantly deal with them, others just refuse. Once in while, they’re fine with it.
That’s not a criticism of Fix My Street by the way, rather one of the council for being inconsistent and therefore unclear. I’d love it if our council was more enthusiastic about use of this site.
JOOI, how many councils currently use Open311?
Also, from a political perspective, it would be handy to have the list of all the councils that do accept FixMyStreet reports and the (much shorter) list of those that don’t publicly available somewhere. It might help to shame the refuseniks into taking action if there is a nice handy page that can be tweeted/Facebooked/emailed etc and capable of going viral among their residents.