1. Statement from mySociety regarding misuse of FixMyStreet data

    We sometimes see stories in national and regional press that use data from FixMyStreet, our long-running reporting service for local problems, to report on the best or worst places for potholes, fly-tipping and other topical issues.

    When we are asked by journalists and other organisations to provide such data, we always say no, because data from FixMyStreet cannot be used to definitively compare different areas in a fair manner

    However, because FixMyStreet is an open source platform which displays all reports publicly to facilitate an open and community-centric approach to reporting, we don’t always get a say in the matter or have a chance to provide essential caveats about the limitations of the data before it ends up misinterpreted and misused in a story that gets picked up by the press. 

     

    Why FixMyStreet data cannot be used to fairly compare areas

    While FixMyStreet is a national reporting service, the data from it paints only a small part of the picture. 

    1. FixMyStreet is one of many ways in which citizens across the UK can report a problem to their local council. In most cases, FixMyStreet works alongside authorities’ own online reporting services. Reports are also made to authorities via social media, via telephone, via email and even via word of mouth to local councillors. In those areas, FixMyStreet reports do not tell the full story.
    2. Meanwhile, a growing number of councils use the platform as their own integrated service via FixMyStreet Pro, which is run by our wholly owned subsidiary SocietyWorks. As a result, these areas may seem to have more reports about an issue than others, but this doesn’t suggest the problem is more prevalent there; instead, it suggests that more reports are being made via FixMyStreet instead of another service or channel. 
    3. Another thing to note is that a small number of councils refuse to accept reports from residents via third parties like FixMyStreet full stop, so in those areas the data would make it look as though there are no problems there at all.
    4. It is also worth noting that reports on FixMyStreet display a status to say whether the issue is fixed or not. This helps people in a community to understand what is being done, but it relies on users coming back to mark an issue as fixed when it has been. This limits the reliability of data looking at, for example, all open reports within a certain category, because some of those issues may actually have been resolved. Follow-ups sent to report-makers help to mitigate against this, while reports whose statuses haven’t changed for a long time eventually become marked as ‘unknown’. 
    5. Furthermore, categories on FixMyStreet and FixMyStreet Pro are set by each individual council to reflect the issues they can deal with and the terminology used by their internal systems. For that reason there is no such thing as a simple way to compare all potholes, for example, reported in an area, because those reports might also be listed under ‘road defect’ or ‘dip in road’.
    6. Perhaps the most crucial reason comparison is unfair using FixMyStreet data alone is the disparity in where it is used, how it is used and who it is used by across the UK. A joint research article published in the Spring 2023 edition of the Irish Local Authority Times by mySociety and the University of Stirling found that people in areas of middle deprivation report the most problems via FixMyStreet, but that does not mean those areas have the most problems. 

    Another example of this can be found in mySociety research into incidents of deprivation from 2019 which found that reports of dog fouling have a peak in areas of middle deprivation, but this does not reflect the real world incidence of dog fouling, which was found to be most prevalent in the highest areas of deprivation.

    More generally, joint research in 2018 by the University of Stirling, the University of Sheffield and mySociety into the geography of FixMyStreet reports found that there are clear differences between areas in relation to the kinds of things that are reported most frequently, making comparison on a national scale wholly unreliable. 

     

    Final thoughts

    We built FixMyStreet in 2007 to make it easier for people to report problems in their neighbourhood, with a simple reporting process and no need for any prior knowledge of council boundaries or responsibilities. Our intention was, and continues to be, to help citizens engage in their community, to get the right information to the right people – and never to pit authorities or areas against each other, or denounce the worst place for an issue.

    FixMyStreet helps to construct a snapshot of communities. It enables people to see what has been reported and to which authority, while at the same time attempting to reduce the occurrence of report duplication for the responsible authority.

    For all the reasons we’ve given, mySociety and SocietyWorks will not endorse the simplistic use of FixMyStreet data to compare, denounce or rank areas.

    Of course, that is not to say that data from FixMyStreet is not useful to analyse in other contexts, and we are always supportive of research that is carried out with more constructive premises. If you are interested, you can find a wealth of research using FixMyStreet data on the mySociety Research website.

    Councils and other authorities can find out more about FixMyStreet and how it works here: https://www.fixmystreet.com/about/information-for-councils 

  2. FixMyStreet is now available in Welsh

    Broken street lights, fly-tipping, potholes and other local, place-based issues in Wales can now be reported to the correct authority by citizens in Welsh as well as in English via FixMyStreet, the long-running reporting service for street and environmental problems provided by civic technology charity mySociety, upon which SocietyWorks’ FixMyStreet Pro is built.

    FixMyStreet is a progressive web app that enables citizens across the UK to report local problems to the authority responsible for fixing them, even if they do not know who that is. For the first time since its launch in 2007, users in Wales wanting to make reports in Welsh will be able to view a Welsh-language version of the website and app, including a Welsh-language map provided by Mapio Cymru.

    Image shows a desktop and mobile version of the Welsh-language version of FixMyStreet, including the Welsh-language map tiles provided by Mapio Cymru

    Over half a million people in Wales speak Welsh and the Welsh Government aims to double this by 2050. Having digital services that work as well in Welsh as they do in English is key to achieving this growth in the language. Launched in 2019, Mapio Cymru is a project that aims to ensure mapping services are as good in Welsh as they are in English. Using open data sources Mapio Cymru provides a Welsh-only map of Wales. It also works with organisations across Wales to improve mapping services in the Welsh language.

    Louise Crow, Chief Executive at mySociety, said: “FixMyStreet was built to make it easier for citizens to report problems in their communities. We are delighted to be able to make the service accessible to Welsh-speaking citizens, with a fully translated reporting process and a Welsh-language map, enabling users to select the street names and locations with which they are familiar. We look forward to seeing the Welsh-language version of the service put to good use by more citizens who care about improving where they live.”

    Ben Proctor, Innovation Director at Data Orchard CIC which runs the Mapio Cymru project, said: “Digital mapping technology is really powerful and easy for organisations like mySociety to use in English. Sadly it’s not the same in Welsh. We aim to make it easier for organisations to deliver services on the highest quality Welsh-language mapping available.”

    Are you a Welsh-speaker?

    Welsh-speaking users can start using the Welsh-language version of FixMyStreet straight away by heading to cy.fixmystreet.com or downloading the FixMyStreet app from the relevant app store.

    There are gaps in Mapio Cymru’s Welsh language map because the project relies on volunteers and public bodies to contribute definitive Welsh names. Volunteers can help to plug the gaps by adding the Welsh names for features on the map (buildings, roads, mountains, fields and so on). Public bodies can help to plug the gaps by publishing the Welsh names that they hold for features under an open licence. The Mapio Cymru team is available to advise on these issues. Just visit the Mapio Cymru website.

    Image: Catrin Ellis

  3. Rewild road verges with FixMyStreet

    At this time of year, when plants run rampant, we see two common types of report on FixMyStreet: those asking their councils to mow the local verges, and those asking them why they have cut the wildflowers and grasses back.

    With increasing amounts of coverage in the press about wildflowers and the benefits they can provide, we spoke to British wild plant conservation charity Plantlife to understand more about why citizens might be using FixMyStreet to request some flower-based improvements to their local road verges.

    Not just a pretty place

    According to Plantlife, more than 700 of species of wildflower can be found alongside UK road verges. If they’ve been left unmown in your neighbourhood, you’ll know that in these summer months they really are beautiful, with poppies, convolvulus, meadowsweet, celandine, thrift, clover and harebells (to name but a few) scattering a variety of colour through the grasses.

    But there’s more than the visual appeal: these verges also improve air quality, buffer noise, and give a home to precious insect life.

    With the correct verge management, Plantlife estimates that the 313,000+ miles of rural road verges in this country could become a sanctuary for 400 billion more wild flowers, as well as providing a habitat to all the bees, birds, butterflies and many other creatures that count on such flowers to survive.

    A change of direction

    So given all these benefits, why aren’t councils already leaving their verges to grow?

    In some cases it’s the perceived expense of specialist equipment; in others it’s the fear that longer grass creates road safety issues (such as a lack of visibility at junctions) or attracts litter. Sometimes, it simply comes down to residents preferring closely mown grass.

    As Plantlife points out in their Managing Grassland Road Verges guide though, it doesn’t have to be one thing or the other. There are lots of ways that councils can easily, safely and cost-effectively manage road verges to encourage wildflower growth, without compromising on the ‘neat’ look of an area and still ensuring safety.

    Wild verges aren’t left entirely to their own devices: they just require a different regime of care, and still get cut back — just in a way that encourages biodiversity.

    The picture is changing. Freedom of Information data collected by The Press Association earlier this year revealed that 7 in 10 councils are already taking steps to encourage wildflowers on road verges.

    That being the case, giving your support by requesting a wildflower road verge in your local area could help to move those steps along and sow the seeds of better wildflower road verge management in places where opinions are still divided.

    How to request a wildflower road verge via FixMyStreet

    1. Go to fixmystreet.com or open the FixMyStreet app.
    2. Enter the area or postcode of the road verge, or if you’re making the report on-the-go and you’re (safely!) standing right by the verge, you can select ‘use my current location’.
    3. Drag the pin across the map to the exact location of the road verge and hit ‘continue’.
    4. Select a category. It’s worth noting that categories on FixMyStreet are set by each council to reflect their internal departments and their own responsibilities. For this reason, you might be able to select a specific verge-related category, such as ‘verges’ ‘wildlife verges’ or ‘grass verges’, but if your council hasn’t supplied us with a designated category for verges, you might need to select one such as ‘roads’ or ‘other’.
    5. Add a photo of the verge if you want to. If not, click ‘continue’ again.
    6. In the ‘Summarise your problem’ box, type a title such as ‘Wildflower road verge request’.
    7. In the ‘Explain what’s wrong’ box, tell your council the reasons why you would like to encourage it to manage the road verge in a way that maximises flowering plant diversity. See Plantlife’s Road Verge Campaign for advice – you could even link to it to help the council get the guidance they need.
    8. Once you’re ready, click ‘continue’, fill in your details (if you’re not already logged in) and then hit ‘Submit’ to complete your request.
    9. Plantlife’s Road Verge Campaign also has posters you can print out and display in your window, if you’d like to get your neighbours on board.
    10. Experiencing pushback or (almost worse) no response from your council? Try getting your MP or local councillors to join your call, using WriteToThem.com.

     

  4. WasteWorks: a new service for councils

    Our trading arm SocietyWorks has added a new service to its range of citizen-friendly public sector services, all off the peg for local authorities.

    Now, whether a resident needs to request a new bin or set up a direct debit for a green garden waste subscription, it can all be done in one place. That’s thanks to the launch of WasteWorks, a reliable, citizen-centred system for councils to manage all elements of domestic, bulky and green garden waste online, from missed bin reports to online payments for collections.

    Thanks to collaboration with Bromley Council, we know WasteWorks answers the needs of authorities, and after rounds of user testing we can say with confidence that citizens will find it useful and simple, too.

    WasteWorks product on different devices

    With an intuitive, user-friendly interface that encourages the move from phone to online, the service helps councils reduce operating costs by lowering demand on customer service centres, while also dramatically improving the citizen user experience thanks to increased transparency and a self-service system that is easy to use on any device and which meets government accessibility standards.

    “WasteWorks provides councils with the opportunity to bring about real improvements to the way citizens access waste services online.” – David Eaton, SocietyWorks

    The end-to-end process of managing waste online is now easier and more efficient for everyone. Automated updates and templated responses make it easier for councils to manage expectations and deliver a more transparent service, while internal dashboards and visual heat maps enable staff to track service levels and identify trends.

    Find out more on the SocietyWorks website and if you’re from an authority, you can click here to request a demo. Meanwhile, if you’re a resident who’s fed up with your council’s less than intuitive online waste systems, why not drop them a line to let them know about WasteWorks?

    Image: Shane Rounce on Unsplash

  5. How to use FixMyStreet to make roads safer for blind people

    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