1. How good design can save £millions in medicine costs

    International emergency aid charity Médecins Sans Frontiers are one of the biggest purchasers of medicine worldwide, and naturally it’s important that the drugs they buy are cost-effective. Where possible, they choose generics—white label medicines that contain the same ingredients even if they don’t carry the well-known brand names: think ‘ibuprofen’ or ‘aspirin’ rather than ‘Nurofen’ or ‘Anadin’.

    But when a specific medicine is only available as a patented product from a big drugs company and with an equally big price tag attached, MSF, like everyone else, has little choice but to pay.

    Curiously, this turned out to be a problem that can be solved, in part, through good web design. Here’s the story.

    Opposing patents

    Obviously, drugs companies have an interest in keeping their medicines under patent. As MSF explained, patents, and in particular the practice of ‘evergreening’ them (extending their life indefinitely by making slight modifications to the medicine’s make-up), give pharmaceutical companies a monopoly on pricing, and can impede access to patients who would benefit from them.

    MSF’s online project, the Patent Oppositions Database (PODB) is a resource for helping people challenge medicine patents. PODB helps groups around the world to find each other and work on cases together, and to share previous examples of art and arguments used in lawsuits which may help others in future oppositions.

    The site was already up, running and functional, and the concept was sound. But it wasn’t attracting much take-up. On analysis, it became clear that this was because there was no focused experience on the site, encouraging users towards the core interactions which would power the whole concept of collaborating and sharing knowledge.

    Where design came in

    PODB process map

    MSF asked us to suggest improvements that would enable groups to communicate about specific cases, and to improve the sense of community. Our solutions will add intuitive user paths that lead people to existing opposition cases and the information they need, then encourage them to join in by placing discussions and information about contributors on the page.

    It’s crucial for MSF that the project reaches its full potential, and with the in-depth design changes we’ve suggested, and have now been asked to implement, we know it will.

    You can read more about how we approached this project in our latest case study, over at the mySociety Services website.

    Image: Procsilas Moscas (cc)

     

  2. Re-imagining the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment for the digital age

    Public health teams, policy-makers, councillors and NGOs often need facts about a specific area. If they’re looking for data on things like the number of smokers, the demand for hospital beds, or the birth rate, they turn to their regional Health and Wellbeing Board.

    These local authority committees are required to produce a document known as a JSNA (Joint Strategic Needs Assessment) every few years. It’s a snapshot of the demographics and healthcare needs of the local population, and is used by a variety of stakeholders including policy makers and strategy groups.

    Like most local authority committees, the London Borough of Hackney and the City of London Health and Wellbeing Board have previously produced their JSNA as a simple read-only PDF document. But, in the digital age, they knew that there was more they could do to make this document accessible, useful, and engaging.

    That’s when they called us in — not to build the final digital version of the JSNA, but to help them understand the possibilities and ensure that they were heading down the right path.

    We’ve written up the whole process in a case study, so, if you’d like to know more, read on.

    Image: Nick (cc)

  3. OpenPlanning is making planning applications more accessible

    Open Planning

    If you’ve got a problem with your planning applications, we’ve got a little something for you…

    Back in September, we wrote about our project with Hampshire Hub to build a prototype, open source web application that would help members of the public find out more about planning applications in their area:

    The planning process can be baffling if you’re new to it and this tool aims to help make it easier to understand. We’ll be helping people answer some of the most common questions they have about planning applications: What applications are happening near me? What decisions have been made in the past on applications like mine? How likely is it that my application will be dealt with on time?

    The site helps people browse planning application data by location — whether a postcode or a street address — and by type — whether it’s an extension, a loft conversion, or a major development like a retail park or commercial warehouse.

    That project can now be seen at http://openplanning.hampshirehub.net/: go and have a poke around!

    How it works

    OpenPlanning displays planning applications clearly on a map. Users can browse their local area and learn more about how to complete their own request by looking at the success or failure of what has gone before.

    This benefits everyone, from residents who are less likely to have their applications turned down, to the council who will find themselves dealing with higher-quality submissions.

    By aggregating planning application details from multiple councils, the site allows users to browse irrespective of administrative boundaries or the authority in charge. After all, neither of those considerations are very high on the list of the resident’s priorities.

    There’s nothing new about putting planning applications online, of course: they can already be browsed and submitted in many places across the web. This project isn’t hoping to replace those tools, but to complement them, providing links to existing data sources where possible, all accessible via a much more user-friendly interface.

    We know many councils and residents struggle with planning applications on a daily basis, and we hope that OpenPlanning will provide the first step towards making the whole process easier for all parties.

    The future for OpenPlanning

    OpenPlanning is the first iteration of a new product. At this early stage, we haven’t included a facility to submit a planning application – that’s something we could slot in cost-effectively at a later phase though, and of course we’d be happy to hear from any councils who would be interested in adopting that approach.

    The code is based on Open Australia Foundation’s PlanningAlerts platform, which means it’s already been tried and tested by a wide community down under. It’s still under active development and, thanks to the joys of Open Source code, we’ll be able to contribute improvements back to the original codebase too.

    We’ve really enjoyed working with Hampshire Hub: a forward-thinking  partnership of councils and other public organisations, led by Hampshire County Council, which aims to provide useful open data for the county. Hampshire understands the benefits, both direct and indirect, of open source tools and open data.

    Now we’re seeking local councils who are struggling with the quality of planning applications, perhaps processing large volumes of applications that are not granted. If that sounds like you then please get in touch to speak to mySociety Services about what OpenPlanning can do for you.

     

  4. FixMyStreet for Councils: ticking all the boxes

    FixMyStreet for Councils is great for citizens, but there are plenty of reasons why it’s also great for councils.

    Here are six ways in which FixMyStreet for Councils can help you save money and meet internal targets.

    1. Proven cost savings

    FixMyStreet for Councils’ highly usable interface has been proven to deliver channel shift, with shorter call times and resulting cost savings on staff FTE.

    Read our recent figures from Oxfordshire County Council, or take a look at our case studies from Barnet Borough Councilpdf and the city of Zurichpdf to see just what benefits these authorities saw with their FixMyStreet for Councils installations.

    2. We take the risks

    In these times of budgetary cuts, it helps to know there won’t be any unforeseen costs in maintenance or hosting. We manage all of that, and as it’s all included as standard, that counts as real added value.

    Worried about the loss of data? No need: because FixMyStreet is all ‘in the cloud’, there’s no risk of it ever going missing.

    3. Sustainable contracts

    We know you’re looking for partners you can rely on. With twelve years in the business, we’re a solid, reliable organisation that can offer long-term contracts with no worries about sustainability.

    4. Meet your Social Values Act quota

    As a not-for-profit charity, mySociety ticks all the right boxes when it comes to your Social Values Act quota. Every penny we make goes towards our charitable projects, empowering people and giving better access to democracy.

    mySociety also employs volunteers and runs various forms of outreach in the civic technology area, aided by profits from our commercial services—your money does good.

    5. Accessible—for all your residents

    FixMyStreet has a WCAG 2.0 accessibility level AA, opening it up to the blind, partially-sighted and any other users who rely on screen readers.

    6. Open and transparent

    If your council has an overall remit towards transparency and accountability, FixMyStreet offers a great step forward. Publishing all reports online, it provides a platform for you to show exactly what’s being fixed and what the persistent issues might be in each area.

    FixMyStreet also provides a continually-updating source of data which can be invaluable in analysing common problems, report hotspots, response times and seasonal cycles.

     

    Get in touch

    if you’d like to know more about any of these points, or have further questions then please do drop us a line. We’ll be happy to talk.

  5. Foie gras, Turkish baths and machine guns: the strange world of local government procurement

    Local government has a need for all kinds of services, from taxis to stationery. And to ensure that they get the best deals, they acquire them through a procurement process—one that, as suppliers of software to councils, we’ve become very familiar with ourselves.

    It’s quite simple: every category of goods or services has its own ID number. You identify the ones that are closest to what you provide—so in our case, it might be software development, software consultancy, and the provision of software packages.

    Then you sign up to receive notifications every time a council puts out a request for tenders that fall within one of those categories.

    Our newest team member, Camilla, has been spending a lot of time signing up for these notifications across all the various platforms in the UK (buy her a drink if you see her: procurement websites might just be amongst the most infuriating and clunky known to man), and as a result, she’s noticed that as well as all the categories you’d expect, there are also plenty more that you wouldn’t.

    For example, who knew that councils had such a regular need for

    15112310 Foie gras

    or indeed

    18318000 Nightwear
    98331000 Turkish bath services
    18511100 Diamonds
    14523400 Platinum
    16710000 Pedestrian-controlled agricultural tractors

    Then there’s

    35321100 Hand guns

    and as if that’s not enough…

    35321300 Machine guns

    There are plenty more categories that might make you go ‘hmm’ – take a look for yourself.

    Oh, and here’s a thought – if you’d like to ask your own local council what their expenditure is on nightwear, foie gras or machine guns, you can do so very easily at our own WhatDoTheyKnow.com.

    Image: Dynamosquito (CC)

  6. Channel Shift Conference: We’ll be there, will you?

    The mySociety Services team will be attending this year’s Channel Shift Conference on 17th June in London. We’d love to see you there, and we’d be happy to talk about your needs.

    Local authorities using FixMyStreet for Councils have reported a shift of up to 300% from phone to online reporting. Why? Because when online reporting systems are this easy, phone contact plummets.

    So we know how important channel shift is for councils, and we can help you achieve it. With central government calling on local councils to lead the way in cost-cutting via digital technologies, we know there’s great pressure to deliver services on an ever-lower budget.

    The solution doesn’t have to be a lengthy and costly tie-in with a big provider, however. FixMyStreet For Councils shows how small independents can provide everything your clients need, with no long-running, over-priced framework agreements.

    Come and have a chat and we’ll show you how other councils have implemented our services. We can answer all your questions about back-end integration, mobile apps and how we can tailor FixMyStreet to your needs.

    We look forward to joining attendees from Central and Local Government, Housing, Police and the Private Sector, to discuss channel shift best practices. The conference will focus on overcoming key barriers, such as: culture change, integrating front-end to back-end systems, effective business process mapping, and demonstrating and promoting channel shift success.

    Many of our services are tried and tested catalysts for shifting citizen contact online. We’ll be demonstrating the channel shift success we’ve had with our council clients, and showing how you can replicate that success with your own implementation.

    Here is some more information about the conference:

    Speakers include:

    • Chair: James Rolfe, Director of Finance, Resources and Customer Services, Enfield Council
    • Keynote: Danny McLaughlin, Digital Service Manager, Department for Work and Pensions
    • Steve Halliday, Chief Information Officer, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council and Past President, Socitm
    • Julie Robinson, Director of Resources, Watford Community Housing Trust
    • Boris Worrall, Executive Director Futures, Orbit Group – Futures
    • Ian Simons, Group Head of Social Media, RSA Insurance
    • Natalie Proffitt, Head of Digital Media Services, Leicestershire Police
    • Barry May, Head of Customer Services, London Borough of Camden

    Website: http://www.capitaconferences.co.uk/public-sector-conferences/detail/article/channel-shift-conference-1.html?code=MYSOC

    Brochure: http://www.capitaconferences.co.uk/pdfgen.html?filename=ChannelShiftJun15.pdf&code=MYSOC

    Email: naomi.wood@capita.co.uk / 020 7202 0571

  7. Can you believe everything you hear? Fact-checking claims ahead of the election

    Full Fact

    A whole lot of facts are going to be bandied about by politicians, between now and the General Election. How do you know which to believe?

    Fortunately, there’s an organisation that’s dedicated to checking every statement, so that you can see the bare facts with no added hyperbole.

    Our friends at Full Fact are working day and night, scanning mainstream media outlets (radio, television, newspapers) and what is said in Parliament, logging any sightings of claims made by politicians.

    Their researchers then provide a professional assessment of each claim, along with a verdict on whether it can be said to be supported by the relevant data, not supported, or whether there’s not enough information to prove it either way.

    With a large team consisting of volunteers and experts, such a large number of facts to be checked, plus the likelihood of the same facts being used by different parties in different ways to suit their agenda, it’s essential that Full Fact have systems in place to help them keep track. That’s where mySociety Services stepped in.

    We’ve created tools for their volunteers to log sightings of claims and for researchers to link theses claims to the data and provide an expert assessment. That means that when the same issues keep reappearing, Full Fact will know exactly where to look to find the relevant facts.

    At the same time we’ve had an opportunity to standardise and improve the organisation’s coding practices, ensuring that as Full Fact grow their own development team they’re able to work without stepping on each other’s toes.

    Check out Full Fact’s valuable work here – and if your organisation’s workflow could also benefit from some streamlining, take a look at what we offer on the mySociety Services site.

  8. Helping Passenger Focus display bus satisfaction data

    Passenger Focus bus satisfaction survey

    Users of Lothian Buses are more satisfied with the value for money of their bus journeys than anyone else in the country.

    Passengers on the Oxford Park and Ride service find the seats the most comfortable.  And the drivers of Trent Barton in Nottinghamshire give a friendly enough greeting, according to 95% of passengers.

    These are the kind of insights that it’s now very easy to discover on the Passenger Focus website, thanks to the latest project by mySociety Services.

    It’s an extension of the work we did last year to help the transport watchdog display their train satisfaction data. We’ve introduced a new design which, we hope, makes it much easier to explore the results of Passenger Focus’ annual passenger satisfaction survey.

    We’ve used a new visual approach that is appropriate for the bus data: it makes it really easy to browse through 32 different survey categories, from cleanliness to safe driving.

    When you have that many categories, drop-downs aren’t really an option, and we’re pleased with what we came up with to make it easy to make the most important categories prominent, while still allowing easy and intuitive access to the others.

    We’ve also used responsive design, which means it performs beautifully whether viewed on mobile or at the desktop. Check it out for yourself here – be sure to resize your browser to see the mobile version kick in!

  9. Welcome to mySociety Services

    mysocietyservicesNeed someone to develop a web application or an online tool for your organisation?

    Enjoy what we do here at mySociety?

    The good news is that mySociety’s experience and skills can be all yours… and now we have a brand new website that gives us enough space to really go into detail about what we offer.

    Open for business

    At mySociety Services you’ll find everything you need to know about hiring us for your organisation.

    We’ve included a bunch of case studies—in fact, they make up the bulk of the new site—because we reckon that’s the most immediate way to show you how we work, and how we’d approach your projects, too.

    Elsewhere, we’ve divided our services up, so there’s an obvious place to look whether you need a web application building, or perhaps something nifty with maps, or your organisation could benefit from a little direction with everything digital. Plus, there’s a page about our “off the peg” products such as FixMyStreet for Councils.

    Still doing good

    So far, so much like any other digital agency. But there is, of course, the little thing that makes us different: when you commission us, all the revenue goes to support the mySociety charitable projects that you know and love.

    Growing up

    The mySociety Services site is a step forward for us, and it represents a coming of age for our commercial team. You might like to think of us as an agency in our own right from here on in.

    But meanwhile, we’ll still be retaining the same ethos and working methods that inform everything we do at mySociety. Hopefully, you’ll find that it’s the best of both worlds.

    Enough of the chit-chat. We’re ready to talk commercial: come and see what we offer.

     

     

     

  10. Order the map you need: Mapumental Public Transport Maps

    Mapumental order this map

    Mapumental just became self-service! Now you can order maps as images or data, right from the Mapumental website.

    Public transport travel times to Birmingham meet-up, from Mapumental by mySocietyMapumental creates maps that display transit time rather than distance. The results, showing time bands in an array of colours, are both useful and rather beautiful (see the example, right).

    We’ve added new functionality so that you can download your maps direct – just go to www.mapumental.com and click the ‘try it’ button.

    Once you’ve input a postcode and moved the slider bar to reflect the maximum travel time you want to display, you can go ahead and click on ‘order this map’, and choose parameters including direction of travel,  zoom level, size and title.

    Mapumental maps as data

    Choosing the ‘data’ option will export your map as a 500m resolution GRASS ASCII raster, which can be imported directly into your preferred GIS software.

    Mapumental maps as images

    You may prefer to simply download the end product – a graphic image that you can save to your own hard drive and use in presentations or reports, on websites, or anywhere else you choose.

    It’s as easy as that

    Payment is via a credit system: the more credits you buy, the cheaper each map is.

    We hope you’ll find the self-service Mapumental useful – we’d love to hear feedback about your experience using it, and how you utilise the resulting maps.

    Don’t forget that we can also create bespoke maps with your own data – get in touch to find out more.