This blog post is part of a series investigating different demographics and uses of mySociety services. You can read more about this series here.
Just as there is interesting information to gain from where people make reports, there are also interesting things to discover from when an issue was reported.
There are four interesting times in the life of a FixMyStreet report:
- When a problem happened
- When a problem was noticed
- When it was reported
- When it was fixed
In the FixMyStreet dataset we have lots of information for when a problem is reported, but less about the other times. A follow-up survey gives us some idea if a problem was fixed inside a month –but this isn’t universally responded to.
Reka Solymosi, Kate Bowers and Taku Fujiyama (2018) examined FixMyStreet data and found some signs that enough reports are made close enough to the time of time a problem is noticed that they show a statistical difference. Using reports of broken streetlights (which should be more noticeable when it’s dark), they showed that more reports were made at night compared to other kinds of reports.
This analysis is replicated on the Explorer minisite, which shows that more problems with street lights are reported during the winter months; and also that they are disproportionately likely to be reported during darker times of day than other reports as a broken streetlight is more noticeable at night (while other kinds of problems become less obvious). The below graph shows when street light problems were reported. While a fair number of reports are made during daylight (reflecting that not all issues are reported close to when they were observed, or that some street light problems are noticeable during the day), compared to the dataset as a whole the nighttime reports for this category stand out.
Potholes are reported at the start of the year, and disproportionately in the afternoon. Dog fouling is also reported more at the start of the year, but this is more of an early morning report, with a peak as people arrive at work towards 9:00 am:
While some problems are driven by physical processes that raises their occurrence at certain times of year and their report at certain times of day, other reports result from the activity of other people. Rubbish is reported in the morning, but also has peaks on Sunday (following Saturday night) and Monday, as regular commuters return.
Similar to the idea that more 311 reports are made in spaces that are contested between different communities, Solymosi and colleagues suggest that reports can also be driven by the handover of the same space between different groups: “The narrative descriptions included with [FixMyStreet] reports reveal that these reports are made by people who are waking up to go to work, and encountering signs of activity that took place in the same location, but at a different time. They see signs of another activity in the space their routine activity pattern takes them through but is incongruent with their current use of this space, and interpret these as a signal disorder, attributing meaning which can result in heightened fear or anxiety.”
For people writing to their representatives on WriteToThem, there are similarly differences in when people write to different kinds of representatives. These might be times people are exposed to something that makes them want to write to their representative, or when they have the time to write. Compared to all messages sent through WriteToThem, people writing to MPs are more likely to be writing before work and in the late afternoon, while Councillors are sent more messages between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm.
While few people write during the night, compared to other types of representative messages are written to Lords more often at night. Looking at the gender of people writing to MPs, the data shows that men are disproportionately likely to be writing at night compared to women (although again, most messages by men are still sent during the day).
Examining the time people make reports helps to create a better picture of when people encounter an issue that a mySociety service might be helpful for, as well as when people have time to do something about it. This suggests possible ways a service could be differently reactive at different times of day and helps sharpen potential research questions.
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Friends of the Earth are on a mission to double the number of trees in the UK: we’re sadly lacking on this front compared to our European neighbours, and of course, we’re all well aware of the part that trees play in helping safeguard the climate and encourage wildlife diversity.
As they point out, it’s not all about planting new trees: it’s just as important, and perhaps more economical, to preserve the ones we have. And we were delighted to see that FoE highlight FixMyStreet as a way to do so.
They suggest that you make a report to request a new TPO — Tree Preservation Order. If granted, this will make it a criminal offence to damage or cut down the tree without written consent from the local authority.
Generally, TPOs are used for trees that are providing a particular benefit to the local community (although it is, of course, possible to argue that pretty much every tree is doing this!). FoE guide you through the report-making process in the section of their page titled ‘How to request a TPO’.
As they make clear, not all councils are the same. Categories on FixMyStreet are set by each council to reflect their internal departments and their own responsibilities. So for some, you will find ‘trees’ as a category (and some even mark every tree on the map, making it very easy to pinpoint the one you are referring to). For others, you may have to choose a wider category such as ‘highways’. If all else fails, there’s always the ‘other’ category.
Once you’ve requested your TPO, it might help to get some support from your representatives. We’re glad to see FoE also suggesting the use of WriteToThem to contact local councillors and bring them onside. Maybe even your MP as well?
It might seem like a small thing, but we think if more people requested TPOs up and down the UK, it could make a real difference. So, if there’s a tree you really appreciate in your local area, you know what to do. Fire up FixMyStreet and get requesting!
Image: Bert Sz
Two regional news stories have recently highlighted the use of FixMyStreet by fire services. That’s not something we’d anticipated when we made the site, but we’re really glad that to hear that we’re helping to fight fires!
Firstly, the West Midlands Fire Service have asked the public to report derelict buildings on the site. FixMyStreet reports go to the council, who can take appropriate measures to secure such buildings and reduce the risk of arson.
Meanwhile, Cleveland fire fighters are themselves using FixMyStreet to report incidences of fly tipping, and they say that getting piles of refuse or garden waste cleared up before people are tempted to set fire to them has helped them bring down the number of conflagrations in the county.
As both these brigades have found FixMyStreet useful, we hope that other fire services might follow suit (or maybe citizens could take matters into their own hands and report such things without waiting to be told!).
We’re already aware that lots of police officers also use the site to make reports as they are on the beat: it is, of course, very well suited to any occupation that regularly makes patrols around the local community.
Image: Egor Vikhrev
If you’ve had a look at our annual report for 2019 you’ll know that we’re a busy bunch at mySociety, keeping lots of useful civic services running and talking about our work on an almost daily basis.
In 2020 we’re going to be doing something a bit different.
You’ll still hear from us regularly through our blogs and research and conference, but we’re going to be talking about one thing above all else – the climate crisis.
We’ll still talk about democracy; but more than likely we’ll be considering how participatory and deliberative approaches can be useful in finding consensus on the difficult decisions we’ll all need to take to avoid the worst climate impacts. And thanks to your contributions towards the successful crowdfunder for TheyWorkForYou, we’ll be able — along with other much-needed improvements and updates — to help you hold the new parliament to account on how they respond to the climate emergency.
You’ll still hear from us on transparency; we’ll be helping people make the most of WhatDoTheyKnow to request information from public bodies on how they are responding to the crisis, and we’ll be looking at how we might apply our long experience of improving access to public information to similar private sector services in areas like pensions and investments – where divestment from fossil fuels is urgently needed.
When we refer to community, and especially our work with FixMyStreet, we’ll be underlining how important it will be to support local democracy and help create resilient flourishing communities if we’re to mitigate how our changing climate will hit the least well off in society.
One focus, one reason
We are doing this for one simple reason – there really is not a more important issue facing our society today.
We can’t address the climate crisis without also addressing the parallel democratic crisis we face in many countries around the world, where lies, deceit and fake news have become normal paths to power.
We can’t solve issues like climate change without also addressing the lack of equality and fairness in society, where those with the least power and influence will be affected the most.
And we can’t avoid the worst impacts without building and living with strong and resilient communities where every citizen can play their part.
So we’ll be exploring what small role we might be able to play at mySociety — both improving our environmental impacts internally, and examining how we align our current and future work with the need to tackle the climate crisis. And alongside this you’ll still be able to report a pothole on FixMyStreet, or follow your MP on TheyWorkForYou on every other topic beyond the climate as usual.
We’d encourage all our friends and colleagues in civil society, government and the private sector to consider what role they might play themselves both as individuals and through their organisations – and we hope you’ll also share your plans and we can learn more from each other in the year ahead.
What a year it’s been for FixMyStreet Pro, now the official street reporting system for 21 authorities across the country.
During 2019 we’ve welcomed Bexley, Cheshire East, Hackney, Northamptonshire, Hounslow Highways, Westminster, Island Roads (Isle of Wight), Peterborough, and now Transport for London to the list of Pro clients.
In all, that adds up to 6.5 million residents who can now report problems such as potholes, faulty street lights or vandalism, either on FixMyStreet.com or on their councils’ own websites.
And if you consider that TfL covers all of Greater London, a further 7.5 million residents and countless commuters, tourists and visitors to the city are also covered for reporting on overground and underground stations, red routes, bus stops, etc.
In all cases, reports pass directly into the authorities’ internal systems, making for swift resolution and the ability to keep the report-maker informed of progress at every step.
It hasn’t been all about expansion, though. This year, we’ve also been adding further features for councils to the FixMyStreet Pro offering. It’s worth noting, perhaps, that improvements for councils always translate into improvements for residents too, either in terms of quicker report processing, better status updates, or public money saved — and often all three.
Here’s a rundown of the new features we’ve introduced this year:
- Councils can add assets like street lights and trees to the map so reports are made in precisely the right location.
- If you’re trying to report a problem that’s already been logged, you’ll be alerted and can sign up to get updates on the original.
- Our new dashboard heatmaps show council staff at a glance where problems are.
- We made changes to the way councils can manage categories, easily adding context-specific guidance for the report maker…
- … and also made it so that a subcategory can belong to more than one parent.
- Managers can now assign roles to team members much more easily, too.
Getting out and about
And we were delighted to meet up with residents in Westminster and let them put the FixMyStreet to test while we watched and learned.
Looking forward to 2020
We’ve already been carrying out some research with client authorities, and we’ll be continuing this work into the new year. We also have some development planned.
- Conducting user testing to see how people use the input forms, what might be confusing and how this can be addressed…
- …and further user testing to observe how people use FixMyStreet on mobile devices.
- We’ll be talking to District Councils to see how their needs differ from other authorities, and how we can meet those needs.
- Meanwhile we’ll be giving the FixMyStreet app a much-needed update.
- We’ll make it easier for staff to add the email address of someone who requests updates on an existing report.
- And lots more!
We’re really looking forward to getting our teeth into these features and then rolling them out to our client councils in 2020.
Image: Nadine Shaabana
Back in November, we announced our new partnership with Transport for London. We’re now pleased to say that the new Street Care service is live.
If you’re a seasoned user of FixMyStreet, there’s no learning curve required: you can proceed exactly as normal. If you prefer, you can carry on making reports through the national website at FixMyStreet.com or via the FixMyStreet app.
The only difference is that now, if the issue is the responsibility of TfL, that’s where your report will be routed, and that’s where updates will come from to let you know when the fix is in progress or completed.
The new service covers potholes, roadworks, bus shelters and traffic lights on the capital’s busiest roads — the ‘red routes’, which make up only 5% of the city’s highways, but account for a whopping 30% of traffic. Users can also report graffiti and flyposting, problems with hoardings, scaffolding and mobile cranes, street lights and damaged trees.
As ever, the underlying FixMyStreet platform means that you don’t need to think about who is responsible for your issue. If a problem is reported and it’s nothing to do with TfL, it’ll be automatically routed to the relevant borough or authority.
Glynn Barton, TfL’s Director of Network Management, said: “The TfL Street Care service will give people more information about the work we are doing on London’s road network and at bus stops and reassure Londoners that we really care about getting things fixed.”
It’s one more bit of joined-up thinking for the capital, that will make reporting easier for residents, commuters, and visitors, while also bringing increased efficiency at every stage of the process. We’re delighted to see it up and running.
You may remember our post back in September, on the research we were carrying out into how a digital tool might help residents of tower blocks.
At that stage, with invaluable input from residents, lawyers, health and safety professionals and especially the Southwark Group of Tenants Organisation, we’d just finished the discovery phase and published a report on our research and prototyping.
We’ve now had the great news that the Legal Education Foundation are funding us to build a beta version of the tool we’d prototyped. It’ll be a simple way for residents of tower blocks to get the information they need to fix a range of problems in their accommodation, from structural and maintenance issues to legal ones.
As we start development, we’ll again be working with Tower Blocks UK, tireless champions of tower block residents and very much experts in this field.
We’ll make sure to keep updating as we progress. The hope is to formally launch the new tool in September next year — so watch this space for further news.
Image: Nirmal Rajendharkumar
We know that in many cases, when we install FixMyStreet Pro for a new council, we’re bringing not only a smooth reporting interface for residents, but also a better day-to-day experience for staff. In the case of Peterborough City Council, that was very much the case.
A very manual process
Peterborough had been using a stopgap solution for street reports, after the service they had been using ceased to exist. So, for some time, residents had been asked to make their reports through basic online forms. Not too onerous, but clunky enough.
The real pain point was mostly experienced, however, by council personnel. Customer services staff had the job of manually transferring the details from a spreadsheet and into the council’s Confirm CRM, where highways inspectors could pick up the reports and act upon them.
Then, once an issue had been resolved, inspectors manually updated another spreadsheet to let the customer service centre know of the status change, in case the report-maker called for an update.
There was no automated means by which a user could be updated with progress on reports, or told when it had been fixed.
So in short, FixMyStreet Pro will be making life easier all round, for staff and for residents. Plus the easier internal workflow should save a substantial amount of time and money, while keeping citizens engaged and informed every step of the way.
Councillor Farooq Mohammed said, “The introduction of FixMyStreet has brought in significant improvements to the services PCC provide to its residents. FixMyStreet not only brings efficiencies to various service departments, it is very user friendly and easy to use for our residents. This improves the response time to our residents.”
And Peterborough’s ICT Project Manager Jason Dalby added, “mySociety fully understood the challenges we face as a local authority and very quickly turned our requirements into an automated fault reporting system with integration into our Highways back office Confirm system, improving our efficiency by eliminating manual data entry.
“We are proud to be partners with mySociety and continue to work closely with them to improve FixMyStreet for our mutual benefit”.
We’ll continue working with the council over the next few months on their other service areas too, so watch this space.
FixMyStreet’s offering for Londoners becomes ever better, as we announce a new partnership with Transport for London (TfL).
For anyone making reports within Greater London, this will mean a whole new level of connectedness — with no extra effort required from you. Just make a report as usual, and if the issue is the responsibility of TfL the details will automatically be whizzed off to them.
It will cover reports about defects including the TfL road network (red routes), bus stops and shelters, traffic lights and trees.
Better still, you don’t have to make the report directly on FixMyStreet.com for this to come into action. Log the issue via any of our London client borough councils’ sites — currently Bromley, Bexley, Greenwich, Hounslow, and Westminster — and the same smart routing will apply.
This goes both ways: so if you report something on TfL’s site that’s actually a council responsibility, the report will get forwarded to them — and that applies to all boroughs, FixMyStreet Pro clients or not.
Watch this space and we’ll let you know when it’s all hooked up and ready for you to use.
Image: Alex Parsons
FixMyStreet Pro has crossed the Solent, with Isle of Wight the latest council to install it as their official report-making interface.
Street issues on England’s largest island are handled by the company Island Roads, who keep things in order for residents and tourist alike, with responsibility for highways maintenance; road, pavement and cycleway improvements; street lights, street cleansing, winter gritting, bridges, drainage, street furniture and car parks.
As with all FixMyStreet Pro integrations, islanders can take their pick between making reports through the Island Roads website or on FixMyStreet.com; either way the issue will display on both sites, and drop directly into the case management system, Confirm.
What was different about this installation?
Island Roads requested a feature that we hadn’t previously developed for any of our other council clients, but which we suspect that some may be interested in now they know it’s available.
When a report is submitted, it drops into a special triage area where operatives can analyse it in more detail, ensure that it is categorised correctly, and check that it contains all the relevant information that the inspectors need in order to locate the fault and fix it.
Island Roads have also made use of another new piece of functionality: emergency categories.
If a user indicates the report might require immediate attention — say, in the case of a fallen tree on the road or a hazardous pothole — the form submission is disabled.
Instead, the user will see a message, telling them to call Island Roads directly:
The aim is that this simple safeguard will have a hand in preventing accidents.
Alex Brown, Systems Technician at Island Roads, said: “The focus of this development has been to enable the public to report their highway related issues to us easily, with the necessary information for us to respond appropriately and deal with the issues effectively. The project team at mySociety were excellent to work with and developed a solution which met our specific requirements.”
Image: Mypix [CC BY-SA 4.0]