We received a tweet this morning wondering how many emails there had been to MPs on the subject of the ‘Refugees Welcome’ campaign, and whether WriteToThem, our contact-a-politician website, might have some relevant data.
Even if we could, WriteToThem is a completely non-partisan service, and users may be writing on either side of an issue.
We do use Google Analytics, which collects entirely anonymous statistics on how many people visit the site, how long they stay on it, etc. There is one clear indication that the site is being used more than usual: user numbers on Thursday and Friday of last week were about 5 or 6 times higher than the norm. There was a dip at the weekend — there generally is — and numbers have continued to climb on Monday and today.
Google Analytics also allows us to see which websites have referred people to our site. Over this period, it seems it was mostly Facebook and the petitions site Avaaz.
With most websites, you can regard visitor numbers as a pretty good indication of your success — if they’re going up, then at least something’s right.
With WriteToThem though, user numbers regularly fluctuate so wildly that you could be fooled into thinking we’re on the brink of disaster, or the brink of world domination, from one week to the next.
In the normal way of things, there seems to be a baseline at which the UK populace will toddle along. A small percentage of us will write to our politicians whenever we have an opinion that we want to express, but most of us are content with a few acerbic Facebook updates or heated discussions down the pub.
Then, now and then, an issue comes along which grips the nation. This week, that would indeed appear to be the issue of refugees.
Of course, we’re always glad to see the site used, and we hope that people who are referred to it because of an issue they care about will also remember it’s there whenever they need to contact their representatives in the future.
Incidentally, if you are running any kind of campaign and you would like to harness WriteToThem’s functionality on your own site, don’t forget that we’ve written a guide to doing just that.
If you use FixMyStreet to make a report in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, you won’t notice anything different from the norm. But once you click submit, your report is doing something a little bit different—it’s using a standard called ‘Open311’ to place your request directly into the council’s systems.
You might be thinking, “Yawn-o! What do I care, so long as my pothole gets filled?” and—well, that’s a fair point. But there’s a wider issue here, which we think is one that’s worth getting excited about.
Greenwich have taken a forward-thinking and sensible step—because Open311 doesn’t just let FixMyStreet reports come into their systems smoothly. It also opens up their data in a way that allows other developers to create exciting applications that can work with it, talk to their systems or provide new interfaces for us to do so.
What might those be? Well, one of the great things about technology is that it’s very hard to predict how users will behave in even the near future. Just a few years ago, who would have guessed that we’d be chatting to companies, organisations and our MPs in snappy, public 140-character soundbites, for example?
With Open311 in place, Greenwich do in fact have the option of receiving reports via Twitter, Facebook, and, crucially, whatever the next big platforms happen to be. Meanwhile they benefit from FixMyStreet reports dropping directly into their workflow.
Reports sent by email (which FixMyStreet does by default) can be a bit of an inconvenience for councils using CRM systems, because staff have to copy and paste the details in. But Open311 sends your report, along with every detail the council needs to know, into their chosen systems.
You can read more about the nitty-gritty of that here, but in the meantime, all you need to know is that Greenwich have proactively taken the step to allow FixMyStreet to send reports in this way, installing our Open 311 endpoint, and taking advantage of our offer to connect for free.
This is quite separate from the option of installing FixMyStreet for Councils as their main reporting system, which incidentally Greenwich also does.
So it’s a big high five for Greenwich, who with this simple step have allowed a wealth of potential applications, services and developers to interact with them over the web. Now—any other councils want to follow their example?
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
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.
FixMyStreet for Councils delivers cost savings—and that’s a fact.
Oxfordshire County Council installed FixMyStreet as their fault-reporting system in March 2013. Like every council, they were keen to see reductions in their expenditure, and were hopeful that FixMyStreet would help them in their aim to shift problem-reporting online.
We’re delighted to hear that, two years on, those benefits are tangible. Not only can they demonstrate a cut in call handling times, but they can also put a figure on just how much they have saved.
Tim White, Oxfordshire’s Service Improvement Lead in the Customer Service centre, says:
FixMyStreet has reduced the average handling time of our calls from nearly four minutes to around two minutes.
Robert Hill, Oxfordshire’s Web Services Manager, puts a figure on the savings, reckoning that the reduced time logging faults equates to £16,047.60 a year in staff costs.
But that’s just a small proportion of the reductions they could be looking at. Oxfordshire chose not to opt for full back-end integration at the time of install, but it is something they are now considering:
“By moving to an end to end system provided by FixMyStreet we would be able to remove additional cost by eliminating the need to inspect reports that meet certain criteria and passing them straight through for repair.”
mySociety’s agile approach has worked well for Oxfordshire. Tim White continued:
“Working with My Society has been a refreshing experience.
“They are very open to making changes to the way that the product works in order to improve both the customer experience and the experience for council employees.
“Using an agile approach to development means that we are able to get changes made quickly and incrementally, making the council more responsive to the demands of our residents.”
If you’d like to see a drop in your own call-handling times, and the associated cost benefits, take a look at FixMyStreet for Councils.
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 Council and the city of Zurich 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.
If you have a persistent problem with dog mess on your street, you might like to download this new poster from FixMyStreet and put it in your window—or even print out a few for your neighbours, too.
Doggy mess is just one of the common street problems you can report on FixMyStreet, and this encourages residents to do just that.
We hope you like this cheeky poop and his impassioned message. It’s the latest in a series of downloadable print-out materials from FixMyStreet: see the rest here.
Each of the previous three months has been a record-breaker for FixMyStreet. In January, you made the highest number of reports in the site’s history… until February. And then that record was smashed again in March with over 17,000 reports across the month.
FixMyStreet has been running since 2007, and it’s enjoyed increasing usage over that time, as you’d expect any site to do organically. The performance in the last few months, though—a 30% rise from the year before—has been notable. We reckon it’s been driven by a couple of factors.
At mySociety, we tend not to go for big advertising campaigns (read: we can’t afford them), but you might have noticed that we put quite a bit of effort into spreading the word about FixMyStreet at the beginning of the year.
Everything we did was low-cost and designed to help us promote the site to as many new people as possible:
- We offered a number of downloadable posters and other promotional materials (if you haven’t seen these yet, go and take a look; we think they’re pretty nice)
- We sent our users a stack of branded postcards that they could share with others to let them know about FixMyStreet
- We also contacted a large number of community newsletters and magazines, serving towns, parishes and villages across the country: perhaps you saw us featured in your local publication.
Users from council sites
That all paid off, but there was another source of reports helping us achieve our record figures.
That source was our client councils, who have FixMyStreet as the primary fault-reporting system on their own sites.
Eight UK councils currently have FixMyStreet installed, with every report made on via the system on the council site being published on fixmystreet.com, and vice versa.
Between them they’ve added just over 16,500 reports this year.
Riding the wave
So far this year, we’ve seen an overall average of 16,000+ reports per month, and there have been over 50,000 reports since 2015 began.
Now, let’s hope all those reports get some kind of a response, because as the recent research we collaborated on showed, getting something fixed has the power to turn first-time reporters into conscientious, engaged repeat reporters. And that’s all for the good.
Our recent collaboration with a team of researchers at the World Bank goes to show that it’s no different when it comes to civic participation. The team analysed almost 400,000 anonymised FixMyStreet reports to prove the hypothesis that, if a user’s first report is fixed, he or she is more likely to go on and make more.
So, just as a biscuit may give us a sugary high that we’re keen to experience again and again, the knowledge of having done ‘local public good’ is enough of a hit to bring people back to make another FixMyStreet report. In fact, they are 54% more likely to do so.
A learning for local government
What can our councils learn from this research? That responding to a resident’s report may have more than the obvious, immediate effect.
By fixing a user’s issue, a council is increasing the probability that that citizen will become a regular reporter of issues, and possibly (although this wasn’t covered by the current research) a more engaged citizen all round.
In short, it’s a two-way street. Ignore a report, and you run the risk of alienating a user enough that they never bother to engage again. Fix it, and you’ve proved the value of making contact.
Beautifully crafted prose: it’s not generally the first thing on your mind when you’re contacting the council about potholes, overflowing bins, or a faulty streetlight.
And yet, some FixMyStreet users clearly take a certain delight in the art. Today, we’d like to bring you ten FixMyStreet reports that go above and beyond the usual calibre of citizen-to-council communication, and ascend almost to the level of… dare we say, art?
1. The clanking manhole
Last night I conjured a horde of Spartan warriors smashing their shields with copies of the Highway Code. I believe that’s what they call an involuntary metaphor.
Michael bought a flat near the main road. He didn’t mind, until one day, a manhole started clanking… and clanking… Read the whole report here.
2. The missing road sign
The posts designed to proudly hold aloft the road name, guiding lost wanderers towards their destination, stand forlornly, relics from a forgotten age, their purpose lost to the mists of time.
The initial report is nothing out of the ordinary – it’s in the updates that this Hythe resident starts really going to town. Read the whole report here.
3. Roland Rat
Ten days on, he stinks and if he gets any flatter from vehicles running over him, I’ll stick a stamp on him and post him.
A concerned citizen of Appledore left a dead rat in situ, just to see what would happen. Read the full report here.
Maybe laid by a new breed of super dog. It is still steaming and has been there for weeks.
Need we explain the context for this one? In fact, there’s little more to it than you see quoted above, but with imagery like that, who needs reams of prose? See the whole report here.
5. Battling gulls of Cardiff
Splattered birds on the road, presumably […] too exhausted after battling with piercing the hardy black plastic, to get to the riches within, to attempt fly away to safety.
This anonymous user was fed up with seeing residents put food out in their rubbish, attracting gulls. Read the whole report here.
6. With a little imagination, any street fault can be a boon
I have had my windows open fantasising that I am living on an Italian Piazza with an enormous fountain at its centre.
One Fulham resident reports a leak; a commenter urges them not to fix it. See the full report here.
7. Are clowns made of balloons?
It looks like a clown has exploded
In an otherwise standard report, a Nottingham resident pulls out this extraordinary turn of phrase to describe the detritus left after a water balloon fight. Read the full report here.
8. Happy Easter
PLEASE stop moving the bin. PLEASE keep it in ONE place *next* to the path. Not a meter away from the path, not two meters away from the path and not in the daffodils against the wall, but actually next to the path where people can reach it.
Actually, it’s not the main body of this Coldstream report itself; it’s more the polite sign-off coming straight after a rant. Very British. Read the full report here.
9. A poor, innocent mini roundabout sign
If I didn’t know better, I’d worry [it] had been done by the Incredible Hulk after someone had made him very angry.
This Brighton mini roundabout sign has a few worries. Read the full report here.
10. Stinky bin
A bin here smells like the devil’s halitosis
Another wonderful turn of phrase from a Plymouth FixMyStreet user in this short, but amply descriptive, post. See the full report here.
You don’t have to be a great author to make a report on FixMyStreet
Your prose may not be as purple as in the examples above, but that doesn’t matter.
In fact, if you keep reports clear, polite, and accurate, you’ll still run a good chance of getting things fixed.
Giving council workers – and FixMyStreet readers – a good laugh? That’s optional.
Residents of East Sussex County Council and Hart District Council can now report potholes, broken street lights, and other local issues, simply and speedily. The two local authorities are the latest to integrate FixMyStreet onto their own websites.
Whether reports – and subsequent updates – are made on the councils’ websites, or within their boundaries on FixMyStreet.com, they will be published on both the council site and FixMyStreet.
FixMyStreet is a proven aid to channel shift, moving report-making online, to save time and money for both residents and councils. Hart and East Sussex’s adoption of the software is just one strand of their ‘digital by default’ approach to transactional services.
If you’re from a council, and would like to find out more about FixMyStreet for Councils, everything you need to know is here.Image: Dominic Alves (CC)