1. Something in the middle: how Bristol connects

    This year, Bristol Council did something unusual and admirable. As far as we’re aware, they’re the first UK council to have taken such a step.

    Working with mySociety on custom Open311 ‘middleware’ while adopting FixMyStreet as their fault-reporting system, they now enjoy full flexibility, no matter what the future holds.

    Thanks to this open approach, Bristol will extract more value from their existing systems and lower operating costs. With integrated, open solutions, and the raised quality of report formatting that Open311 brings, everyone will benefit.

    Improving flexibility

    Councils are increasingly understanding the value of flexibility when it comes to service providers.

    Contracts that lock them into a single provider for many years mean that, often, there’s no opportunity to benefit when technology advances, and disproportionate costs can be charged for implementing the slightest changes.

    This desire for flexibility was a strong factor in Bristol City Council’s decision to adopt FixMyStreet for Councils — and that opened the door for a conversation about Open311.

    We’ve always advocated integration via Open311, to the extent that we offer free hook-up with FixMyStreet to any councils who support it.

    Because Open311 is an open standard, it supports the entire landscape of providers like FixMyStreet. Right now, Bristol can accept street fault reports not just from us, but from a full range of services — in other words, any site or app that cares to connect with them can do so. No-one knows what the future will hold: if a game-changing system emerges in the future, it makes sense that you’d be able to accept its reports.

    All well and good: but when Bristol City Council implemented FixMyStreet as their fault-reporting system, the concept was taken a little bit further. With our collaboration, Bristol created their own Open311 ‘middleware’, sitting between the two systems and talking to both.

    Via this method, their existing CMS, Confirm, can hook up to reports coming through from FixMyStreet. That all works smoothly — but, just as importantly, if Bristol ever decide to replace their CRM provider, they’ll be able to do so with no knock-on effect to FixMyStreet reports. And if they ever decide to replace FixMyStreet with a different provider, or indeed to accept reports from a range of providers, they can do that too.

    Bristol found us via the GCloud procurement system, and are the first metropolitan unitary authority to install FixMyStreet.

    Future plans

    Bristol launched its FixMyStreet service to the public in the summer of 2016.

    This autumn, they added asset-based reporting, meaning that known council properties such as streetlights, grit bins and gullies are all marked on FixMyStreet’s maps. Residents can pinpoint and report the location of faults with these assets far more accurately as a result.

    There’ll be a phased rollout across departments, starting with Highways and moving across departments as Bristol extend their own middleware. We’ll be watching with great interest.

    Find out more about FixMyStreet for Councils.

    Image: Adam Heath (CC by-sa/2.0)

  2. Council-led changes to FixMyStreet

    We’ve recently made a few small changes to FixMyStreet. Nothing new there; we’re often tweaking things to make FixMyStreet more usable. Except, these changes weren’t our own idea: they were based on feedback from a council.

    Oxfordshire County Council, who use FixMyStreet for Councils as their main fault reporting system, requested these features, which are now available to all client councils (and which, in two cases, are now also benefiting users on our own FixMyStreet.com):

    Category drop-downs

    If you’re looking at an area of the country on FixMyStreet and are only interested in a specific type of problem—for example, potholes or fly tipping—you can now filter reports. filter

    You can also use these same drop-downs to only see reports that are fixed, unfixed, or closed:
    fixed

    Much easier, especially in some of the very report-dense areas of the country.

    Different coloured pins

    On FixMyStreet.com, every problem is marked by a yellow pin, no matter what its status:
    oxffms

    But Oxfordshire spotted an opportunity to make things a little clearer. Where a council has opted for full integration, FixMyStreet can automatically update the status of reports as they go through the fix cycle.

    So why not reflect these statuses on the colours of map pins? Red, green and grey pins now indicate problems that are fixed, unfixed or closed. See for yourself how this looks on the Oxfordshire website:

    oxffmsgreenZoom-responsive pins

    When you go to report your problem on FixMyStreet, you can zoom in and out of the map and pan it around until you find exactly the right spot in which to place your pin. There was just one thing, though: while the streets and other map features got bigger and smaller as you zoomed in or out, the pins remained the same size.zoomed out

    Not any more! Now, in one of those ‘you probably don’t notice it but it does make things easier’ moves, pins shrink and expand at the same rate as the map:

    zoomed in

    Expanded userbase = more insights

    Several councils around the country use FixMyStreet as the main problem-reporting system on their own websites—so if you report a problem on the Stevenage, Oxfordshire, Bromley or Warwickshire council websites (among others) you may find the interface very familiar.

    There are obvious benefits for us in supplying FixMyStreet as software for councils—not least that the revenue goes to support our charitable work! But cases like this highlight a more subtle benefit: with the increased userbase, and with the additional council administrators who are actually thinking about the FixMyStreet experience at any one time, we gain valuable insights into its usability.

    Where we can, we’ll make the changes for our clients, and, if desirable, we can push the same code onto the main FixMyStreet.com site.

    That benefit goes two ways: equally, improvements we make to FixMyStreet are generally available on FixMyStreet for Councils. So, those frequent tweaks we talked about at the beginning? They get rolled out for our clients, too.

    The winner in all of this is the user, which is just as it should be.

    If you’re from a council and would like to know more, please visit our FixMyStreet for Councils page.

    Image: Carl Mueller (CC)

  3. FixMyStreet for Councils cuts call handling times, makes savings

    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.

    Image: David Howard (CC)

  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. 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

  6. Boom times for FixMyStreet

    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.

    Grassroots outreach

    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.

     

    Image: Jamie Taylor (CC)

  7. 12 exciting projects mySociety was hired to deliver last year

    Image by Craig Sunter

    Not many people realise that we fund a proportion of our charitable work by carrying our commercial development and consultancy work for a wide range of clients.

    Last year, we scoped, developed and delivered a real variety of digital tools and projects. Some of the projects were surprising. Some of them made us gnash our teeth, a bit, as we grappled with new problems. But all of them (and call us geeks if you like) got us very excited.

    Here are just twelve of our personal high points from last year. If you have a project that you think we might be able to help you with in 2015, we’d love to hear from you!

    1. We Changed the Way in Which Parliament Does Digital

    Palace of Westminster by Greg DunlapThis time last year, a small team from mySociety was poring over analytics, interview content and assorted evidence from Parliament projects dating back last 2-3 years, to help us put together a simple set of recommendations to conclude our review.

    11 months later, Parliament have announced their first Head of Digital, fulfilling one of our key recommendations.

    2. We helped the MAS and the FCA protect financial consumers

    Bubble Car by Allen WatkinTwo of our projects helped people financially.

    We built the Money Advice Service’s (MAS) first responsive web application, the Car Cost Calculator.

    This tool takes one simple thing you know (the car you wish to buy) and tells you roughly how much it’ll cost to run that car against any others you might be interested in. It has been one of MAS’ most successful online tools in terms of traffic and conversion.

    We also built the Financial Conduct Authority’s Scam Smart tool, aiming to prevent financial scams.

    This tool helps users considering a financial investment to check a potential investment. Users enter information about the type of investment, how they heard about it and the details of the company offering it to them and get back tailored guidance and suggested next steps to help them ensure the investment is bona fide.

    3. We Gave Power to the People of Panama (soon)

    Alaveteli homepageWorking with the The National Authority for Transparency & Access to Information (ANTAI) and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), we set up our first government-backed instance of our Freedom of Information platform, Alaveteli, in Panama.

    This project will ensure that Panama’s FOI legislation is promoted and used, but it will also shine a light on ANTAI, who are responsible for ensuring ministries and organisations publish their information, and handling case appeals.

    4. We Mapped All the Public Services in Wales

    Bws Ysgol - Image by Aqwis via Wikimedia, CCAfter we extended the Mapumental API to produce data output suitable for GIS (geographical information systems), the Welsh Government were able to map public services in Wales for their Index of Multiple Deprivation calculations.

    Over the course of the year they have calculated travel times for over seventy thousand points of interest.

    5. We Launched a New Organisation in Four Weeks

    Simply SecureSimply Secure approached us in dire need of a brand, an identity and a website to accompany the launch of their new organisation to help the world build user-friendly security tools and technologies.

    Cue four weeks of very intense work for mySociety’s designer, supported by members of the commercial team. And we did it.

    6. We Printed Stuff BIG (and found people jobs)

    Public transport travel times to Birmingham meet-up, from Mapumental by mySocietymySociety developer Dave Arter figured out how to generate A1 sized maps from Mapumental for every job centre in the UK – all 716 of them.

    Xerox will be using these with the DWP to help job seekers find work that is within reach by public transport. As a byproduct, Mapumental now handles high-fidelity print based outputs: get in touch if that is of interest.

    7. We Opened Up Planning Applications

    open-planning-shotWith Hampshire County Council we had the opportunity to build a new application to help assist members of the public and business better understand what was happening around them. For us, it was also the first application in which we worked closely with a provider of a linked data store, in this case Swirrl.

    When Open Planning goes live, it will look to help improve social engagement and the economy of Hampshire through better understanding and transparency of planning data.

    8. We Proved (Again) That FixMyStreet Isn’t All About Potholes

    CollideoscopeAfter a spate of cyclists’ deaths in London last year, we felt that the moment was right to build something that would support cycle safety in the UK.

    We launched Collideoscope on October the 7th with our first sponsor—Barts Charity, with the aim of generating data both on incidents involving cycles, and near misses.

    9. We Helped Launch a Film

    A map of old Norse place namesWe built a tool for the British Museum, to go alongside the general release of Vikings Live. The Norse Names project brought a sense of context and personalisation to a dataset gathered by the University of Nottingham.

    10. We Made Data More Exciting

    To the Trains by Nic McPheeIn 2013, we built an interface to help people explore the data in the National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) data explorer  for Passenger Focus.

    This year, they asked us to build something similar for bus users. We’re entering the final week of development now, and the finished product should be launched in March.

    The main aim of this site? To take data that could be considered pretty dry, and make it a lot more engaging.

    11. We Fixed Yet More Potholes

    Fixed, by Tup WandersThis year Warwickshire, East Sussex, Hart & Harrogate joined the list of councils using FixMyStreet as their main street fault reporting platform.

    That means that residents of those places can now make their reports direct from their council’s website, or via FixMyStreet, and either way they’ll have all the benefits of FixMyStreet’s smooth report-making interface.

    12. We Showed Parliament the Way

    Parliament Square by Duncan HarrisAnd so, we end where we began. While Parliament were busy interviewing candidates for their new ‘Head of Digital’ position, we were commissioned to demonstrate what Hansard might look like were a platform like SayIt used instead of the largely print-based publishing mechanisms used today.

    The result was shared internally. While SayIt may not be the end solution for Parliament, it’s great to have had some input into what that solution might be.

    And in 2015…?

    Got a project that you’d like us to be involved in?

    Get in touch and tell us about it.

    Image credits:

    Eggs: Craig Sunter; Parliament: Greg Dunlap; Bubble car: Allen Watkin; To the Trains: Nic McPhee; Potholes: Tup Wanders; Parliament Duncan Harris. All Creative Commons.

     

  8. Easy fault-reporting for East Sussex and Hart

    Winding Road (Ditchling Road, Hollingbury) by Dominic Alves

    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)
  9. New functionality for FixMyStreet for Councils

    We’re pleased to announce new moderation features for clients of FixMyStreet for Councils.

    This new functionality enables nominated members of staff to edit user reports from within the FixMyStreet front end.

    It’s quick and easy, and allows you to react immediately to unwanted content on your site. Read on to find out more.

    Screenshot of a problematic report in FMS

    Screenshot of a problematic report in FMS

    What’s wrong with this report?

    So what is wrong with the report in the screenshot above?

    If you run a site on the FixMyStreet platform, you’ll be familiar with this kind of report, and the chances are that you’ll already be twitching to edit it.

    User-generated content is wonderful in many ways – but it can also present problems on a public-facing site. Let’s look at a few of the potential issues in the report above:

    • The user has included his phone number in the report description, and now it’s available for anyone to see.
    • The user’s name is also public. While this is the default option on FixMyStreet, users often get in touch to say that they meant to make their report anonymously (an option on FixMyStreet, but one which the user can only access at the point of submission).
    • There’s an inappropriate photo. This one is a statue of Carl Jung, which obviously has nothing to do with the report. But even relevant photos can be problematic: imagine if it was a graphic depiction of a dead animal, or some rude graffiti.
    • Profanity: in the example above, we’ll imagine that “pesky” is a mild profanity, but experience tells us that users don’t always hold back on their language.

    There are other common problems too, not represented in this report. Users sometimes post potentially libellous information: naming someone they suspect of flytipping, for example, or giving an address where they believe planning permission has been flouted.

    In the run-up to local election, councils have to be particularly sensitive to any content that might be construed as political – commonly they wish to remove any mention of any candidate.

    Moderation in all things

    New FMS Moderation panel
    Up until now, we’ve edited reports for our council clients, on request. However, this is clearly a long-winded way of getting sensitive material off the site, especially when time is of the essence.

    So we’ll shortly be introducing the ability for client moderation of sites. Councils or other bodies who run FixMyStreet will be able to nominate trusted users and give them the ability to edit problematic reports from within the report page.

    When logged in, these users will see a “moderate” button on every report – this feature will not be available to any user unless explicitly authorised.

    As you can see, this panel provides the ability to:

    • Hide the report completely
    • Hide the name of the poster
    • Hide or show a photo (if one was originally provided)
    • Edit the title and body of the report.

    For some reports, it might be necessary to make a number of edits, and finally submit the changes:

     

    FMS Moderation in Progress

    FMS Moderation in Progress

    The moderator can also add a reason for the changes, so it’s recorded if a colleague needs to know the history of the report in the future.

    This functionality gives a lot of power to admins to remove inappropriate information – but the user took the time to submit their report, and it’s only fair to let them know it’s been changed. So the system sends them an automatic email, as below:

    FMS Moderation Email

    FMS Moderation Email

     

    Finally, the system automatically updates the report to show that it has been moderated. As well as a timestamp, it signals where any information has been removed in the title or body of the report.

    FMS Moderation Displayed on Report

    FMS Moderation Displayed on Report

     

    Updates can be just as problematic as reports, so the same functionality will apply to them.

    We’d welcome feedback on this mechanism, so please let us know if you think we’ve missed any features.

    Note: These screenshots are from our work in progress and do not yet display the slick design that we habitually apply right at the end of the build process. Please regard them as preview shots only!