In an earlier post, I compared one of mySociety’s sites to another with very similar functionality which had been commissioned by a group of councils, and concluded that mySociety were living up to their aim of “showing the public sector how to use the internet most efficiently to improve lives”.
This week, Paul Clark MP (Gillingham, also Minister for Transport) announced, on Twitter no less, that he was working on “[his] version of FixMyStreet”, and requested feedback about the site.
There are numerous things here to be applauded, not least that an MP is using several new media channels to engage in conversation with his constituents. However, the same question as before comes to mind – is this site going to do anything new, or anything better, than the mySociety site that it replicates?
Perhaps it will target a wider range of reports than FixMyStreet; perhaps users will feel more comfortable using the familiar Google Maps, if that’s what the developers plump for; time will tell.
For what it’s worth, I can’t escape the feeling that a prominent link to FixMyStreet – like the one to the left – would fulfill the needs of both the provider and the users of PaulClarkMP.co.uk, and would take a tiny fraction of the time to implement, but I look forward to being proved wrong.
Still, at least Mr Clark cites FixMyStreet as the example he’s trying to emulate, rather than Medway Council’s own website.
Recently I gave a talk at a conference where I told a group of local government officials that FixMyStreet was built not just to provide cleaner streets for their citizens, but also to force the hands of councils to procure and contract internal IT systems fit for the 21st century. In particular I pointed out that companies like Google seek to have people use their service from any site, any browser and device – they don’t just demand that everyone goes to www.google.com. And, I said, it’s only through building nice interfaces (APIs) that you can become an organisation that realises the benefits for yourself and other organisations from taking this ‘we’re happy to interoperate with anyone’ approach.
Less than three weeks later Michael Houlsby from East Hants council has single-handedly built an external facing API for their faults and problems database. So now FixMyStreet posts problems in that council direct into their database, without them first being translated into emails.
This is fantastic, especially as Michael clearly knocked it together in his spare time, and helps confirm what we’ve said before – if government builds nice interoperable APIs people like mySociety will use them to improve citizens’ experiences, whist simultaniously keeping everyone’s unnecessary workloads and expenses to a minimum. Plus it shows that if your IT supplier tells you you need to sign a new five or six figure contract to add an API to a CRM system you’ve already bought – you’re being jerked around.
Hats off to Michael – you’re a great example of a pro-active public servant using your skills to make government both better and more efficient.