1. Greenwich opens up to Open311

    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?

    Image: Elliott Brown (cc)

     

  2. Who uses FixMyStreet?

    We hope that’s a question that is hard to answer, since FixMyStreet was built for everyone – or rather, anyone who wants to report a street problem to their council. Computer whizz or internet newbie, one-off reporter or serial council communicator, FixMyStreet is for you.

    All the same, we wanted to chat to someone who uses FixMyStreet regularly, to find out more about how they see the site, and whether it makes a difference. So…

    Meet Steve, from Exeter.

    Steve’s been using FixMyStreet almost since it launched, in March 2007:

    FixMyStreet user Steve LeeI’m not sure how I heard about it – it’s lost in the mists of time, but it was pretty soon after it went public.  I see from your archives that I first reported a problem in July 2007, but I’m sure I knew about it before then.

     

    As a board member for Schoolforge I was always searching for UK open source projects for education, and that’s probably where I came across it initially.

    FixMyStreet can be used to report any street problems to the council – it’s most commonly used for potholes, broken streetlights, fly tipping, etc. But every user has their own concerns. What does Steve tend to report?

    It’s usually road-related, as I used to push /walk the kids to school when they were young, and I cycle around a lot.

     

    So potholes, traffic lights not responding to bikes, broken street lights, bad signage, low hanging vegetation… I think I reported a crop of Japanese knotweed once.

    You did! Here it is. And have the issues been fixed?

    Many have, according to your archive. I reckon that using FixMyStreet helped raise the priority, but you never know – and that’s fine. I like to think that reports come to attention of the relevant people more quickly when you put them online where everyone can see them.

     

    Also, when you see an issue in the neighbourhood, it’s easy to assume that someone else has reported it, but as it’s so easy to ping off a report with FixMyStreet, there’s no excuse not  to play your part as a citizen.

     

    I appreciate that there’s no need to find the relevant council department, website, or whatever. Just point your browser at FixMyStreet, type in a location, click on the map and type in the problem. Sorted.

     

    Plus if others have used it to report the same issue, you’ll see straight away.

    Steve’s noticed an improvement in the way that councils interact with FixMyStreet reports.

    I can’t vouch for how fast they get fixed, but at least I usually get an email response from the council to acknowledge receipt.

     

    These have improved over the years too, indicating that the council have sorted their processes to better incorporate FixMyStreet reports.

    Does Steve ever browse FixMyStreet to see what has been reported in his local area? Or subscribe to email alerts?

    Very rarely, but it is interesting to see what’s been going on. When you report a problem, the process shows you issues that have already been reported in the same area, so you don’t need to browse first as a separate step.

    And some final thoughts…

    It’s well thought out and easy to use. I especially appreciate that I don’t have to create an account as a first step to reporting a problem: more sites should use a lazy login like this. FixMyStreet has slowly improved over the years; the most noticeable thing is the improved maps.

     

    Also, it’s open source and that is important for such civic software. I don’t know if you get much open development with others contributing, but I do suspect that others use the code.

    Yep, they sure do. FixMyStreet Platform is the place to look for that activity, where there’s also a link to our mailing list. The most significant contributions come from people in other countries who are setting up their own version – FixMyStreet in Norway, for example.

    Thanks very much to Steve for telling us about how he uses FixMyStreet. 


    This post is part of a mini-series, in which we’ll be chatting to people who regularly use mySociety’s websites.

  3. The Flexibility of FixMyStreet

    A lot of people come to mySociety to reuse our code having seen the UK websites, which is great! Then you can see what we’re trying to do in the UK and how you could replicate it abroad. But what I wonder, and what lead me to write this blog post, is are we reining in your imagination for what these platforms could be used for?

    9 times out of 10, when someone contacts me about FixMyStreet, it’s for street reporting problems. Naturally, it’s in the name of the platform!  But we do get the occasional request to use it differently, which is something we’re really keen to explore. Here are some things I think it could be used for, that aren’t street related:

     

    1) Antiretroviral Drug shortages in clinics in Africa.

    The background: 34% of the world’s HIV positive population currently live in Southern or Eastern Africa [1]. These people need antiretroviral drugs to survive, some of which could be supplied by the Government’s medical stores, some of which could be supplied by charities, but it is often reported that there are shortages of drugs at some clinics [2][3]

    The concept: A mobile responsive FixMyStreet site which health clinic staff can use to report the status of their stock to the relevant supplier. The site would instantly send an email to the clinic supplier when the staff member dropped a pin on their clinic on a map in the site. There could be different alert categories such as “stock running low”, “stock critically low” and “Out of stock”

    Impact it would hope to achieve: The aim would be to enable clinics to report on the status of their stock far enough in advance that the supplier could order and deliver stock before they hit the Critically low or Out of Stock status. This would mean that people would always be supplied with ARVs if they need them. Another point would be that patients could check the map to see if the clinic in their area has stock of the ARVs they need, and potentially choose another clinic if there is a shortage.

     

    2) Contributing data on endangered wildlife

    The background: It’s no surprise to anyone to hear that some species of wildlife are under threat. Wildlife conservation charities, like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), annually monitor population levels for endangered species [4] to ensure they have accurate data on population growth or decline and the lifestyles and habitats of the wildlife they are aiming to preserve.

    The concept: A mobile responsive FixMyStreet site which allows people to report sightings of endangered animals to wildlife conservation charities. The site would be tailored for area (eg the endangered animals native to certain countries) or could simply be per species (eg mammals, avians etc). The public would then be able to take a picture of the animal, attach it to the report and leave a short message, like “2 adult bitterns accompanied by young seen at 10:41am). The report will give the charities the location the animal was spotted in and they will be able to add this to their research data.

    Impact it would hope to achieve: Hopefully this idea would contribute valuable data to the research of Wildlife Conservation charities. Another hope is that it would make people more interested in the wildlife in their surrounding area, thus more involved in conserving it and its habitat.

     

    3) Reporting polluted Waterways

    The background: You may have seen the reports from China earlier this year about the dead pigs found in the Huangpu River [5]. It’s not just a Chinese phenomenon: around the world rivers, canals and lakes are becoming more and more polluted. [6] In fact the statistics coming from the UN are quite shocking[7]. This not only has a harmful effect on wildlife in the river, but could lead to longer term issues with clean drinking water, especially in countries where cleaning polluted water is an expensive option.

    The concept: This is very similar to the classic FixMyStreet. A website would be set up where a person could submit a photo and report of a polluted waterway by dropping a pin on a map at the position of the river. This report would then get sent to the local council or persons responsible for caring for the waterway.

    Impact it would hope to achieve: Similarly to FixMyStreet in the UK, this would help to get citizens more actively involved in their local area and government. The idea would also be that the council would hopefully start dedicating more resources to clear rivers and waterways. Or local residents could form a group to remove litter themselves. In the case of chemical or oil spills this would obviously not be advised. However if chemical waste or oil spillages were noticed to be originating from specific buildings then the council would have the opportunity to bring this up with the residents or companies in these buildings.

     

    So those are some of my ideas! What are yours?

    We’re actively looking to support non-street uses of FixMyStreet so please do get in contact  on international@mysociety.org with your ideas and we’ll work together to see how we can achieve them!

    Oh, and, don’t worry if you still want a classic FixMyStreet, we’ll help you with that too!

     

    References:

    [1]http://www.unicef.org/esaro/5482_HIV_AIDS.html

    [2]http://allafrica.com/stories/201307070100.html

    [3]http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3194149/

    [4]http://www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/projects/details/258718-annual-bittern-monitoring-

    [5]http://behindthewall.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/03/18/17357810-china-rivers-dead-pig-toll-passes-13000-but-officials-say-water-quality-is-normal?lite

    [6]https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/tackling-water-pollution-from-the-urban-environment

    [7]http://www.unwater.org/statistics/en/

    [8] Orangutan by Matthew Kang

    [9] Primary colours by Vineet Radhakrishnan

  4. FixMyTransport one year on: the operators who won’t play ball

    Image by Magnus Franklin

    Exactly one year ago today, we quietly put FixMyTransport.com live. We’d built it as a place where you could contact transport operators, and receive their responses, in public. But would it work?

    That depended, of course, on the transport companies, and how they would rise to the challenge. A year on, we’re in a position to see how things have panned out.

    As you will know if you have submitted a message to them, there are a handful of operators who refuse to engage via FixMyTransport, even though this requires less effort for them than holding the conversation in private. Worst offenders include Northern Rail, Scotrail, Arriva Trains Wales and South West Trains.

    These operators are starting to look as if they might have some customer service secrets to hide. You can see some of their excuses in our archive of correspondence, and frankly, they aren’t all that persuasive:

    Scotrail: “We encourage our customers to contact us directly to help give them the service they expect and deserve.”
    South West Trains: “In order to guarantee a full and consistent response to the concerns raised, would you please advise our customer to use one of our established methods of contact.”
    Arriva Trains Wales: “Receiving feedback from our customers is important to us, and I am grateful for you taking time to report these issues. However, we would ask any customer wishing to log an issue with us to make direct contact with us, rather than submit it to us via a third party.”

    Meanwhile, Northern Rail – perhaps not coincidentally one of our most-contacted operators – has a policy of sending a one-liner to say that comments have been ‘passed on to the relevant teams’. That does not comfort those who submit some of their more upsetting or important complaints.

    While we are disappointed by this lack of communication, we still think it’s worthwhile using FixMyTransport to make initial contact with such companies.

    Why? Because you gain the benefit of comments, advice and support from other users – and your complaint is in public for everyone to see. Even if the operator doesn’t respond, that has to make a difference. Plus, FixMyTransport users will often suggest next steps, such as contacting pressure groups or passenger watchdogs.

    You see, while we may have faced difficulties with some operators, there were no such issues with the general public. You came to the site, and you quickly understood what FixMyTransport was trying to achieve. And you chose to use it in preference to the transport companies’ own channels. Perhaps the operators might like to think about why that is.

    But let’s not dwell on the negatives. We have to give kudos to East Midlands Trains, First Capital Connect, First Great Western, London Midland, Southern and Virgin, all of whom stepped up to the mark and had no problems whatsoever replying to you via FixMyTransport. Equally, praise is due to Transport for London who act as the central contact for a variety of operators across the city, and Stagecoach Buses’ many subsidiaries.

    These companies, along with many other smaller outfits, have consistently responded to your complaints via the site. As a result they have created a large public archive of their good customer service.

    A helpful, friendly community has grown, too, aided by our team of volunteers. Over 3,500 people have sent messages through FixMyTransport, and with monthly visitors to the site now coming in at over 180,000, each of those messages has had an average of 50 readers.

    This is our first year of many. We’re certainly here for the long haul, and confident that eventually, even the most reluctant operators will come on board. If they don’t, increasingly, their customers are going to be asking why. The last year has shown that there is a demand for our service, and we see ourselves as part of a wider shift towards holding companies to account in public. Think how often you’ve seen a disgruntled customer tweeting or blogging their experience.

    Meanwhile, we hope you’ll keep using the site, and telling others about it. You might even consider telling your local transport operators how FixMyTransport can work for them.

    We hope, too, that you’ll carry on telling us what works or doesn’t work, via the feedback button at the top of every FixMyTransport page. We’re still in active development, and every suggestion is discussed and considered.

    Thanks for helping make FixMyTransport what it is. Now, have a piece of birthday cake.

     

    Image credit: Magnus Franklin

    This post is cross-posted from the FixMyTransport blog.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  5. Love Parks Week starts tomorrow – and FixMyStreet can also be used to fix your park

    Park by Barbara Mazz
    Love Parks Week logo

    21st to 29th July is Love Parks Week – a campaign that raises awareness of the importance of green spaces in local communities.

    This year, they are focusing on “healthy” parks – that is to say, parks that are safe, clean, well-maintained, a home for wildlife, and a hub for the local community.

    The Love Parks website features a quick online health check which you can complete for your local facilities.

    If your local park isn’t up to scratch, this is a great week to report it via FixMyStreet. You might think that you can only report problems on streets and roads, but in fact the automatic geolocation function, and the zoomable, draggable maps mean that you can also pinpoint issues very precisely, even if they’re on open ground.

    So, if your playground equipment is rusty, the pond is full of algae, or the dog bin’s overflowing, you know where to turn.

     

    Image by Barbara Mazz, used with thanks under the Creative commons licence.

  6. Lichfield is the latest council to use FixMyStreet

    FixMyStreet on the Lichfield District Council website

    Lichfield residents are the latest to enjoy FixMyStreet functionality on their council website.

    We’ve been working with Lichfield District Council to integrate FixMyStreet into their snazzy site design. The resulting interface echoes their purple and green colour scheme, and sits comfortably within their own page layouts.

    What happens to reports when councils include FixMyStreet for Councils on their website? There’s a two-way mirroring process. All reports made via the Lichfield website will also appear on the main FixMyStreet.com site. And all Lichfield reports made via FixMyStreet are published onto their website too. That way, we cut down on the possibility of duplicate reports, and Lichfield residents can use whichever site they prefer.

    So, Lichfeldians, there’s never been a better time to report that nagging problem on your street. Do let us know how you find it!

  7. Explore new areas with mySociety websites

    This post was written by mySociety volunteer Peter Dixon, who is part of the FixMyTransport team.

    Checking the Map by Shaun Dunmall

    There are many reasons nowadays for you to travel across the UK for business, with meetings and relocations being a key reason. Both have affected my personal circumstances within the past few months, so I felt it would be beneficial for me to show how I had used FixMyTransport and FixMyStreet to see more of the areas I am visiting or relocating to.

    One of the biggest frustrations when arriving at a hotel on business is that you can be stranded in a strange town or city with no idea about what is in the area. Once you have factored in dinner, the rest of the time is spare and very few people enjoy being stranded in a hotel with only a few TV channels to entertain.

    To discover an area, you need to have a look round and a purpose for making a journey can make it easier to undertake a gentle stroll.

    When faced with this on a recent trip to the West Midlands, I used FixMyStreet and FixMyTransport to locate issues that were in the area around the hotel and planned a quick walk that allowed me to look at issues that had not been marked as fixed.

    As a result of this walk, I was able to mark a couple of the reports as fixed and update some of the others. This doesn’t just limit you to walking, a cycle or a drive can be a great stress reliever for some and a reason to do them makes it so much easier.

    I have recently moved house too, and both of the websites provided a great opportunity to explore my new local area. To relieve the boredom of endless housing estates, I used the two websites to find something to look at when having an explore and added new issues as I looked for the existing issues. It’s great to see things getting fixed and know that you have already added to your new community.

    So when you are next in a new area and looking for something to do, log on to FixMyStreet or FixMyTransport and see what you can add to the local community.

     

    Image credit: Checking the map by Shaun Dunmall.

  8. FixMyStreet for Councils – designed with councils, for councils

     

    Today we launch FixMyStreet for Councils, our street issue reporting software designed for council websites and built in consultation with a wide variety of local authorities across the UK.  FixMyStreet for Councils enables local authorities to deal more cheaply and efficiently with street problem reports.

    The London Boroughs of Bromley and Barnet are the first local authorities to run the new FixMyStreet for Councils software.

    Our national FixMyStreet.com site has operated since 2007, helping people easily and quickly report issues to the council and see what issues have already been reported in their area. We knew we’d done something right when councils began to enquire about incorporating FixMyStreet into their own websites. These local authorities recognised the system’s usability and the benefits of putting reports online, saving their residents and themselves time and reducing duplicate reports.

    FixMyStreet for Councils is our response to this interest. It was built with input from different types of council – large, small, rural, urban – to see how we could put their requirements at the heart of the system while still prioritising their residents’ needs.

    FixMyStreet for Councils offers:

    • A branded cloud service seamlessly branded to reflect each council website’s look and feel;
    • Customisable front-end: councils can include their own wording, add new problem categories that are relevant to them and get rid of the ones that aren’t;
    • Mobile reporting options including mobile web pages and iPhone and Android apps with council’s branding;
    • A dashboard for council employees, allowing them to see, at a glance, which problems have been fixed and which are still outstanding;
    • Integration with the national FixMyStreet.com site – all issues reported on the council’s website are reflected on FixmyStreet.com, and vice-versa;
    • Optionally, full integration with existing CRM or fault management systems.

    FixMyStreet for Councils evolved from custom installations we created for several local authorities, including the London Borough of Barnet, who pioneered the software in January 2010. Chris Palmer, the Assistant Director of Communications at Barnet, says it has “made the council far more open, transparent and responsive”.  For an insight into the impact of FixMyStreet on Barnet’s relationship with its community, read our case study.

    Report page from FixMyStreet on the Barnet council website

    Channel shift

    Our launch comes in response to a growing need in councils. Across the country there’s an impetus to shift services online. It’s easier for people to engage with their council digitally, and it really improves the quality of their transactions. Plus it saves money – and as we know, councils are cutting budgets where they can in the current climate.

    SOCITM’s 2011 Channel Value Benchmarking survey underlines just how wide the cost gap can be. It reckons to £8.62 per face-to-face visit, £2.83 per phone call, and just £0.15 per visit to a council website.

    We’ve put a lot of thought into this launch and our hope is that it will be as beneficial for citizens as it is for the councils we built it for – after all, making services more efficient and saving them money is good for all of us.

    • FixMyStreet puts reports online for everyone to see, cutting down on duplicate reports
    • Back-end integration saves ‘re-keying’ time, when staff members are typing details into the council database
    • In the long run, FixMyStreet can increase citizen engagement, giving residents an enhanced feeling of empowerment, and a desire to safeguard the community
    • FixMyStreet for Councils is economically priced, and includes all hosting and maintenance, so it doesn’t place a burden on council IT staff
    • Residents become useful informers: Chris Palmer of Barnet Council describes FixMyStreet users as “our eyes and ears on the ground”

    Cost benefits aside, there’s an increasing desire from all of us to do things on the go, simply and quickly. We see it in the private sector, and we’re beginning to expect it in the public sector, too.

    For an insight into how FixMyStreet for Councils has altered the London Borough of Barnet’s relationship with its community, read our case study here.

    If you’d like to find out more about FixMyStreet for Councils, drop us a line or read more.

  9. International potholing

    Barak San Nicholas street

    At mySociety we take some pride in knowing that FixMyStreet has helped rid the world of thousands of potholes over the years, but of course our contribution to unbroken roads is merely the start of the process. Certainly, reporting a hole on FixMyStreet is easy (we’ve gone out of our way to make sure that is the case), but we do appreciate that a hole remains a hole until somebody takes the trouble to actually fill it in. So really it is all the inspectors, despatchers, logistic and supply teams, fleet mechanics, and repair crews who make the world a smoother, less perforated place.

    We’re currently working on a pilot project in the city of Cebu (the “second city” of the Philippines) with the World Bank and transport experts ITP that will implement a FixMyStreet-based reporting service as part of the ongoing battle to keep its roads and streetlights in good repair. Later in the year we will have more to report, but for now—before anything is up and running—we can start by saluting the work of some of the remarkable people who fix the roads (and replace the bulbs) there.

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  10. Advent calendar

    mySociety Christmas countdown

    December 23rd

     

    Santa's Chocolate Coin Mint by Johnathan_W

    If you haven’t got a penny,

    A ha’penny will do,

    If you haven’t got a ha’penny,

    Then God bless you.

    We wish you all a merry and prosperous Christmas – and for those of you who are already feeling quite prosperous enough, may we point you in the direction of our charitable donations page?

    mySociety’s work is made possible by donations of all sizes and from all sorts of people. Those donations help fund all the online projects we create; projects that give easy access to your civic and democratic rights. If that’s important to you, show your appreciation, and we promise we’ll make the best use of every penny.

    Thank you for sticking with us through this month-long post. We hope you’ve found it interesting and we wish you the very merriest of Christmases.

    We hope you’ll continue to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ – see our Contacts page to find individual projects’ social media links.

    December 22nd

    Santa Watching by LadyDragonflyCC

    What’s behind the door? A letter to Santa.

    Dear Santa,

    We think we’ve been pretty good this year. We’ve tried to keep our local neighbourhood clean, help with problems, and aid those in need, so we’re hoping there are a few presents coming our way.

    If you can fit them down the chimney, here’s what we’re dreaming of:

    More publicly available data Of course, we were delighted to hear in Mr Osborne’s autumn statement that all sorts of previously-inaccessible data will be opened up.

    We’re wondering whether this new era will also answer any of our FixMyStreet geodata wishes. Santa, if you could allocate an elf to this one, we’d be ever so pleased.

    Globalisation …in the nicest possible way, of course. This year has seen us work in places previously untouched by the hand of mySociety, including Kenya and the Philippines. And we continue to give help to those who wish to replicate our projects in their own countries, from FixMyStreet in Norway to WhatDoTheyKnow in Germany.

    Santa, please could you fix it for us to continue working with dedicated and motivated people all around the world?

    A mySociety Masters degree We’re lucky enough to have a team of talented and knowledgeable developers, and we hope we will be recruiting more in the coming year. It’s not always an easy task to find the kind of people we need – after all, mySociety is not your average workplace – so we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s probably easiest to make our own.

    Back in February, Tom started thinking about a Masters in Public Technology. It’s still something we’re very much hoping for. Santa, is it true you have friends in academic circles?

    FixMyTransport buy-in – from everyone! Regular users of FixMyTransport will have noticed that there are different kinds of response from the transport operators: lovely, fulsome, helpful ones, and formulaic ones. Or, worse still, complete refusal to engage.

    Santa, if you get the chance, please could you tell the operators a little secret? Just tell them what those savvier ones already know – that FixMyTransport represents a chance to show off some fantastic customer service. And with 25,000 visitors to the site every week, that message is soon spread far and wide.

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