1. Spreadsheets begone! FixMyStreet Pro for Peterborough

    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.

    Improved efficiency

    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.

    If you’re a council and there’s potential for efficiencies  in your reporting system (whether large or small), do check out the FixMyStreet Pro website, and then get in touch.

     —

    Image: Dun.can (CC by/2.0)

  2. Making things right on the Isle of Wight

    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:

    Form changes if the user selects that the problem is urgent

    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]

  3. Speedy integration for Hounslow

    Hounslow is the latest borough to adopt FixMyStreet Pro, adding to the ever-growing share of Greater London councils who have chosen the service as their main street reporting interface.

    As with other Pro integrations, citizens can now make reports via the Hounslow website or on FixMyStreet.com; either way they’ll display on both sites, and will drop directly into the council’s case management system — in this case, Confirm.

    It’s part of a dual contract with contractors Ringway that operates the highways contract on behalf of the London Borough of Hounslow: watch this space for the other council implementation going live soon on the Isle of Wight.

    In fact, this installation has involved a seamless transfer which minimised the impact on council staff; everything was handled through Ringway, including user testing via their network of volunteer ‘Lay Assessors’.

    Thanks to a lot of previous experience with Confirm, it’s all proven very straightforward from our point of view. The whole system was up and running in just two weeks, something of a record for FixMyStreet Pro implementation — and a great illustration of just how quickly councils can get going and start to see real change in their customer interface with FixMyStreet Pro if everything is in place.

    Rob Gillespie, Ringway’s Regional Director, agrees: “I have been impressed with the level of engagement and simplicity of this change. The team behind FixMyStreet has supported our team to develop a service that I believe will be a real game-changer for the industry. Our aim was to improve the accessibility of our highway services, and improve the connectivity between customers and our operational teams. This partnership has really delivered on these expectations.”

     

    Image: Nigel Thompson (CC by-sa/2.0)

  4. See you at the LGA conference in Bournemouth

    From tomorrow through ’til Thursday, mySociety and Power To Change will be at the Local Government Association annual conference, keen to talk about FixMyStreet Pro and Keep It In The Community.

    If you’re a councillor who’d like to find out how our services can help you work more efficiently — and bring benefits to your residents — please do swing by for a chat at stand BL3.

    FixMyStreet Pro

    We’ve written a lot about our street reporting service for councils — how it can integrate with existing back-end systems; how it can encourage channel shift and thus bring savings; and the many new features we’ve introduced in response to what councils tell us they need. You can read all our past posts on the FixMyStreet Pro blog.

    But as a councillor, you may be interested in other aspects of the service. Here are a few highlights:

    • FixMyStreet lets you subscribe to the reports being made in your ward — you’ll get an email every time someone makes a new report. This allows you to monitor issues as they occur, and take action if it’s warranted.
    • You can also access a map showing every report ever made in your ward. If desired, you can filter reports by category or by status to get a picture of how each type of report, from graffiti to potholes, is impacting your residents.
    • If your council is one of the many who use FixMyStreet Pro as their main reporting system, you’ll also have access to more refined analysis via the dashboard, which allows you to compare reports and fulfillment over different periods of time.
    • You can make reports on the go, so if you spot something that needs fixing while you’re out and about, it’s quick and easy to get a report filed.

    Keep It In The Community

    Also come and discover Keep It In The Community, an England-wide online mapping of the spaces and places that are valuable to local communities, created in partnership with Power To Change.

    Under the Localism Act of 2011, every council is obliged to retain a list of Assets of Community Value (ACVs): Keep it In The Community turns this obligation into a benefit for all, allowing you to store and share your data while contributing to a national picture.

    Thanks to a recent update, Keep It In The Community also displays buildings and spaces currently under community ownership. As a councillor, we think you’ll like this service because:

    • It’s completely free.
    • It provides an attractive way for councils to display ACVs and community-run spaces, and invites residents to add richer detail such as memories and photographs.
    • It’s a great way to demonstrate the community activity that’s taking place within your ward.
    • It helps popularise the concept of community ownership, encouraging more residents to take action and preserve the spaces that matter to them.

    If this has whetted your interest, don’t forget to come and meet the friendly mySociety and Power to Change folk on stand BL3.

     

  5. Measuring the savings brought by FixMyStreet Pro

    Buckinghamshire County Council have revealed the cost savings brought to them by FixMyStreet Pro.

    The authority switched over to FixMyStreet Pro as their official fault reporting system in April 2018. They’re now able to assess a year’s worth of data and compare it to the year previous. The findings are gratifying, to say the least — and set out a real case for councils who are considering opting for the service themselves.

    Saving staff time and resources

    The council reports that they’ve seen a 13% decrease in calls and a 40% reduction in emails about street faults since FixMyStreet Pro was introduced.

    In case you’re wondering how that translates into monetary savings, well, on average they reckon that a single call costs £5.88 in staff time, while a report made by email, with its potential for back and forth communication to pin down the precise details, chalks up £7.81.

    In comparison, because FixMyStreet Pro places reports directly into the system, and little staff time is required to administer them, the perceived cost is just 9p per report.

    Additionally, Buckinghamshire has seen a 29% drop in calls where residents are chasing progress: report makers no longer need to get on the phone to check whether their issue is being seen to, because updates are pushed directly back to them as the report progresses through the system.

    And there’s been a  59% decrease in unnecessary clarification, that is, when the council need to go back to the report-maker to check the exact location or nature of an issue. FixMyStreet can be set up to the council’s exact specifications to ensure that the user is prompted to provide all the information they’ll need, which accounts for this impressive drop.

    Avoiding unnecessary reports

    It can be a frustrating waste of time and resources when a council receives reports about issues which are not their responsibility: with the UK’s two tier system, it’s almost inevitable that citizens get confused about which authority deals with which category of street fault — and on top of that, there are the reports that are dealt with by other bodies such as TfL or Highways England.

    FixMyStreet has always done a good job of routing reports to the right council, though, and the improvements we’ve made to the service over the last few years mean we can also make sure the relevant reports go through to TfL and Highways England too. Bucks say that since introducing FixMyStreet Pro, they’ve seen a 19% decrease in misrouted reports that have to be forwarded elsewhere.

    Finally, they can see a 30% decrease in street light reports. Since Bucks are one of the councils who display all their streetlights on FixMyStreet it’s now very easy for a resident to check online whether an issue has already been reported for any specific lamp post. If it has, they can also see its progress towards resolution — so there’s no need for them to open a new report.

    These figures illustrate very clearly what is meant by channel shift: real, tangible results that save money for councils, and thus ultimately, for residents too. It’s great to have this confirmation that FixMyStreet Pro brings results — and we’re still in a continual process of development in consultation with councils, to keep making more improvements wherever we can.

    Come and talk to us at the LGA conference next week

    LGA confernece 2019We’d be delighted to answer your questions and give you a demo if you’re planning on being in Bournemouth for next week’s LGA conference. You’ll find us on stand BL3 in the Purbeck Hall.

    Image: Peter O’Connor (CC by-sa/2.0)

  6. Research report: better FOI and SARs management for councils

    Last week, we shared research into the state of Freedom of Information in local councils. The standout finding? That the volume of FOI requests to local authorities has more than doubled in the past decade.

    The resulting increase in transparency of our councils, along with the work many have done to ensure that they are providing more and better services to citizens, can only be welcomed. But of course, such an increase also brings challenges, which will be best met with robust systems and tools to maximise efficiency.

    Fortunately, while mySociety’s Research team were crunching those figures, the Transparency team have been working in parallel on a project to explore and prototype around better case management of FOI and Subject Access Requests in local authorities.

    In partnership with four councils, and funded by the Local Digital Fund, this project looked at user journeys for council staff who handle information requests, to determine whether the development of a new digital tool was likely to foster efficiencies.

    The resulting reports are now available to read on the mySociety research portal. One early discovery was that most existing digital case management solutions are not ideal for the very specific needs of FOI handling in local councils, for various reasons that are outlined in the reports.

    But problems with request handling are not due only to a lack of suitable digital tools. By observing and speaking to people dealing with information requests across the four councils, the team was able to identify the offline systems and qualities that are likely to lead to better case management, and to pin down the issues that prevent such outcomes.

    Another major finding came while assessing the viability of designing a digital tool that would better serve councils’ needs. The team were made aware of an existing piece of Open Source software developed by the Ministry of Justice, and ascertained that one practical way forward would be to build on this tool to supplement it with the features identified as lacking elsewhere.

    Along the way, the team amassed much information on the variations in the way that different councils handle requests, and considered metrics which any council would be wise to monitor in order to understand the efficacy of their services and where weak points exist.

    Every council will benefit from reading these reports, and of course if the recommendations are put in place, the improvements that should follow will also benefit all citizens who seek information.

    Meanwhile, we would very much like to take our own findings further, and develop a digital offering based on the MoJ tool: we think it could be genuinely transformative for councils, and, being Open Source, the outcome would be available to all. If you’re from a local authority who might be interested in exploring this with us, do get in touch; we’re also planning to add the potential project to G-Cloud so that a wider audience of councils see it as a potential option if they’re searching for request handling software.

    Read the FOI and SARs management reports now or get in touch if you want to talk further!

     

  7. Northamptonshire’s road to FixMyStreet

    Northamptonshire is the latest council to adopt FixMyStreet Pro as their official street reporting system. If you come across something amiss on the streets of Corby, Kettering, Daventry or anywhere else in the county, you can file a report on the council website — or do it on the nationwide site FixMyStreet.com and it’ll be routed to the council too.

    FixMyStreet for NorthamptonshireIt’s been something of a full circle for Northants: in recent years, the authority had returned any reports sent through FixMyStreet, asking residents to submit via their own interface instead. The aim was to avoid ‘rekeying’ the details from emails into their inhouse system, a time-intensive task for staff — so we’re especially glad to be able to integrate FixMyStreet and drop reports directly into their backend.

    So, what brought about this change of direction? Timing, and our reputation, it would seem.

    Northants had been using their own frontend system named Street Doctor, coupled with the Exor asset management system behind the scenes — but when the contract with Exor was up for renewal, they decided it was time for a change, giving them a hard deadline by which a solution needed to be put in place.

    The council chose Yotta Alloy as their new asset management system, but that decision in turn meant that the council’s contractors, Kier, had to find a new frontend, since Yotta’s newer technology couldn’t align with Street Doctor’s older systems. Northants considered building their own interface, but we’re glad to say that Kier recommended purchasing FixMyStreet rather than reinventing the wheel. While the opportunity and budget were both there for the council to create something bespoke, it was recognised that by purchasing FixMyStreet off the shelf, they pass any risk on to us — and we’re happy to shoulder it.

    It’s great to have the confidence of a contractor like Kier, as it shows that FixMyStreet Pro is appreciated and trusted right across the sector. Kier themselves won’t need to integrate with FixMyStreet, however: Yotta Alloy will act as the middleman, from which Kier will pick up reports. The information provided by the user will ensure they go to the right team.

    As Kier inspectors and maintenance workers update the status of reports on their system, updates will flow into Yotta Alloy. That information will then automatically be pushed back to FixMyStreet and to the original report maker. And should a council inspector create a new report in Yotta, this too will be displayed on FixMyStreet, helping to prevent the duplicate reporting of issues that are already in hand.

    Meanwhile, the council’s own customer service staff will be inputting any reports they receive by phone, email or in person, directly to FixMyStreet Pro. Whatever the channel used, reports will flow seamlessly into the right places.

    So Northants have ended up with a neat solution, involving three different suppliers all working in harmony. The net result, we believe, will be a quicker, more integrated and more effective service for the citizens of Northants.

    Images: Malc McDonald (CC-by-sa/2.0)

  8. Reporting by numbers with FixMyStreet Pro

    If you’re reporting an issue on Buckinghamshire Council’s FixMyStreet installation, you might have seen yellow dots appearing on the map. These represent items such as streetlights, bins or drains, and we blogged about it when we first added the feature.

    Streetlights plotted on FixMyStreet

    When it comes to assets like streetlights, it can save the council considerable time and effort if your report tells them precisely which light needs fixing: it’s far quicker to find an identified light than it is to follow well-meaning but perhaps vague descriptions like ‘opposite the school’!

    But even when the assets are marked on a map, it’s not always easy for a user to identify exactly which one they want to report, especially if they’ve gone home to make the report and they’re no longer standing right in front of it.

    After the system had been in place for a few weeks, the team at Buckinghamshire told us that users often weren’t pinpointing quite the right streetlight. So we thought a bit more about what could be done to encourage more accurate reports.

    As you might have noticed, streetlights are usually branded with an ID number, like this:

    Buckinghamshire, as you’d expect, holds these ID numbers as data, which means that we were able to add it to FixMyStreet. Now when you click on one of the dots, you’ll see the number displayed, like this: An identified streetlight on FixMyStreet

    The same functionality works for signs, Belisha beacons, bollards and traffic signals, as well as streetlights. Each of them has their own unique identifier.

    So, if you’re in Bucks and you want to make a report about any of these things, note down the ID number and compare it when you click on the asset. This means the correct information is sent through the first time — which, in turn, makes for a quicker fix. Win/win!

    This type of functionality is available to any council using FixMyStreet Pro: find out more here.

    Header image: Luca Florio

  9. FixMyStreet Pro says ‘Hi’ to Oxfordshire’s HIAMS

    Our client councils continue to test our integration mettle with the many and varied internal systems they use.

    One nice thing about FixMyStreet Pro, from the council point of view, is that it can play nicely with any internal council system, passing reports wherever they are needed and feeding updates back to the report-maker and onto the live site. What keeps life interesting is that there’s a huge variety of differing set-ups across every council, so there’s always something new to learn.

    Oxfordshire County Council are a case in point. They’ve been a client of ours since 2013, and back in May they asked if we could work with them to integrate their new highways asset maintenance system HIAMS, supplied by WDM, and make sure the whole kaboodle could work with FixMyStreet Pro as well.

    At the same time, they needed an update to their co-branded version of FixMyStreet to match a new design across the council website. FixMyStreet can take on any template so that it fits seamlessly into the rest of the site.

    Oxfordshire County Council's installation of FixMyStreet

    As FixMyStreet was well embedded and citizens were already using it, it was vital to ensure that the disruption was kept to a minimum, both for report-makers and members of staff dealing with enquiries.

    We worked closely with WDM and Oxfordshire County Council to create a connector that would pass information the user entered on Oxfordshire’s FixMyStreet installation or the national FixMyStreet website into the new WDM system, with the correct categories and details already completed.

    Once we saw data going into the system successfully, the next task was to get updates back out. One single report could take a long journey, being passed from WDM onto another system and then back through to WDM before an update came to the user. We didn’t want to leave the report-maker wondering what was happening, so it was crucial to ensure that updates came back to them as smoothly and quickly as possible.

    The integration between FixMyStreet and WDM is now live and working. Users will receive an update whenever their report’s status is changed within the WDM system, meaning there’s no need for them to follow up with a phone call or email — a win for both citizens and councils.

    It all went smoothly from our point of view, but let’s hear from Anna Fitzgerald, Oxfordshire’s Infrastructure Information Management Principal Officer:

    “We’ve been using FixMyStreet Pro since 2013 as it’s a system which is easy to integrate and our customers love it.

    “From an IT support side; integrating the new system to FixMyStreet Pro was seamless. The team at mySociety have been a pleasure to work with, are extremely helpful, knowledgeable and organised. They make you feel like you are their top priority at all times, nothing was ever an issue.

    “Now that we have full integration with the new system, the process of updating our customers happens instantaneously. FixMyStreet Pro has also given us flexibility to change how we communicate with our customers, how often we communicate; and all in real time.

    “What’s more, our Members and management team love it as it has greatly reduced the amount of calls to our customer services desk, which saves a lot of money for the council.”

    As always, we’re delighted to hear such positive feedback. If you’re from a council and would like to explore the benefits FixMyStreet Pro could bring you, please do get in touch.

    Image: Suad Kamardeen

  10. FOI for Councils: Hackney Goes Live

    Over the last few months, we’ve been working with Hackney Council to design and make a Freedom of Information management system, imaginatively named FOI For Councils — and last time we left you with our pre-development thoughts. Well, now it’s up and running.

    With this project, we had two main aims:

    • first, to make the process really slick and easy to use for citizens;
    • second, to reduce the quantity of FOI requests submitted, relieving some pressure on the Information Officers at the receiving end.

    The solution we came up with achieves both those aims, and there’s one feature in particular that we’re super-excited about.

    Case Management Integration

    One of the development decisions taken early on was for the system to be a very lightweight layer, largely powered by the new Infreemation case management system that Hackney were in the process of commissioning.

    Infreemation is targeted primarily at Information Officers, so there was no use in reinventing the wheel and building a heavy backend for our own FOI for Councils software.

    Instead we built the FOI request process, using our experience in designing for citizens, and submitted the data directly to Infreemation using their API. This means that every request goes straight in to the case management system used by Information Officers, with no need for double entry; a set-up we’re very familiar with from our work integrating council systems with FixMyStreet.

    Information Officers respond to the FOI request through Infreemation, and when they publish the response to Infreemation’s disclosure log, FOI for Councils can pull that response into its innovative suggestions engine, which we’ll discuss shortly.

    All this means that Information Officers get to use the tools that are designed directly with them in mind, but citizens get the best experience possible for the process at hand, rather than trying to battle the typical generic forms offered by one-size-fits-all solutions.

    Citizens

    On the user side of things we managed to reduce the process to a maximum of 6 screens for the entire process.

    FOI for Councils Citizen Process

    Simple, short citizen workflow

    Throughout the whole user journey we ask for only three details: name; email address and then the actual request for information.

    Each screen provides contextual help along the way, maximising the chances that the FOI request will be well-formed by the time it gets submitted.

    Making the process intuitive for the people using it is a key factor in building citizens’ trust in an authority. Too often we see complex forms with terrible usability that almost seem designed to put people off exercising their rights.

    Information Officers

    So far, so good. But for us, the most interesting piece of the process is the suggestions step.

    Before the citizen submits their request to the authority, we scan the text for keywords to see if anything matches the pool of already-published information.

    If we find any matches, we show the top three to the citizen to hopefully answer their question before they submit it to the authority. This helps the citizen avoid a 20-day wait for information that they might be able to access immediately. If the suggestions don’t answer their question, the citizen can easily continue with their request.

    Suggestions also benefit the authority, by reducing workload when requests can be answered by existing public information.

    FOI for Councils Your Request Form

    Simple forms with helpful advice

    FOI for Councils Suggestions

    Suggestions injected in to citizen-side flow

    We’ve tried to make this suggestions step as unobtrusive as possible, while still adding value for the citizen and the authority.

    The suggestions system is driven by two sources:

    • Manually curated links to existing information
    • The published answers to previous FOI requests

    The curated links can be added to the suggestions pool by Information Officers where they spot patterns in the information most commonly requested, or perhaps in response to current events.

    FOI for Councils Curated Links Admin

    Ability to add targeted suggestions in addition to the automated feed from the Disclosure Log

    The intelligent part of the system though, is the automated suggestions.

    As FOI for Councils integrates with the Infreemation case management system, we can feed the suggestion pool with the anonymised responses to previous requests where the authority has published them to the disclosure log.

    By doing this the authority is making each FOI response work a little harder for them. Over time this automatic suggestion pool should help to reduce duplicate FOI requests.

    FOI for Councils FOI Officer Process

    Suggestions are built up as FOI Officers answer requests and publish them to the Disclosure Log

    FOI for Councils also analyses the number of times each suggestion is shown, clicked, and even whether the suggestion has prevented any additional FOI requests being made.

    This allows Information Officers to see which information is being asked for, but where existing resources aren’t providing the information necessary to the citizen.

    Future Plans

    We’ll be keeping a keen eye on how this works out for Hackney, and we’ll be sure to report back with any insights.

    As you’ll know if you read our first blog post from this project, we did originally envision a platform that would process Subject Access Requests as well as FOI. In the end this proved beyond the resources we had available for this phase of work.

    For us, this has been a really instructive piece of work in showing how authorities can commission process-specific services that connect together to give everyone a better user experience.

    As with most mySociety projects, FOI for Councils is open source which improves its transparency, flexibility and accountability.

    If you’re responsible for managing FOI requests or data protection in your own public sector body and you’d like to talk about project in more detail, please get in touch at hello@mysociety.org.