With the charity formally known as UK Citizens Online Democracy now officially known as mySociety it makes sense that we reconsider the name of our wholly owned commercial arm, which until recently was known as mySociety Ltd.
So without further ado, let me introduce you to the newly christened: SocietyWorks.
SocietyWorks reaffirms our belief in citizens and society, creates a related but distinct propostion from the charity mySociety, and introduces a practical and relevant descriptor for a provision of local authority services. We think it works.
We have decided that now is the time to simplify the way we talk about ourselves whilst providing greater clarity and a more meaningful brand for our commercial work, especially for our local government partners.
And with fear and uncertainty all around — the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and the fabric of our communities at risk — we can’t think of a more important time to make the case that society works.
Over the coming months we’ll be rolling out the new name with the intent of it becoming an overall brand for our local government services. FixMyStreet Pro will remain the core product offered by SocietyWorks, with additional services including feature add-ons and standalone services sitting alongside. These will include new products which extend the capabilities of FixMyStreet relating to Waste, Environment, and other place based services.
We’re also incorporating our information and comms based services, initially by offering FOI Works as part of our local government suite.
You can find out more about these new services as they become available at SocietyWorks.org.
Image: Pierre Chatel Innocenti
What a year it’s been for FixMyStreet Pro, now the official street reporting system for 21 authorities across the country.
During 2019 we’ve welcomed Bexley, Cheshire East, Hackney, Northamptonshire, Hounslow Highways, Westminster, Island Roads (Isle of Wight), Peterborough, and now Transport for London to the list of Pro clients.
In all, that adds up to 6.5 million residents who can now report problems such as potholes, faulty street lights or vandalism, either on FixMyStreet.com or on their councils’ own websites.
And if you consider that TfL covers all of Greater London, a further 7.5 million residents and countless commuters, tourists and visitors to the city are also covered for reporting on overground and underground stations, red routes, bus stops, etc.
In all cases, reports pass directly into the authorities’ internal systems, making for swift resolution and the ability to keep the report-maker informed of progress at every step.
It hasn’t been all about expansion, though. This year, we’ve also been adding further features for councils to the FixMyStreet Pro offering. It’s worth noting, perhaps, that improvements for councils always translate into improvements for residents too, either in terms of quicker report processing, better status updates, or public money saved — and often all three.
Here’s a rundown of the new features we’ve introduced this year:
- Councils can add assets like street lights and trees to the map so reports are made in precisely the right location.
- If you’re trying to report a problem that’s already been logged, you’ll be alerted and can sign up to get updates on the original.
- Our new dashboard heatmaps show council staff at a glance where problems are.
- We made changes to the way councils can manage categories, easily adding context-specific guidance for the report maker…
- … and also made it so that a subcategory can belong to more than one parent.
- Managers can now assign roles to team members much more easily, too.
Getting out and about
And we were delighted to meet up with residents in Westminster and let them put the FixMyStreet to test while we watched and learned.
Looking forward to 2020
We’ve already been carrying out some research with client authorities, and we’ll be continuing this work into the new year. We also have some development planned.
- Conducting user testing to see how people use the input forms, what might be confusing and how this can be addressed…
- …and further user testing to observe how people use FixMyStreet on mobile devices.
- We’ll be talking to District Councils to see how their needs differ from other authorities, and how we can meet those needs.
- Meanwhile we’ll be giving the FixMyStreet app a much-needed update.
- We’ll make it easier for staff to add the email address of someone who requests updates on an existing report.
- And lots more!
We’re really looking forward to getting our teeth into these features and then rolling them out to our client councils in 2020.
Image: Nadine Shaabana
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.
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.
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:
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]
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.”
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.
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.
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
We’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.
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.
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.
It’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.
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.
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:
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