Fixing Up My Street

A friend of mine sent me an article by Stephen F. King in eGov Monitor. It’s a balanced, insightful review of FixMyStreet, a website produced by data-fiddlers, MySociety.

Funny coincidence, because I’d been getting increasingly pissed off by fly-tipping on my street and the failure of the local council to clear it (despite the fact that street cleaning staff pass it daily). Glasgow City Council’s own online reporting service is so very flat, form-based and practically impossible to find that my mind turned to alternatives.

FixMyStreet is one such ‘community problem reporter’ service. And I heard about another called Community Fix, offered up by Dial Media Group.

The big difference between them is in the looks department – Community Fix has a far better user interface and uses Google Maps which helps, whereas FixMyStreet is simple and functional but very brown and seems to be using quite outdated maps.

The big similarity between them is that neither service can guarantee that the problem will get fixed.

I think this is the fundamental flaw in both. Both sites have good technology going on, but they haven’t thought through the process as well as they could.

The tactic seems to be to shame council into doing something. I was on the selection panel that looked at the [successful] FixMyStreet funding application to the Ministry of Justice ‘innovations fund’, and I made the point then that a far more sustainable approach would be to make the funding dependent on MySociety partnering up with a sample of councils to test and develop not only the technology but also the service. A different point of view won out and, well, that’s where King’s article comes in.

Inspired by the article I’m running my own experiment. I’ve reported the same problem via both third-party sites and the Council’s own, and I will do my best to track the service and, crucially, if anything gets done.

Already in the time it’s taken me to type this up, I can confirm that I have received receipt emails from only two… no prizes, yes, FixMyStreet and Community Fix. Community Fix came in first, and strangely says that the Council is not only aware of the problem but is dealing with it – this is despite the fact that I’d not yet confirm the report via their link, and there was a disclaimer on the email saying that they couldn’t guarantee anything.

That reminds me – I’ve got an bunch of tyres and washing machines I need to offload.

5 thoughts on “Fixing Up My Street

  1. I briefly worked for the people behind Love Lewisham (after loosing my council seat) and having council buy in to the idea of partnership between the council’s operatives and a concerned public was key to their approach.

    The idea was to transform the debate that I’d been having with a number of concerned residents where they get frustrated with the council for it’s “tardy” response, and the council got defensive about it’s intentions. Instead the officers I worked with and I wanted to be able to talk about a proper partnership where reporting led to swift and visible response (or where that wasn’t possible a reasoned explanation) and the reports were welcomed by those working in the field as an extension of the council’s eyes and ears.

    In Lewisham that was/is possible because of the senior management in the division had that vision, and conveyed that to the frontline operatives. It dramatically improved the response times and the amount of graffiti and fly tipping being dealt with.

    A few other council’s have seen things similarly, but not enough have enough realised that the real strength of the system is in the tools it gives to managers to improve performance and get buy-in from the people working at the front end.

    When do you think the last time the council gave out computers (handheld or otherwise) to blue collar workers?

  2. Surrey County Council have been ignoring submissions from FixMyStreet for about 6 months now.

    Messages to FixMyStreet administrators asking them to look into this have gone unanswered. Comments about this posted directly on the FixMyStreet site have been removed.

    FixMyStreet just plain doesn’t work. It worked a bit in the early days when it had novelty value, but recent experience suggests that a simple phone call to the council has a much better outcome than anything posted on FixMyStreet.

  3. Thanks for the update, Tom.

    The problem I reported was semi-sorted. But they left behind the original ‘offending item’ and a whole new tip started up as a result.

  4. Good blog Ross, it’s what ICELE has been saying from the outset. Attempts at direct democracy without involving local authorities (particularly as the recipients of traffic in this instance) seriously undermines our eParticipation efforts.

    That said, I love these types of tool…and so do most audiences I show!

    Unfortunately this is the sort of piloting opportunity that ICELE could offer pioneers but nobody took-up. Now we’ve completely lost any kind of co-ordination for LA’s as CLG has pulled the plug :(

    And what happens in Redbridge/Lewisham where they have their own “official” tool?

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