In brief

The British not-for-profit, mySociety, specialises in developing computer tools that promote citizen engagement with government. In 2007, it created FixMyStreet, which enables local residents to report problems such as potholes, abandoned cars and overhanging foliage. Barnet Council worked with mySociety to set up its own version, which went live in 2010, and its citizens have so far reported over 30,000 issues.

The challenge

The late 2000s were “a time when a lot of people were worried about the state of the roads and their streets." [1] However, when it came to reporting these problems it was a laborious and long drawn out process. Most citizens had no idea about which council department they needed to contact about it. It was indicative of a general need to increase the levels of engagement between local government and the public, and the burgeoning e-democracy movement offered one such approach.

The initiative

The solution to the particular problem of reporting issues about the state of local streets was provided in 2007 by mySociety, an “open source not-for-profit” [2] that develops “social tools that have targeted social impact beyond the Web.” [3] MySociety acts as an intermediary between citizens and administrations to develop exchanges, dialogue and participation. In this instance it created FixMyStreet, “an award winning, highly popular website that makes it easy to report street problems anywhere in Great Britain." [4] One of its main features is its visualisation: it is map-based so that users can see where the reported problems are located.

In creating FixMyStreet, mySociety had three goals:

  • “The first goal was to make it much easier to report problems to local governments in Britain, by removing the need to know who to write to. The kinds of problems it was targeted at are problems in public places – for example a blinking streetlamp, a worn-out stretch of road, a vandalised park bench or a misleading road sign." [5]
  • “The second goal was to make these reports public, and (so far as possible) to make information on how they were being responded to by local governments public too …
  • “The third goal – they key goal for mySociety as an NGO – was about educating normal people into the idea that they can ask the local government to do things, and that often the government will do what they ask.”

One of the local authorities that adopted FixMyStreet was Barnet Council in North London, which in December 2009/January 2010 launched the app as Barnet.fixmystreet.com. Once an issue is reported to the website, details are then sent to the relevant council department to be dealt with.
In order to make FixMyStreet more specific, “in June 2012 the service [mySociety] launched FixMyStreet for Councils under a new revenue model”.

The public impact

The impact in Barnet was almost immediate:

  • It was reported in mid-March 2010 that “since the site's launch in mid December, more than 450 reports have been submitted to the council, ranging from graffiti and broken paving slabs to missing drain covers and potholes”. [6]
  • Out of the total number of people reporting the issues on the website, 52% of them had never before reported an issue to their local authority.

FixMyStreet is widely used and “more than 25,000 problems have been reported in the UK” [7] since its launch in February 2007.

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What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.

Legitimacy

Stakeholder Engagement Strong

FixMyStreet “was initially funded by the Department for Constitutional Affairs Innovations Fund and built by mySociety, in conjunction with the Young Foundation.” [8]

In creating its own version, Barnet Council partnered with UK Citizens Online Democracy (which runs the mySociety project). The initiative was carried out with input from the council to incorporate their requirements and prioritising the needs of their residents.

Political Commitment Strong

The funding costs for a purely website-based FixMyStreet for Councils are estimated to be relatively low: “integration of the web service into a local municipality’s website costs £3,500 in the first year and £2,000 per year in the following ones.Barnet Council invested in IT infrastructure to create a direct link between the council’s Customer Relationship Management tool and FixMyStreet.

The Council was committed to the initiative. “[Barnet Council] Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport, Councillor Daniel Thomas said: "FixMyStreet was introduced to provide residents with an alternative way of reporting the issues which really matter to them at a very local level. Since its launch, the site has exceeded all our expectations and has proven to be an effective and efficient way of working with residents to fix problems as soon as they arise’”. [9]

Public Confidence Good

After the roll-out of the program, the initiative received mostly positive views from the public due to their higher engagement with their local government. As for Barnet Council, it has not received any negative review of FixMyStreet from the public and has only found positive experience with the initiative: “a newly launched website which provides a quick fix to neighbourhood issues has proved a big hit with residents.” [9]

When interviewed about the public’s reaction, Chris Palmer, the council’s assistant director of communications, found that citizens were generally well disposed. “We welcome transparency and here it has been entirely positive. I haven’t seen any particular grumbling around FixMyStreet itself. FixMyStreet appears to be a medium for reporting rather than complaining and that’s what we’ve found such a positive experience about it." [10] User feedback has also been positive, e.g., “WOW - hats off to Barnet Council” [11] after they had quickly fixed a dangerous pothole.

Policy

Clear Objectives Good

There were no specific measurable outcomes defined at the outset. The objectives (to increase citizen engagement and reduce the complexity of reporting to local government) remained the same throughout, for both mySociety and for Barnet Council in their specific implementation.

The initiative increased transparency and demonstrated to citizens the responsiveness of local government towards the residents’ issues.

Evidence Good

Initially, FixMyStreet was a nationwide site and “a city government only had limited control over the assets required to create the value proposition as it did not have control over the reports or different categories of issues being sent in by citizens.” [12]

This made for quite a restrictive service. “When citizens entered a complaint into the website, an email was automatically generated and sent to a local government organisation based on the location of the report and its categorisation. The response to a particular problem was thus entirely dependent on the government representative receiving these emails. The service covered the entire country, but focused on very local issues while offering little integration or cooperation with local governments. In the case of Barnet, the implementation of the services built on existing policies within the municipality of allowing people to report issues.” [13]

Feasibility Good

With regard to technical feasibility, FixMyStreet “attempts to be as inclusive as possible: although it offers a mobile application, the service can be used in a simple browser and via e-mail. This of course still assumes a basic level of digital literacy as well as access to an internet-connected device." [14]

The revenue model was modified when FixMyStreet for Councils was set up in order to tackle the difficulties in attracting funds. The website service model is relatively inexpensive (see Political commitment above). The mobile app requires slightly more funding. “Adding a mobile version of the website as well costs £5500 in year one, followed by £3000 a year, while also offering a dedicated mobile application (for iPhone and Android) costs £9500 in the first year, followed by £4000 per year." [15]

Action

Management Good

The FixMyStreet service manages the reporting of issues so that they are sent directly to the correct city service, ensuring they are dealt with efficiently.

Measurement Good

The critical aspect to the success or failure of the service is the extent of citizen involvement and reaction speed of the local government, making the question of good governance particularly pressing in this instance. “By default, four weeks after a user reports a problem, FixMyStreet sends an email inviting that user to complete a survey which gives data about the problems that were reported on the website and an indication of the performance of the bodies that were fixing them.” [16] The main metric is the number of user reports and the number of problems that were fixed. In Barnet’s case, over 30,000 issues had been reported by June 2016 and 9,329 had been fixed.

Alignment Good

Barnet Council collaborated efficiently with mySociety to carry out the initiative. As Chris Palmer pointed out, “‘we have worked with mySociety and we’ve had an incredibly positive relationship’.” There was a high degree of challenge but also of cooperation: “we’ve worked together – which is both the opportunity and the pain of innovation”.

The Barnet residents have seen FixMyStreet as a useful service and it remains a well-used site.

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