FixMyStreet is one of the UK’s best-known and longest-established civic apps. Seven years after it launched, it’s come a long way from just being a simple way for the public to report problems.
“If you see a broken street lamp, the average person doesn’t know where to go,” says Myfanwy Nixon of mySociety, the not-for-profit group that developed the app.
You could go onto your council’s website, but the page for reporting it might be buried somewhere.
“With FixMyStreet, you won’t be asked your name and address first – it starts with your location, so you can start describing the problem straight away. The user doesn’t need to worry which department it goes to.”
FixMyStreet launched in 2007, with the help of a Government innovation fund grant and built in conjunction with the Young Foundation think tank.
Within a couple of years, “councils started coming to us”, Nixon explains. “Our focus on usability was appealing, and residents were deciding to use FixMyStreet.”
“So it seemed like a no-brainer for us to build white label versions for councils,” she says. “They look just like the council website, but we host them.
“It’s more sophisticated now – we can integrate with whatever backend system a council runs. It can push alerts to users saying it’s in the process of being fixed.”
Working with different councils means FixMyStreet has evolved to meet different challenges. Bromley might be a London borough, but much of its area is rural and has poor GPS reception. MySociety developed the app, using code from Open311, so users can make a report about a specific location when they get back into an area with a strong signal. The effort was a success - Bromley went from having 3 per cent of its street problems reported online to 50 per cent.
'We're big on transparency'
FixMyStreet publishes each report – so photos of flytipping, overflowing bins and graffiti-covered walls can be accessed from a click on a council’s website.
“It’s important to us that problems are published,” Nixon says. “We’re big on the idea of transparency – and it means councils don’t get multiple reports of the same issue.
“We find they like it as their work is normally hidden. Now they have a platform to explain why they can’t fix something – it’s not their land, perhaps – or they have lots of 'fixed' marks to show off.
“In the early days, it was such a new concept. But the words ‘transparency’ and ‘channel shift’ are used a lot now. Councils appreciate the cost savings as people don’t have to phone to report problems.”
FixMyStreet also sends users a questionnaire a couple of weeks after they made their report, asking if the problem was fixed, and if they’d reported an issue to the council before.
“We want to empower people in civic and community life – half had never thought about reporting street problems to the council before,” Nixon says.
“The odd council will say ‘our system is there, and you’re confusing people by having another system’.
“But we think people should be able to report problems in a way that suits them.”
So what next for FixMyStreet? It’s highly adaptable – “fundamentally, it’s a map users can put a pin on”, Nixon says.
One version, the Empty Homes Spotter, was made to back up Channel 4’s Great British Property Scandal season – landing mySociety with Emmy and Bafta nominations. The code’s also being used for a scheme in India to highlight when clinics have run out of tuberculosis vaccines.
“It could be used by a housing association so residents can report problems with their homes,” Nixon says. “We’re open to anything.”
25.11.13 - a popular day for mattresses by Cleaner Croydon used under CC BY 2.0.