ix. FixMyStreet

Interaction type

Public → Government

Trigger Event

Domain

Local authority/municipality maintenance

Organisation

MySociety (originally developed with central government funding)

Data sets in use

Originally, the website used government datasets: postcodes, basemap, local authorities boundaries, contact details and email addresses of relevant personnel in local authorities.

Process

An indication of a problem on a website, through the use of a postcode where the problem occur, create an email that alerts the local authority to the problem. The authority can respond to the complaint on the website.

Feedback

Update to participants provided through the website and in email that can be triggered when a person register

Goal

Provide and online tools for residents to report local problems to their local authority and follow up the exchange with the public body in an open way.

Side effects

The application’s source code has been released under the GNU Affero GPL software license and has been used in other countries as well.

Contact Point

(Image Source: http://www.fixmystreet.com/posters/

FixMyStreet is a web-based application, launched in February 2007, which enables citizens to report local problems. In just over ten years of life, in 2017, the site has processed over 1,150,000 reports, sending them to every local authority in the UK alone.

In the UK version (i.e. the first developed), the problem reporting is facilitated with the use of Ordnance Survey maps which are used as a backdrop for users to spot the exact location of the problem. The issues reported by the users are propagated to the relevant councils by email. Users reporting a problem are contacted by FixMyStreet after four weeks so to record if the issue has been resolved. Local problems can include a variety of issues such as abandoned vehicles, dog fouling, fly posting, graffiti, fly tipping, unlit lampposts, potholes, litter and street cleaning. However, there is a clear message from the website’s administrators that users should contact directly their councils for more urgent problems or issues regarding anti-social behavior. Moreover, administrators are not holding themselves responsible for the content or the accuracy of the posts and they reserve the right to edit or remove a post that is considered inappropriate.

FixMyStreet was built and administered by mySociety, a registered charity. However, there is also the FixMyStreet for Councils application which is a paid version adapted to council needs for handling the problem reports. Moreover, the funding of the project is secured through the pricing of various paid services such as hosting of the platform or the use of cartographic backdrops. FixMyStreet has been one of the most popular web applications that enable citizens to voice their concerns regarding local issues. Through an admittedly simple process, the website has succeeded to engage people to their community and opened a channel for public input into problem solving. In turn, this resulted into shifting the power of local government from the state to the hands of the citizens (King and Brown, 2007). Moreover, citizens’ involvement into local problems has resulted into public value creation both direct (i.e. social gain that has immediate relationship with the user that reports the problem and his/her neighbors) and indirect (i.e. social gain that is dispersed to the entire community). The difference between FixMyStreet and previous mechanism for reporting local problems is in the public aspect of it – instead of the report being recorded on a local authority system, it is done in the open, and other residents can see the issues that were reported and how the local authority deal with them.

However, there are some issues of concern especially when it comes to the data created: the cycle of public data creation, propagation, consumption and diffusion back to the public creates inconsistencies. More specifically, councils themselves have an independent channel for local problem reporting and thus the launch of FixMyStreet created a parallel channel that many times simply duplicates problems already known to the council or, in the worst case, confuses the authorities as the descriptions of the same problem appear slightly different. Additionally, when the council fixes the problem (in its own time, which might take more than four weeks) is not able to report back to the application the progress on the issue. This later case is the driving force behind the initiative for FixMyStreet for Councils; however, this version does not come for free and thus only few councils in UK have adopted it so far.

In a broader sense, this boils down to answering the questions about who should be the curator of the data when there is a mix of crowd-sourced and official datasets and how the duplication of the data can be avoided so to have only one commonly accepted dataset? The line of authority for the two stakeholders (i.e. citizens and public services) has to be clearly drawn and explained so to promote common interests and avoid malfunctions in local governance.

FixMyStreet application enjoys a constant development leading to regular release of new versions (at the time of writing, May 2017, the current version is v. 2.0.4) that take care of bug fixes, performance improvement, dependencies upgrading etc. In parallel, there is are mobile applications (for iOS and for Android, while a volunteer has also written an Nokia Ovi app) developed for further easing the data collection. FixMySteet is a free and open source software (available at github), available in many languages and easily customizable for use and adaption inside other websites.

Today, FixMyStreet’s codebase has been used to set up similar sites in more than 20 countries worldwide. Moreover, the application is adopted accordingly for the needs of various councils (inside and outside UK) so to serve as the councils’ primary fault-reporting interface on their own websites. FixMyStreet’s stuff works in partnership with the authorities to develop new features that make it as useful and simple to use as possible. It’s codebase has also been used to underpin a number of other projects, including Collideoscope, for reporting cycling collisions and near misses.

Concluding, FixMyStreet is a versatile platform that allows citizens to make their voice heard by local governments. In that sense, it helps to improve everyday life in local communities through a user-friendly reporting interface, and empowers people in local participation. This, in turn, favors government transparency can accountability and restricts corruption and arbitrary behavior.

 

Main lessons:

  • FixMyStreet is a web-based application which enables citizens to report local problems concerning street issues.
  • A loop of the reported issue which may contain a variety of problems is done from crowd to the relevant councils via the web application and back to the senders to verify if the issue has been resolved.
  • The project has succeed to engage citizens in local issues of daily life, not only by recording problems but also by getting involved in public.
  • The main concern of FixMyStreet is focused on parallel channels of reporting the same street issues and is translated in data duplication, confusion in general description and lack of information about the progress of issue solving.
  • Solid funding support allows the continuous development of the software which, in turn, plays a key role to the sustainability and success of the effort.

 

References

King, S.F. and Brown, P., 2007. Fix my street or else: using the Internet to voice local public service concerns. In: Proceedings of the 1st international conference on Theory and practice of electronic governance, ICEGOV ’07, p. 72–80.

MySociety.org, 2017. Happy birthday FixMyStreet. [Online: https://www.mysociety.org/2017/02/03/happy-birthday-fixmystreet/, Accessed: 06 May 2017].

 

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