Report-It Apps. Over-Promised. Under-Delivered

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    Friday16Sep 2016
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    Guest blog post by Nigel Tyrell, Head of Environment at London Borough of Lewisham as part of our #techUKlocalgov campaign

It’s over eleven years since we built the first mobile app for reporting problems like fly-tipping and graffiti to the local authorities. LoveLewisham was innovative and helped spawn dozens of similar apps across the UK and throughout the world. Looking back at a decade with this technology, it’s fair to ask whether it has fulfilled its potential to transform public services or just laid the foundations for the next step forward.

One of the more successful of these public reporting tools recently claimed to have dealt with a million issues over the past six years. At most, that means a paltry 400 reports from each UK authority a year. Hardly mass-engagement! The promise of transforming public services through encouraging citizens to report problems has simply not been delivered.

The sad fact is that most citizens expect local councils to be aware of the issues themselves and use technology to improve efficiency. Making it easy for citizens to report issues is definitely part of the solution, but the plethora of public reporting tools has become part of the problem. Each of these tools are presented as altruistic offerings to help improve the environment, the suppliers, of course, hoping to lock the authorities into exclusive contracts. What happens when a citizen uses one of the other tools to report an issue? And what about the authorities’ workers? The public reporting apps have just not been designed for operative usability and their developers are oblivious to the workflow requirements needed to improve efficiency. It’s also clear that a hefty proportion of publicly reported jobs do not get resolved through these systems.

LoveLewisham experience has shown us that citizen reports from all of the available ‘public apps’ account for, at most, 10% of our workload.

We need to focus this technology on service delivery and not get tied into any one system. We want our citizens to use whichever app they prefer, and we don’t expect to pay. That’s where Open311 comes in.

FixMyStreet.com, the most popular of all the public reporting systems have embraced the use of a set of open standards, known as Open311. This allows us to link up our system with any Open311 compliant app.

A few years ago we took our LoveLewisham system back in-house and began re-building it to enable our operatives to identify and resolve issues directly, and to handle the minority of jobs that come from public apps via Open311. Since then our operatives deal with most of our work using the LoveLewisham Peer2Peer app which enables direct reporting between operatives/teams with minimal administrative input. Our citizens can choose from a wide range of public apps which we don’t have to pay for or develop. LoveLewisham is now an Open311 shared service platform with a specialist operative app, developed to harness our understanding of service delivery.

We now handle more jobs than ever before and generate more effective performance information now all our jobs are in one system. Our operatives create and resolve over 60% of our reports, and 90% of jobs get completed within a reasonable timescale.

We believe this approach will help deliver the transformational potential of the LoveLewisham technology.

This blog is part of our Local Government Transformation campaign. Join the discussion on #techUKlocalgov

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