Street lighting is important for residents mostly because of concerns about personal safety and risks of accidents caused by people being unable to see in the dark. From the council’s perspective, lights that are on when they should not be waste money and, as important, are perceived by residents to waste money. ‘Smart’ technology, including the internet of things, will presumably remove the need for anyone to report faulty lights in future, but that future is not quite here yet. This topic is a good test of councils’ ability to use online tools, sometimes provided on third party platforms, to crowd-source information that is costly to collect via phone and other traditional means of contact.
English county councils
This task was last tested in 2015, when all shire counties and single-tier councils (206 councils in all) were tested from a mobile device. 44% were assessed as providing a good or very good service. This time we tested shire counties only, from the desktop. We found a mixture of approaches: some sites rely on a service provided by an external contactor like SSE or Balfour Beatty, that manages all of their street lighting. Others use a custom service from the national ‘FixMyStreet’ website provider, while some continue to provide their own solution. Overall, 63% of councils provide a good or very good service, with several recommended for good practice as detailed at the end of the report.
Check ‘coverage’ to see if your council has been surveyed. Go to councils page and select your council. Look for link to task report under 2017-18 results
Provide a good or very good online service based on this survey
Better connected rankings
*Discrepancies in the figures are due to rounding off
Overall, our reviewer found surveying Report streetlight failure on our cohort of county council websites to be a really positive experience. 63% of sites provide a good or very good experience. There were one or two exceptions, including a site that signposted visitors to an external website with no explanation, and another with very little by way of introduction before presenting the reporting form.
As a general point, we might observe that county council websites should be better able to present optimised customer experiences online, since they have relatively few functions and with potentially high customer interactions, compared with district and unitary councils.
For the purpose of reporting a faulty street light, all sites were readily found in Google and all had a facility to report faults online. Two sites, for reasons best known to themselves, require users to register for a customer account before reporting.
Given that some Google searches will land users directly onto the reporting form, it is a shame that nearly two thirds of these have no link back to the web pages describing policies for dealing with faulty street lights, including how reports are managed and repairs prioritised.
In terms of identifying the location of faulty lights, our survey shows that 70% of sites offer two or more options to enable people to indicate the precise location of a street light (usually map, postcode, or streetlight reference). Most sites offer a map option where users can drop a pin for this purpose. Better Connected regularly takes councils to task for use on public websites of overcomplicated maps designed for professionals with ‘layers’ that are baffling to most people. Around a third of counties tested fail our ‘simple to use map’ test.
Most sites have a prominent ‘call to action’ prompting users to initiate a fault report, but its positioning was varied, and sometimes key information was only visible by scrolling down the page below it.
Councils need to consider placement of reporting calls to action carefully. Any information about what to do in an emergency should appear before the button is clicked: someone coming to a site to report a light not working will tend to go straight for a prominent call to action rather than read text lower down the page.
As with most things ‘top task’ related, less explanatory text is definitely more, but sometimes less can be too little. Several sites offered little useful information other than a link to the form. In some cases this is because street lighting is outsourced to a contractor who manages online report gathering along with the rest of the service.
As we have remarked elsewhere, when councils outsource services, they should still take care with the handover from the council website to the contractor’s service. Service managers arranging outsourced contracts do need to ensure that these contracts include specifications of any online facilities to be offered as part of the wider outsourcing arrangements.
Among county councils at least, is seems rare these days for them to be running their own street lighting maintenance programme, and it is usually outsourced - typically to SSE, Amey, Balfour Beatty, or Ringway. The level of information and the usability of the form provided, varies significantly.
Based on evidence from Better Connected surveys, we suspect that provision of the online service by contractors is sometimes, even often, overlooked, and that web managers are not consulted or included when these arrangements are made. As a result there is frequently a disconnect between the council website (where the customer journey will likely start) and the contractor-managed website.
One consequence is that once the activity is completed on a third party site, there is no encouragement to return to the council website, or even a link provided for that purpose.
In terms of functionality, one of the benefits of online reporting is that associated maps can show site visitors what issues are already known to the council, preventing costly calls and other contact arising from duplicate reporting and follow up calls to find out if things have been/are going to be fixed.
Where this is available (30% of sites, according to our data) councils need to manage expectations about when things will be fixed and explain what it does with reports and what the timescales are for repair. Most people will understand that things can’t be fixed instantly but will be reassured to know that there is a policy in place to manage the priorities for dealing with faults. In fact, accrding to our research, only 44% make information readily available about what action the council will take AND within what timescale it will do so.
Related to this, with more councils turning lights off at night to save money, it was good to see various levels of explanation about this policy. This is good for several reasons, not least of which providing reassurance to a potential reportee that that light they think isn’t working is actually off by intent and so doesn’t need to be reported. As indicated earlier, to be most effective, something needs to be seen by the reportee before they hit the call to action to begin a report.
Once into the report form, North Yorkshire council provides an exemplary experience (and it is nice to see use of Open Street Map). The site shows how to promote part-time lights superbly. Other councils that have part time lighting make no mention of this at all.
A number of councils deploy FixMyStreet to deliver this service. FixMyStreet is a national service developed by the civic charity MySociety to make it easy for the public to report local problems without them knowing who reports should go to – they simply need to remember 'fix my street' for search and then type in their postcode.
All FMS reports whehter or not the council contracts with the service are routed to the same council email inboxes as reports sent through by any other means. Deploying FixMyStreet as the council’s reporting solution means these reports go directly into council systems alongside those reported on the website, rather than having to be re-keyed. Examples of use can be seen by Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
Overall very good indeed….Love the fact that Buckinghamshire is using Fix My Street for highway problem reporting. Why reinvent the wheel when there's such an excellent resource already out there?
Very straightforward customer journey, process well explained and up front about timescales for repair and what to do in an emergency…..Really liked the informative notice about flashing blue/red light at top of each column; that such flashing does not need to be reported. I've not seen that on any other site identified as deploying LED lights. Overall a very positive user experience, indeed the best so far.
An extremely efficient and well-explained customer journey. The online reporting form is exemplary. I loved that I did not need to register and had the option to not provide an email address, but I was still given a reference and informed what would happen next including timescales. Impressive!
Absolutely top notch customer experience from start to finish. Highly recommended. Superb landing page explanation of benefits of registration together with a special link to follow if I wished to report anonymously.
Very good customer journey including some nice usability touches, eg after location identification the label directed me to look further down the page for a form to fill in about the issue being reported. It's a consideration such as this that really makes a difference to a customer experience.
Very well introduced and presented. Oxfordshire has a deployed a customised Fix My Street solution. Why reinvent the wheel when FMS does it so brilliantly already?