BCC’s complex Fix My Street responses

I felt I had to write this blog post, because I consider myself to be very IT literate, however I am utterly confused by email responses from Birmingham City Council (BCC) to my Fix My Street (FMS) reports.

I recently reported a lot of litter near my place of work. Today I received an email about it from BCC.

Problem 1: unintelligible email ‘from’ name:

Email 'from' name

What on earth does CCRMFORWARDMAIL mean? If it wasn’t for the subject line, I might have assumed this was spam.

Surely it can be changed to something like “Council FixMyStreet response” or even just Birmingham City Council or the relevant department name.

It’s not just council employees who work in the Communications department who need to know about Plain English, this was presumably set up by someone in IT. I would make a Plain English course part of every council employee’s (including outscourced employees) induction training.

Problem 2: email content

Below is a screenshot of the whole lengthy email I received with my comments in red (sorry about the inaccessibility of this method, I was struggling to work out how to best comment on it while keeping the original layout as well as the text).

Pretty confusing I think you’ll agree. The council need to make things as easy as possible to understand. Someone could be prompted to use a computer for the first time to be able to use an excellent service like Fix My Street, this is sure to put them off.

Council communications need to be made as easy as possible to understand. We shouldn’t have to decode them. They should be written with the least literate and IT literate people in mind, because those with higher levels of literacy can still understand them. It doesn’t work the other way around.

Problem 3: Responding to this email

The first line of the email states “Please respond to RefuseCollection@birmingham.gov.uk and not directly to
individuals”.

What do I write in my reply, just “no” (in response to “Can you please confirm whether this area has now been cleared.”)

At a minimum, some futher instructions should be given:

  • Even though I am not replying to the individual whose name is on the email, should I mention their name?
  • Do I need to describe the whole problem again if I’m sending a new email to a different address?
  • Do I need to extract the report number from the URL quoted in the metadata of the original report included at the bottom of the email?
  • Do I need to include the URL of the report?
  • Even thought I’m not supposed to reply to individuals, perhaps it should recommend that I forward the email to the address given for replies so that all the information is there?

I should just be able to hit reply. I believe it’s quite quick and easy to change the ‘reply to’ address for an email. After finishing a draft of this post I have noticed the line “Replies to this email will go to the user who submitted the
problem.” in the email from FMS to the council. Perhaps that is the reason I can’t reply straight to the council, and does the ‘from’ address actually originate from FMS? Perhaps more of this is down to Fix My Street than I first realised.

These things are just so obvious. There seem to be so many communication issues with the council that could be solved by a bit of empathy – council staff just need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the average person. Surely it’s not that difficult to use their imagination. Just imagine you know nothing of internal council jargon and systems (why should you know or even care), you could be a new computer user, what would you make of receiving that email?

Update: After finishing a draft of this post I have noticed the line “Replies to this email will go to the user who submitted the problem.” in the email report from FixMyStreet to the council. Is that the method BCC used to contact me? Perhaps that is the reason I can’t reply straight to the council, and does the ‘from’ address actually originate from FMS? Perhaps more of this is down to FixMyStreet than I first realised. Is it their system that includes the original report or the council’s? Perhaps councils should not be encouraged to reply to the Fix My Street report if they can’t see a draft of the email that the user will receive. Either way, a lot of this stuff could be resolved by BCC working more closely with FMS. It shouldn’t be down to the public to have to work out what is going on.

3 thoughts on “BCC’s complex Fix My Street responses

  1. simon gray

    hi julia,

    obviously the council can’t control how fixmystreet works, but i’ve passed this post on to the person in charge of the contact centre (who sits eight feet away from me !).

    if you’ld like to make you suggestions / complaint more formal, the best route is via the form at http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/yourviews, where it will enter ‘the system’ properly & can be looked into.

  2. Matthew

    Hi Julia,

    “After finishing a draft of this post I have noticed the line “Replies to this email will go to the user who submitted the problem.” in the email report from FixMyStreet to the council.”

    Yes; this is because FixMyStreet sends reports to Birmingham council as a bog-standard email with a From: line set to the reporter of the problem. So hitting reply to that email will reply directly to the reporter, which is in almost all circumstances what is wanted. The email they write is totally within their system, everything about the email you received from Birmingham council is up to the council, not FixMyStreet. I can’t explain why they don’t cut (or at least quote) the original message they receive, nor why they can’t set a Reply-To, and that from name is pretty strange.

    “In fact, FixMyStreet does not reveal the council name.” – we do tell you who we will be reporting the problem to on the page where you’re writing the report.

    ATB,
    Matthew

  3. catnip Post author

    Thanks for the clarification Matthew, sounds like I should submit some feedback to the council via the method suggested by Simon.

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