Image by Clemens v. Vogelsang. A team of men dressed in orange safety uniforms cluster around a flat bed truck, ready to mend a Zurich road.

It’s known for being one of the cleanest and most efficient cities on earth –

but even Zürich suffers from potholes and graffiti.

Zürich’s residents can now report street faults via their city council’s own dedicated installation of the FixMyStreet platform: ‘Zuri Wie Neu‘, which translates as ‘Zürich: Good As New’.

For Zürich, it’s a new online channel for its street reports. Meanwhile, for mySociety it’s further proof of concept that our platform can be adapted to any jurisdiction, language, and geography.

Zurich is often listed as one of the top ten cities for quality of life.

While street fault management may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you talk about a good lifestyle, it certainly plays its part. Or, put it this way: you’d certainly miss it if it was gone.

We’re very glad to be the provider of street fault management for the city. Thanks to the adaptations and enhancements that we worked on together, Zurich City Council was able to offer residents an interface worthy of that top ten rating.

As a tech-savvy council with a team of highly competent developers on their staff, Zurich offered us a unique opportunity. We were able to develop the service in completely new directions, which in turn have gone to inform the product we now offer councils here in the UK.

How it happened

When Zurich council approached us, it was with a completely blank slate. They knew that FixMyStreet contained the core functionality that the city needed, and they also understood that its flexibility would allow for the addition of new features they required.

We worked together both in person, and remotely, and through discussions we arrived at what would turn out to be one of the most integrated FixMyStreet services we have built to date.

We grasped this opportunity to prototype a backend report management interface, so that the system handled not just residents’ reports via the web interface or app, but also the report’s journey as it traveled through the various stages towards resolution.

This service also tracks crucial information such as the time spent on each report, and routes issues to the correct department, based on category and geographic area.

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Inspectors, of course, spend a lot of time out and about, so locking the backend system to a desktop computer didn’t make sense. We ensured that the report management system worked well on all sizes of device, so tablet-issued  inspectors could find, describe or mark issues as fixed while on the go.

There was more, too. Zurich has its own satellite imagery and address resolution, which they were keen to integrate. Whether a user was pinpointing a spot on a map, or locating an issue by typing in an address, Zurich were able to use their existing systems to aid them, ensuring uniformity with other services offered on their website  — and, crucially, offering far more accurate data than other map providers such as Bing or OpenStreetMap.

Those features aren’t necessarily immediately obvious to the user, but there’s one visual difference that makes Zurich’s implementation stick out from all the other FixMyStreet sites. That’s the mapping. Zurich use a satellite image, allowing their residents to identify landmarks in photographic form before they place their pins to locate the issue. Again, it also offer more accuracy, and it fits right in with their own existing systems.

Zurich’s implementation of FixMyStreet for Councils helped us make leaps and bounds in terms of what we can now offer every council. It’s now the product of two years’ feedback and adjustment — all of which we’ve brought into our new management product for local councils in the UK, launched in December 2016.

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Interview

We spoke to GIS Project Managers Tobias Brunner and André Graf about the process of installation, and whether or not the launch has been a success.

How it all began

Tobias explains:

The project came about as the result of a government competition.Through the eZürich project, they solicited ideas that would help the city use technology.

FixMyZürich, as the idea was initially presented, was the top suggestion. It clearly matched the competition’s stated aims of increasing transparency and modernising communication channels. Plus there was a strong likelihood that it would also increase civic participation and improve the image of the council – wins all round.

But Switzerland has a reputation throughout the world for being spotless and efficient – and could Zürich, which ranks second in the world for high standard of living, really have any problems to report?

There was definitely a fear that the service would barely be used. Only after launch would they see whether that fear was justified.

Why FixMyStreet?

Prior to this, Zürich didn’t have an online channel for street fault reporting: citizens had to use phone, email, or even fax if they wanted to tell the council about a problem in their community.

So it was high time for modernisation. eZürich’s winning entry had mentioned the UK platform FixMyStreet, and so Zürich was well aware of mySociety’s custom software.

They assessed other systems. But a number of factors led to the decision to go with FixMyStreet, rather than either buying a different option, or building a system themselves.

Firstly, says Tobias:

It’s simple! And after the design revamp, it looks stunning.

And then:

mySociety was able to adapt the software to our specific needs, which is very customer-friendly.

And finally:

mySociety has a lot of experience in the field, which is great for putting senior council decision-makers some peace of mind.

Adapting to Zürich’s needs

To complicate matters, each department had its own incident management system – and in fact they still do. In order to get the pilot scheme up and running, Zuri Wie Neu has had to be a standalone system, although eventually the dots will be connected and a unified system will be introduced.

Anyone familiar with the original version of FixMyStreet will immediately notice one big difference with Zuri Wie Neu – the maps. They’re satellite, unlike the Ordnance Survey maps that our UK users know and love.

“People are used to Google Maps,” says Tobias. “We have nice orthophotos [aerial photographs that are geometrically corrected to show uniform distances]. This way, people can view more details, like trees or landmarks, and therefore will hopefully be able to better locate their problem”.

There are less obvious differences, too. For example, users of the original UK FixMyStreet are required to confirm their reports by clicking on an email link. In Zürich, not so. In fact, all reports are verified on the council side:

“We didn’t want to let any reports slip by!”. That’s admirable commitment.

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Installation

With mySociety in one country, and our clients in another, there was always going to be a degree of collaboration from a distance. For mySociety, this isn’t so unusual: many of us work from home habitually, and we have all the tools in place for co-coding, shared documentation, and instant communication.

All the same, there were several additional keys to making sure the process went smoothly:

A lot of email contact and feedback. Feedback from mySociety was really swift – way faster than what we’re used to from Swiss companies!

And it was invaluable that there were two face to face meetings at crucial points in the installation process. Here’s how it went, according to Tobias:

First, a lot of talk with council members and other responsible people. Then, even more talks!

After that, we provided firm requirements for mySociety to implement. There was a lot of testing throughout. And we provided detailed feedback to mySociety about each implementation sprint.”

The process was not entirely without challenges: for example, we needed to build the accompanying app from scratch, which of course added to development time. And Tobias reckons that another face to face meeting would have been useful, especially as regards the app.

Launch

Zuri Wie Neu attracted a real blaze of publicity – clearly, this was an idea whose time had come in Switzerland.

The media went crazy. Every newspaper in Zürich reported the story. Even European television picked it up. Even now, a month after the launch, the media is still covering us.

Results

Of course, the outcomes are the important part. We saw at the beginning that Zürich’s main aim was to increase transparency and modernise communication channels. We are sure that all councils are also keen to cut costs and increase efficiency.

In the first month after launch, there were 600-900 reports per week. Zürich’s population is approximately 360,000: comparable to Reading in the UK, and somewhere between Leicester and Bristol. Zürich’s report rate is way in excess of what we see in any of those cities  – but it’s early days for this project, and we expect the number of reports to settle down somewhat as the launch publicity subsides.

It’s interesting to hear that Tobias and André reckon the users of the website are ‘new customers’ – people who never would have been in touch before. You can argue whether that creates extra work, or increases efficiency as more faults are reported that would never previously have been fixed.

Meanwhile, feedback from Zürich residents has been overwhelmingly positive. Zürich council themselves are pleased: their next step is to look into adapting the FixMyStreet system so that it can be used by internal departments too, and, significantly, they are in discussion with other councils across Switzerland to see if it might be rolled out nationally.

The final analysis

Would André and Tobias recommend FixMyStreet to other councils, including those abroad?

mySociety were great. They were always very kind, and they brought a large amount of input from their previous experience. We’d definitely recommend them.

Working in different countries turned out not to be a problem – so long as someone in your organisation speaks English. But I would definitely say that meetings are vital.

As an extra plus point, you also gain knowledge about English culture – comic shops, real ale, all that sort of thing!

We’re not going to guarantee a crash course in comics and beer for every client, but we can promise a street fault reporting system that will suit your needs.

Need FixMyStreet for your city? Get in touch for a chat

 

 

Image: Clemens v. Vogelsang (CC)