1. Got a list of postcodes and need to match them to administrative areas?

    It’s a more common problem than you might think: given a list of postcodes, how can you match them to the administrative and electoral areas, such as wards or constituencies, that they sit within?

    MapIt’s data mapping tool gives a quick, easy and cheap solution: just upload your spreadsheet of postcodes, tell it which type of area you want them matched to, and the data is returned to you  — complete with a new column containing the information you need.

    The tool can match your postcodes to every type of data that MapIt offers in its API, including council areas, Westminster constituencies, parish wards and even NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

    If that doesn’t sound like something you can imagine being useful, let’s look at a few hypothetical use cases (and if you have an actual case that you’d like to tell us about, please do let us know  — we’re always keen to hear how our tools are being used).

    Organisations, charities and campaigns sometimes need to match postcodes to administrative areas

    Membership organisations, charities and campaigns usually collect the addresses of supporters, but don’t commonly ask them who their MP is (even if they did ask, most people in the UK don’t actually know the name of their MP).

    But when a campaign asks followers to contact their MPs, it’s helpful to be able to suggest an angle based on whether the MP is known to be sympathetic to their cause, or not — indeed, there’s arguably no point in contacting MPs who are already known to be firmly on board.

    So: input a spreadsheet of supporters’ postcodes, and get them matched to the associated Westminster constituencies.

    For more advanced usages, organisations might match the MapIt tool’s output of postcodes with other datasets to discover the answers to questions like:

    • Which members in a disability group have fewest GPs in their area, and might be finding it difficult to get help for their condition?
    • Which supporters of a transport charity live in regions less served by public transport, and would be likely to take action to campaign for improved bus and train services?
    • Which people affiliated to an ecological organisation live in predominantly rural areas and could help with a wildlife count?

    Researchers sometimes need to match postcodes to administrative areas

    Researchers often need to correlate people, institutions or locations with the boundaries they fall within.

    They might have a list of postcodes for, say, underperforming schools, and want to find out whether they are clustered within authorities that have similar characteristics, like cuts to their funding or an administration that has a political majority one way or the other.

    Teamed with other datasets, MapIt can help towards answering important questions like the number of people each CCG serves, how unemployment rates vary in different European regions, or average house prices within parliamentary constituencies.

    Journalists sometimes need to match postcodes to administrative areas

    Investigative or data journalists may obtain long spreadsheets full of postcodes in the course of their work, perhaps as a result of having submitted Freedom of Information requests to one or more authorities.

    Perhaps they have the address of every university in the country, and there’s an election coming up — during the summer holidays. Knowing that students will mostly be in their home constituencies, they might be able to make informed predictions about how votes in the university towns will be affected.

    Or let’s say that a journalist has gathered, from local councils, an address for every library scheduled to close. This could be compared with another dataset — perhaps literacy or crime rates — to draw conclusions over what impact the closures would have.

    Part of a wider service

    The MapIt machine

     

    The one-off data mapping tool is just one service from mySociety’s MapIt, which is best known for its API.

    This provides an ongoing service, typically for those running websites that ask users to input geographical points such as postcodes or lat/longs, and return tailored results depending on the boundaries those points fall within.

    MapIt powers most mySociety sites, for example:

    • When you drop a pin on the map while using FixMyStreet, MapIt provides the site with the administrative boundaries it falls within, so that the site can then match your report with the authority responsible for fixing it.
    • When you type your postcode into WriteToThem, Mapit gives the site the information it needs to to display a list of every representative, from local councillor up to MEP, who represents your area.
    • If you search for your postcode on TheyWorkForYou, MapIt tells the site what your Westminster constituency is and the site matches that to your MP. You can then be taken to their page with a record of how they have voted and everything they’ve said in Parliament.

    Give it a try

    Find out more about MapIt here or have a go at uploading a spreadsheet into the data mapping tool.

    If you’re not sure whether it’s the right tool for your needs, feel free to drop us a line — and, as we said before, if you are already using it to good effect, please do let us know.

    Image: Thor Alvis

  2. Stop right there! That’s already been reported

    It’s obviously good citizen behaviour to report something that needs fixing to your council, whether it’s a pothole that could cause an accident, or a broken streetlight that has plunged the area into darkness.

    But there’s one type of report that isn’t very useful to councils, and in fact brings unnecessary costs and inconvenience: when you tell the council about an issue that’s already been flagged up by someone else.

    FixMyStreet has always been helpful in this regard. It was groundbreaking in displaying all reports in public, unlike most council systems when we were first developing it. A user who goes to make a report can see right away if there’s already a pin in that spot, and check whether the existing issue is the same one they were going to add.

    Now we’ve taken that concept a step further in some work which we’re trialling on Bath & NE Somerset’s implementation of FixMyStreet Pro.

    When a user starts to make a report, the system checks to see if there are any other open reports in the same category within a small radius. If it finds any, you’ll see a prompt, like this:

    Duplicate report alert on FixMyStreet

    All similar reports will appear here. If you think one might be identical, but aren’t sure, you can click ‘read more’ to see the full text along with any photos attached to the report:

    Duplicate report full text on FixMyStreet

    And if you recognise it as the issue you were about to report, you click the green button and will be given the option to subscribe to it, so you know when it’s being seen to, effectively being kept just as up to date as you would be if you’d made the original report:

    Duplicate report - subscribe on FixMyStreet

     

    If it’s not the same issue, no worries: just click ‘report a new problem’ and you can do just that:

    Bath & NE Somerset will run this feature as a trial over the next month; then once they’ve got feedback from their users, we’ll hopefully offer it to every other council on the Avenue tier of FixMyStreet Pro.

    If you come across this feature while making a report in Bath or environs, do let us know how it works for you.

    Image: Kevin Grieve

  3. Northamptonshire’s road to FixMyStreet

    Northamptonshire is the latest council to adopt FixMyStreet Pro as their official street reporting system. If you come across something amiss on the streets of Corby, Kettering, Daventry or anywhere else in the county, you can file a report on the council website — or do it on the nationwide site FixMyStreet.com and it’ll be routed to the council too.

    FixMyStreet for NorthamptonshireIt’s been something of a full circle for Northants: in recent years, the authority had returned any reports sent through FixMyStreet, asking residents to submit via their own interface instead. The aim was to avoid ‘rekeying’ the details from emails into their inhouse system, a time-intensive task for staff — so we’re especially glad to be able to integrate FixMyStreet and drop reports directly into their backend.

    So, what brought about this change of direction? Timing, and our reputation, it would seem.

    Northants had been using their own frontend system named Street Doctor, coupled with the Exor asset management system behind the scenes — but when the contract with Exor was up for renewal, they decided it was time for a change, giving them a hard deadline by which a solution needed to be put in place.

    The council chose Yotta Alloy as their new asset management system, but that decision in turn meant that the council’s contractors, Kier, had to find a new frontend, since Yotta’s newer technology couldn’t align with Street Doctor’s older systems. Northants considered building their own interface, but we’re glad to say that Kier recommended purchasing FixMyStreet rather than reinventing the wheel. While the opportunity and budget were both there for the council to create something bespoke, it was recognised that by purchasing FixMyStreet off the shelf, they pass any risk on to us — and we’re happy to shoulder it.

    It’s great to have the confidence of a contractor like Kier, as it shows that FixMyStreet Pro is appreciated and trusted right across the sector. Kier themselves won’t need to integrate with FixMyStreet, however: Yotta Alloy will act as the middleman, from which Kier will pick up reports. The information provided by the user will ensure they go to the right team.

    As Kier inspectors and maintenance workers update the status of reports on their system, updates will flow into Yotta Alloy. That information will then automatically be pushed back to FixMyStreet and to the original report maker. And should a council inspector create a new report in Yotta, this too will be displayed on FixMyStreet, helping to prevent the duplicate reporting of issues that are already in hand.

    Meanwhile, the council’s own customer service staff will be inputting any reports they receive by phone, email or in person, directly to FixMyStreet Pro. Whatever the channel used, reports will flow seamlessly into the right places.

    So Northants have ended up with a neat solution, involving three different suppliers all working in harmony. The net result, we believe, will be a quicker, more integrated and more effective service for the citizens of Northants.

    Images: Malc McDonald (CC-by-sa/2.0)

  4. Heatmaps are cool

    Heatmaps show data in a format that’s quick and easy to understand — so when Bromley Council asked us if we could add them to their FixMyStreet Pro data dashboard, we agreed it was a great idea.

    mySociety developers got to work and put together a prototype which worked so well that we’re planning to roll it out to any other client councils who want it.

    Now, when Bromley staff log in, they can either see the normal map view of their borough, or they can switch tabs to see a heatmap overlay.

    Toggle between reports and heatmap on FixMyStreet Pro

    By default, the heatmap shows every report from the last month, so the initial view will look something like this:

    Bromley FixMyStreet issues plotted on a heatmap

    But the heatmap also responds to the dropdown filters at the top of the page, so you can adjust it to see any combination of dates, categories and status. For example, you might want to see reports about graffiti, made since the beginning of the year, which have been fixed. That would look like this:

    Heatmap showing fixed graffiti reports in bromley on FixMyStreet Pro

    As you’d expect, the hotter the colour, the higher the density of reports, with the cooler blue showing where they are least concentrated. Staff can even see interesting things like everywhere a request has been made for a new tree to be planted:

    tree planting request in Bromley on FixMyStreet Pro

    Heatmaps are just the latest in a series of features we’ve been working on: you can keep up with them all on the FixMyStreet Pro blog.

    If you’re from a council and you’d like to benefit from these many new developments, you can find out more here.

     

  5. FixMyStreet Pro and Bromley: driving efficiency through technology

    Seven years ago, Bromley Borough Council was one of the first authorities to implement FixMyStreet Pro and we’ve enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship ever since. It’s been a true partnership as Bromley work closely with us, letting us know their needs and how best we can innovate to meet them. The resulting development then passes on to all our client councils.

    The value FixMyStreet Pro brings to Bromley was recognised last night when the implementation was shortlisted for an award at the 2019 LGC Awards, in the category “Driving efficiency through technology”.

    In the end, we just lost out to the worthy winner Orkney Islands Council — but If you’d like to know more about the features and development that got the project shortlisted, take a look at our case study here.

    FixMyStreet and bromley council at the LGC awards
  6. Progress on Keep It In The Community

    Now KIITC is a one-stop database of community assets

    We’ve kept you informed every step of the way as we develop Keep It In The Community (KIITC) into a database of the places and spaces across England that are of value to local people and communities — see our previous blog posts here.

    Thanks to additional development and some welcome data input, we’ve reached a new phase in its evolution. Back in September we explained how the site contains a snapshot of registered Assets of Community Value (ACVs).

    KIITC now also includes the records of places valued by locals, collected by Sheffield Hallam University.

    Furthermore, and perhaps most excitingly, it invites local groups to add their own entries, of assets which are of benefit to the local community but are at risk of going into private hands.

    So now, Keep It In The Community’s data comes from from a number of sources:

    • The snapshot of data obtained from every council in England in September 2018, comprising around 5,000 registered ACVs.
      Each of these listings contains as much data as we were able to retrieve from the relevant council at that time, including details such as nomination and expiry dates. Note that any information after September 2018 (eg if an application has progressed) won’t be recorded unless it has subsequently been added by a council or user.
    • Sheffield Hallam University, who invited community groups to register their  community-owned or managed assets, shared that data with us — adding a further 150 or so entries to the site. These can be identified by the ‘valued by locals’ label. Again, there is scope for users to add more detail to each.
    • Councils can maintain existing records and add new ones if they wish to.
    • If you are part of a community group or have a connection to a building that is, or should be, an ACV or community owned, you can add it — or add further details to existing records.

    While we’re not in a position to maintain the data on registered ACVs as time progresses, Keep It In The Community does give a picture of the thousands of spaces and places perceived to be of value to their communities up and down the country — and invites councils and community groups to help keep it up to date.

    Keeping these listings accurate — and making them special

    Anyone can add a new asset or edit the information about an existing one if they have a connection with or knowledge about it. The first step is to either find the asset you wish to edit and click “Edit”, or click on the map and fill in the form to create a new asset.

    For any listing, users can upload photos, provide the name of the community group that is backing its status, add more detail about the building’s history, etc.

    Users’ collected memories and descriptions will stand as a public statement on why the asset has value, and could also be used as supporting documentation if they are planning to go through the process of getting a place registered as an ACV.

    All changes are recorded publicly on the site so it’s possible to keep track of who made which changes and when – always useful if any mistakes creep in.

    Stylish pages

    Along with these additions to the data, we’ve given the site a really nice new look.

    Keep It In the Community is built on the FixMyStreet software, and this project is a great demonstration of just how flexible the underlying codebase is: as you’ll see, it doesn’t just have a new colour scheme (as many of the FixMyStreet variants do), but the entire layout of each page is different too, lending them a style more reminiscent of sites like AirBnB — very suitable for a project that’s all about properties!

    Work will continue on KIITC, and we’ll be sure to keep you informed as it progresses.

    Image: Adrien Olichon

  7. An examination of the aggregation of planning application information

    We’re starting the new year in the best way possible — with a new project that we’re really excited to get our teeth into.

    Just before we all went off for the Christmas holidays, we learned that mySociety had won the contract to work on the Discovery and Alpha phases of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG)’s Central Register of Planning Permissions. To put it simply, this is the first couple of steps towards an eventual plan to aggregate and share, as Open Data, information on residential planning applications from councils across England.

    Those who have followed mySociety for some time may remember that we have some experience in this area: we’ve previously worked around planning permissions with authorities in Barnet and Hampshire.  More widely, many of our projects involve taking data from a range of different sources, tidying it up and putting it out into the world as consistent, structured Open Data that anyone can use. The most ambitious of these is EveryPolitician; the most recent is Keep It In The Community, and in both cases we suspect the issues — data in a variety of different formats and of widely differing qualities, being stored in many different places — will be broadly the same when it comes to planning permissions.

    But we don’t know exactly that for sure, and neither does MHCLG, which is why they’re very sensibly getting us to kick off with this period of research, testing and trying out proofs of concept. With work that will involve our developers, design team, consultation with experts in the field and collaboration with MHCLG, we’re right in our happy place.

    Best of all, the project ticks a lot of mySociety boxes. The eventual Open Data set that should come out of all this will:

    • Help central government utilise digital to best effect: once this dataset exists, they’ll be able to develop tools that support the planning system and housing markets
    • Aid local authorities in keeping consistent and useful data on their own planning applications, allowing them to analyse trends and plan wisely for the future
    • Benefit the building industry as well as local residents as they have access to information on which applications have previously succeeded or failed in their own areas
    • Be open to developers, who — as history tends to show —  may use it create useful third party tools beyond the imagination of government itself.

    This project is one of a number of pieces of work we’ll be doing with central and local government this year. With all of these, we’re committing to working in the open, so expect plenty of updates along the way.

    Image: Rawpixel

  8. Open sesame! Simpler log-in forms on FixMyStreet

    When something’s not right on your street, and you’ve gone out of your way to report it to the local council, the last thing you want is to get bogged down in a complex log-in procedure.

    That’s why FixMyStreet has always put the log-in step after the reporting step, and has always allowed you to report a problem without needing an account or password at all.

    But we know we can always do better, and in the 11 years that FixMyStreet has been around, new design patterns have emerged across the web, shifting user expectations around how we prove our identities and manage our data on websites and online services.

    Over the years, we’d made small changes, informed by user feedback and A/B testing. But earlier this year, we decided to take a more holistic look at the entire log-in/sign-up process on FixMyStreet, and see whether some more fundamental changes could not only reduce the friction our users were experiencing, but help FixMyStreet actively exceed the average 2018 web user’s expectations and experiences around logging in and signing up to websites.

    One thing at a time

    Previously, FixMyStreet tried to do clever things with multi-purpose forms that could either log you in or create an account or change your password. This was a smart way to reduce the number of pages a user had to load. But now, with the vast majority of our UK users accessing FixMyStreet over high speed internet connections, our unusual combined log-in/sign-up forms simply served to break established web conventions and make parts of FixMyStreet feel strange and unfamiliar.

    In 2014 we added dedicated links to a “My account” page, and the “Change your password” form, but it still didn’t prevent a steady trickle of support emails from users understandably confused over whether they needed an account, whether they were already logged in, and how they could sign up.

    So this year, we took some of the advice we usually give to our partners and clients: do one thing per screen, and do it well. In early November, we launched dramatically simplified login and signup pages across the entire FixMyStreet network – including all of the sites we run for councils and public authorities who use FixMyStreet Pro.

    Along the way, we took careful steps—as we always do—to ensure that assistive devices are treated as first class citizens. That means everything from maintaining a sensible tab order for keyboard users, and following best practices for accessible, semantic markup for visually impaired users, to also making sure our login forms work with all the top password managers.

    Keeping you in control

    The simplified log-in page was a great step forward, but we knew the majority of FixMyStreet users never used it. Instead, they would sign up or log in during the process of reporting their problem.

    So, we needed to take some of the simplicity of our new log-in pages, and apply it to the reporting form itself.

    For a few years now, the FixMyStreet reporting form has been split into two sections – “Public details” about the problem (which are published online for all to see) followed by “Private details” about you, the reporter (which aren’t published, but are sent to the authority along with your report, so they can respond to you). This year, we decided to make the split much clearer, by dividing the form across two screens.

    Now the private details section has space to shine. Reorganised, with the email and password inputs next to each other (another convention that’s become solidified over the last five or ten years), and the “privacy level” of the inputs increasing as you proceed further down the page, the form makes much more sense.

    But to make sure you don’t feel like your report has been thrown away when it disappears off-screen, we use subtle animation, and a small “summary” of the report title and description near the top of the log-in form, to reassure you of your progress through the reporting process. The summary also acts as a logical place to return to your report’s public details, in case you want to add or amend them before you send.

    Better for everyone

    As I’ve mentioned, because FixMyStreet is an open source project, these improvements will soon be available for other FixMyStreet sites all over the UK and indeed the world. We’ve already updated FixMyStreet.com and our council partners’ sites to benefit from them, and we’ll soon be officially releasing the changes as part of FixMyStreet version 2.5, before the end of the year.

    I want to take a moment to thank everyone at mySociety who’s contributed to these improvements – including Martin, Louise C, Louise H, Matthew, Dave, and Struan – as well as the helpful feedback we’ve had from our council partners, and our users.

    We’re not finished yet though! We’re always working on improving FixMyStreet, and we’ll be keeping a keen eye on user feedback after these changes, so we can inform future improvements to FixMyStreet.com and the FixMyStreet Platform.


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  9. Reporting by numbers with FixMyStreet Pro

    If you’re reporting an issue on Buckinghamshire Council’s FixMyStreet installation, you might have seen yellow dots appearing on the map. These represent items such as streetlights, bins or drains, and we blogged about it when we first added the feature.

    Streetlights plotted on FixMyStreet

    When it comes to assets like streetlights, it can save the council considerable time and effort if your report tells them precisely which light needs fixing: it’s far quicker to find an identified light than it is to follow well-meaning but perhaps vague descriptions like ‘opposite the school’!

    But even when the assets are marked on a map, it’s not always easy for a user to identify exactly which one they want to report, especially if they’ve gone home to make the report and they’re no longer standing right in front of it.

    After the system had been in place for a few weeks, the team at Buckinghamshire told us that users often weren’t pinpointing quite the right streetlight. So we thought a bit more about what could be done to encourage more accurate reports.

    As you might have noticed, streetlights are usually branded with an ID number, like this:

    Buckinghamshire, as you’d expect, holds these ID numbers as data, which means that we were able to add it to FixMyStreet. Now when you click on one of the dots, you’ll see the number displayed, like this: An identified streetlight on FixMyStreet

    The same functionality works for signs, Belisha beacons, bollards and traffic signals, as well as streetlights. Each of them has their own unique identifier.

    So, if you’re in Bucks and you want to make a report about any of these things, note down the ID number and compare it when you click on the asset. This means the correct information is sent through the first time — which, in turn, makes for a quicker fix. Win/win!

    This type of functionality is available to any council using FixMyStreet Pro: find out more here.

    Header image: Luca Florio

  10. See maps of FixMyStreet reports across the UK

    With funding from the Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) we’ve been working with researchers from the University of Sheffield and University of Sterling to open up FixMyStreet data for researchers.

    For an example of the kind of thing that can be done with this data, this group have produced maps for every local authority in the UK, mapping FixMyStreet reports against indices of deprivation (a few examples: Sheffield, Harrogate and Cardiff). These can be explored on our mini-site, where for each authority you can also download a printable poster with additional statistics.

    If you’d like to know more about what these maps mean and what we learned from the process, there’s a report exploring what we learned here.