1. 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)

  2. 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.

     

  3. 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
  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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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  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. FixMyStreet Pro says ‘Hi’ to Oxfordshire’s HIAMS

    Our client councils continue to test our integration mettle with the many and varied internal systems they use.

    One nice thing about FixMyStreet Pro, from the council point of view, is that it can play nicely with any internal council system, passing reports wherever they are needed and feeding updates back to the report-maker and onto the live site. What keeps life interesting is that there’s a huge variety of differing set-ups across every council, so there’s always something new to learn.

    Oxfordshire County Council are a case in point. They’ve been a client of ours since 2013, and back in May they asked if we could work with them to integrate their new highways asset maintenance system HIAMS, supplied by WDM, and make sure the whole kaboodle could work with FixMyStreet Pro as well.

    At the same time, they needed an update to their co-branded version of FixMyStreet to match a new design across the council website. FixMyStreet can take on any template so that it fits seamlessly into the rest of the site.

    Oxfordshire County Council's installation of FixMyStreet

    As FixMyStreet was well embedded and citizens were already using it, it was vital to ensure that the disruption was kept to a minimum, both for report-makers and members of staff dealing with enquiries.

    We worked closely with WDM and Oxfordshire County Council to create a connector that would pass information the user entered on Oxfordshire’s FixMyStreet installation or the national FixMyStreet website into the new WDM system, with the correct categories and details already completed.

    Once we saw data going into the system successfully, the next task was to get updates back out. One single report could take a long journey, being passed from WDM onto another system and then back through to WDM before an update came to the user. We didn’t want to leave the report-maker wondering what was happening, so it was crucial to ensure that updates came back to them as smoothly and quickly as possible.

    The integration between FixMyStreet and WDM is now live and working. Users will receive an update whenever their report’s status is changed within the WDM system, meaning there’s no need for them to follow up with a phone call or email — a win for both citizens and councils.

    It all went smoothly from our point of view, but let’s hear from Anna Fitzgerald, Oxfordshire’s Infrastructure Information Management Principal Officer:

    “We’ve been using FixMyStreet Pro since 2013 as it’s a system which is easy to integrate and our customers love it.

    “From an IT support side; integrating the new system to FixMyStreet Pro was seamless. The team at mySociety have been a pleasure to work with, are extremely helpful, knowledgeable and organised. They make you feel like you are their top priority at all times, nothing was ever an issue.

    “Now that we have full integration with the new system, the process of updating our customers happens instantaneously. FixMyStreet Pro has also given us flexibility to change how we communicate with our customers, how often we communicate; and all in real time.

    “What’s more, our Members and management team love it as it has greatly reduced the amount of calls to our customer services desk, which saves a lot of money for the council.”

    As always, we’re delighted to hear such positive feedback. If you’re from a council and would like to explore the benefits FixMyStreet Pro could bring you, please do get in touch.

    Image: Suad Kamardeen

  10. Finding the right way to keep it in the community

    One thing that’s not always talked about in tech is that sometimes projects take a few twists and turns before they find their final path. That’s certainly true of our Keep It In The Community project (KIITC) which aims to map Assets of Community Value across England, in collaboration with Power To Change and MHCLG.

    We’ve been blogging about the project as we progress, and if you read Mark’s blog in September you’ll have seen that we began with plans for a full central register, which would retrieve and keep in sync with information from council websites to present a countrywide overview of ACVs, and also allow community groups to register new ones.

    As we’d feared, we found that data from councils is in many varied formats, and is often moved around, meaning that getting the site to update automatically as we had first hoped would just be too difficult with the quite fragile approach of scraping and swapping spreadsheets that we had originally explored.

    And so we launched KIITC with a snapshot of the data as it existed in September 2018, all manually added by hand, and added functionality that would allow councils to maintain their own records if desired.

    Now, there’s another twist in the tale — we’re bringing some of our original vision back to the table. We’re planning some more development which will increase KIITC’s value for everyone: communities, citizens and councils alike.

    Features for community groups

    If councils don’t have the resources to maintain anything beyond the legally required bare bones register of assets, the community groups who care so passionately about the places and spaces they’re trying to secure will soon be able to get involved and help.

    This penny dropped when, in discussions with Locality, the national network supporting community groups, (and who are also funded by Power To Change) we determined that by working together more closely we could realise the ambition we have for KIITC to be a live up to date register of community assets of all types in England.

    With their collaboration, we’ll be able to talk to community groups to find out their needs, and then develop features for KIITC that will allow these groups to update existing ACVs and register new ones with details, photographs and stories.

    As part of that work in the next couple of months we’ll be adding the ability for anyone to update asset details on the site if they have more up to date information, and we’ll be improving how we display each asset to be more informative and attractive on the page.

    So watch this space as we work together on the latest twist in KIITC’s tail as we keep working on this over the next few months.


    Image: Donnie Rose (Unsplash)