1. 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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  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. Hit the Highway with FixMyStreet

    It’s something we’ve been wanting for a long time, and it’ll very soon be a reality: FixMyStreet reports will, where appropriate, be channeled to Highways England. Look out for this functionality in the coming week.

    My way or the highway

    Previously, if you reported a problem on one of the country’s motorways or major A roads, we had no way of identifying whether it was the responsibility of the government department rather than the council. We had to rely on whichever council the report fell within, and hope that they would forward it on.

    But now, we can send reports off to just the right authority. What’s changed to make this improvement possible?

    Well, FixMyStreet uses our MapIt software, which matches points (in this case, the pin you put in the map when you make a report) with the boundaries they fall within (mainly, until now, council boundaries). That’s how it knows which council to send your issue to, even if you have no idea yourself when you make the report.

    Motorways and A roads have boundaries too, of course, but that data wasn’t previously available under an open licence that would allow us to use it on the site. That all changed with GOV.UK’s release of the Highways England Pavement Management System Network Layer — just what we needed!

    So now, if you make a report that falls within a small distance from one of the relevant roads, FixMyStreet will use MapIt in combination with this data layer. You’ll see a message asking for confirmation that your report actually does pertain to the highway: where roads cross a motorway, for example, a pin could relate to the road on a bridge, or the motorway below.

    Confirm either way and boom: off it goes to either Highways England or to the council, as appropriate.

    So that’s a big thumbs up for open data: thanks, GOV.UK! It’s also a good example of how our commercial work, providing FixMyStreet Pro to councils as their default street reporting system, has a knock-on benefit across the open source FixMyStreet codebase that runs not only FixMyStreet.com, but sites run by other folk around the world.

    As you may remember, we recently added red routes to Bromley for FixMyStreet Pro, and it was this bit of coding that paved the way for the highways work. We can only prioritise not-for-profit development if we have the funding for it; but being able to improve FixMyStreet for everyone on the back of work done for commercial clients is a win for everyone.

    Or, as our developer Struan says, in a metaphor perhaps better suited to shipping routes than highways, “a rising tide raises all boats”.

     

    Image: Alex Kalinin

     

     

  6. We’ll be at Highways UK

    Highways UK is a massive annual expo for those working on the UK’s road infrastructure — from local authorities to contractors and regional transport bodies.

    This year, for the first time, we’ll be heading to the NEC in Birmingham to demonstrate the benefits of our FixMyStreet Pro street fault reporting service for councils and other organisations.

    If you’re one of the thousands of industry folk who’ll also be attending this two-day highways extravaganza on 7-8 November, do make sure you drop by our stand to meet us and learn more about how FixMyStreet Pro is saving councils money and transforming their services. We’ll be at stand D02, near the entrance.

    Who’ll be there

    Come and have a chat with one of these friendly mySociety team members:

    Mark Cridge, Chief Exec Leading mySociety’s many strands of activity, Mark is an excellent person to ask about how FixMyStreet Pro sits within the current shift towards smart, digital solutions for councils. He’s also been instrumental in bringing several councils in on the planning phase of our products — and if you’re interested in contributing to that sort of input, do come and have a word.

     

    Louise Howells of mySociety Louise Howells, Delivery Manager Louise handles much of the liaison between our client councils and FixMyStreet’s developers, making sure that everyone’s happy on both sides. She’s the best person to talk about the practicalities of implementation, ongoing support and the roadmap for future innovations on FixMyStreet.

     

    David Eaton of mySociety David Eaton, Sales Director David can answer all your questions about integration, features and benefits — and because he’s talked to councils up and down the country, he’s very well-placed to discuss how other authorities are tackling their street reporting issues.

     

    Plus, on both days members of the the FixMyStreet development team will be on hand for any technical queries you may have.

    Events and presentations

    We’ll be happy to show you a demo version of FixMyStreet — you can even have a play with it to see how all the different features work, both for the report-maker, and for various levels of admin staff. Just drop by the stand at any time during the two days. We’ve got plenty of reading material for you to take away, too.

    But we’ll also have a couple of special presentations at our stand that you might want to put into your calendars:

    Integrating FixMyStreet Pro with your asset management system

    Wednesday 7th November 2.30pm

    Andrea Bowes from Lincolnshire County Council will describe how slick service from FixMyStreet Pro meant that they weren’t left high and dry when their previous fault reporting system failed them.

    How FixMyStreet Pro transformed the customer service experience

    Thursday 8th November 2.30pm

    Tracy Eaton (Customer Experience Account Manager – Digital Team) from Buckinghamshire County Council will be exploring the impact adopting FixMyStreet has made to their highways related fault-handling. Presentation followed by a live Q&A.

    Highways UK is a new venture for us, and we’re really looking forward to chatting face to face with people who share our interests. We’ll happily talk all day about effective digital solutions to the many challenges of roads maintenance! Hope to see you there.

    Image: N-allen (CC BY-SA 4.0), from Wikimedia Commons

  7. FixMyStreet for Lincolnshire — a very modern way of working

    Lincolnshire County Council is the latest authority to adopt FixMyStreet Pro as their official reporting system — and we’ve never even met them.

    We’ve installed FixMyStreet for many councils up and down the UK, and until now, traveling to the council’s offices has always been an expected part of the procedure.

    But for Lincs, the entire project was managed virtually — and it all went without a hitch.

    That’s not just our opinion: let’s hear from one of the folk at the other end of our online video calls. Andrea Bowes, ICT Data and Information Systems Architect at the authority, says:

    The whole implementation process, from start to finish, has been incredibly smooth.

    Lincolnshire found out about FixMyStreet Pro via G-Cloud, and emailed us to arrange a chat. A couple of months later, with the help of email, Skype and Basecamp, their FixMyStreet instance was ready to roll out!

    mySociety are, of course, well used to working remotely, since that’s how our entire organisation is set up, but it’s good to see that we can bring our experience in this area to cut down travel costs, maximise the time available, and get installations rolling, all without feeling that we’ve missed out on the personal touches.

    After all, thanks to online video calling, you can be in those council offices to all intents and purposes, sharing your screen, answering questions and getting to know one another. The only thing we missed out on was a chance to check out Lincoln Cathedral!

    Joined-up systems

    Just as with Buckinghamshire Council, featured on this blog last week, Lincolnshire’s FixMyStreet will also display scheduled roadworks. That ensures that no-one’s time is wasted with reports of issues that are already on the fix list.

    And there’s some more integration going on behind the scenes, with FixMyStreet working in harmony with Lincolnshire’s existing infrastructure management system, Confirm.

    Speaking practically, that means that FixMyStreet reports drop directly into the workflows the council staff are already familiar with. It’s a time-saver and a money-saver too — and it also ensures that residents can easily be kept up to date about the progress of their reports as they go through the resolution cycle. If you’d like to understand more about this, our developer Struan recently wrote a good, simple blog post on the whole topic.

    You’d perhaps think that all this fiddling with different systems to make them communicate with one another would be a long, drawn out job — but fortunately not. Back to Andrea:

    I approached mySociety in early May to replace our existing online fault reporting system which was to be switched off at the end of that month, and since we’ve engaged them, they have bent over backwards to help get the new fault reporting portal ready.

    So much so that in a matter of a few weeks we had a test site up and running and integrated with our central asset management system, and several weeks later we now have a live fault reporting system that can be accessed from anywhere on any device, that is fully integrated into our central asset management system, that displays local data for users to report against.

    The platform makes it easier for our citizens to report faults to us and receive updates and alerts, and provides us with more accurate information to work with.

    So, in short, there are wins all round: a nice easy-to-use interface for residents; time and cost savings for the council; and there’s even a nice benefit for us here at mySociety as well. Confirm is a very popular system amongst UK councils up and down the land, so this was a great opportunity to showcase just how well it can work in tandem with FixMyStreet Pro.

    And we couldn’t be happier to know that Lincolnshire are so happy, too:

    mySociety have been fantastic. I cannot praise them enough; it has been a delight to work with them. They have been very responsive and fully supportive throughout the whole implementation process.

    If you’re a council which uses Confirm — or if you’d like to find out how we could integrate with another asset management system — check out the FixMyStreet Pro website, and then get in touch.

    Image: Mike McBey (CC by/2.0)

  8. Red routes on FixMyStreet

    Our most recent improvement to FixMyStreet means that users in Bromley will experience some clever routing on their reports.

    It’s something quite a few FixMyStreet users have requested, telling us that they’d reported a street issue in London, only to have a response from their authority to say that it was located on a ‘red route‘ — roads which are the responsibility of TfL rather than the council.

    Of course, most councils have systems set up so that they can easily forward these misdirected reports to the right place, but all the same, it wasn’t ideal, and added another step into a reporting process we’ve always tried to keep as simple and quick as possible.

    Thanks to some development for Bromley council, we’re now glad to say that within that borough, reports on red routes will automatically be forwarded to TfL, while other reports will be sent, as usual, to the relevant council department.

    As a user, you don’t have to do a thing (although you can see this automated wizardry in action by watching changes in the text telling you where the report will be sent, as you click on the map in different places and select a different category – give it a go!).

    Note that this functionality has not yet been extended to the FixMyStreet app; however in the meantime it will work if you visit fixmystreet.com via  your mobile browser.

    A new layer

    As you’ll know if you’re a frequent FixMyStreet user, the site has always directed reports to the right UK council, based on the boundaries within which the pin is placed.

    And equally, even within the same area it can discern that different categories of report (say, streetlights as opposed to parking) should be sent to whichever authority is responsible for them: that’s an essential in a country like the UK with its system of two-tier councils.

    So this new innovation just meant adding in a map layer which gives the boundaries of the relevant roads that are designated red routes, then putting in extra code that saw anything within the roads’ boundaries as a new area, and TfL as the authority associated with road maintenance categories within that area.

    FixMyStreet has always been flexible in this regard: you can swap map layers in or out as needed, leading to all sorts of possibilities. Yesterday, we showed how this approach has also averted one common time-waster for councils, and the same set-up is behind the display of council assets such as trees and streetlights that you’ll see for some areas on FixMyStreet.

    The integration of red routes is available for any London Borough, so if you’re from a council that would like to add it in, get in touch. And to see all the new innovations we’re working on to make FixMyStreet Pro the most useful street reporting system it can be, check out the website.

    Image: Marc-Olivier Jodoin

  9. When there’s no need to report: FixMyStreet and Roadworks.org

    Seen a pothole or a broken paving stone? Great, the council will want to know about that… well, usually.

    Buckinghamshire County Council’s version of FixMyStreet now shows where there are pending roadworks — alerting you to the fact that you may not need to make a report, because it’s already in hand.

    When reports are a waste of time

    In general, councils appreciate your FixMyStreet reports: their inspectors can’t be everywhere, and often they won’t be aware of a problem until it’s reported.

    But there are some reports that won’t be quite so welcome.

    If the council is already aware of an issue, and in fact has already scheduled a repair, then sad to say but your report will be nothing more than a time-waster for both you and the council.

    Enter Roadworks.org

    Screenshot from Roadworks.org

    Screenshot from Roadworks.org

    Fortunately, there’s already a comprehensive service which collates and displays information on roadworks, road closures and diversions, traffic incidents and other disruptions affecting the UK road network, from a variety of sources — it’s called Roadworks.org.

    Just like FixMyStreet, Roadworks.org generates map-based data, so it correlates well with FixMyStreet.

    But we don’t want to clutter things up too much, so you’ll only be alerted to pending roadworks when you go to make a report near where maintenance is already scheduled.

    At that point, you’ll see a message above the input form to tell you that your report may not be necessary:

    Buckinghamshire FixMyStreet roadworks alert

    Buckinghamshire FixMyStreet roadworks alert

    Of course, you can still go ahead and make your report if the roadworks have no bearing on it.

    Slotting in

    We were able to integrate the Roadworks.org information like this because Buckinghamshire have opted for the fully-featured ‘Avenue’ version of FixMyStreet Pro. This allows the inclusion of asset layers (we’ve talked before about plotting assets such as trees, streetlights or bins on FixMyStreet) and the Roadworks.org data works in exactly the same way: we can just slot it in.

    We’re pleased with this integration: it’s going to save time for both residents and council staff in Buckinghamshire. And if you’re from another council and you would like to do the same, then please do feel free to drop us a line to talk about adopting FixMyStreet Pro.


    Header image: Jamie Street

  10. Clearing the map

    When you consider that FixMyStreet has been running for over a decade, it’s not really surprising that the maps in some areas are a little over-crowded with pins.

    That can be a problem for anyone trying to make a new report — even when you zoom right in, we were beginning to find that in some very congested areas, it was difficult to place a new pin without clicking on an existing one.

    A FixMyStreet screenshot, crowded with pins

    We’ve tried to remedy this in various ways in the past. For a while we only displayed newer reports by default, a decision which we discarded when we brought in pagination, allowing users to click through batches of reports rather than seeing them all in one long list on a single page.

    For some time now we’ve also provided the option to hide the pins completely, via this button both on the desktop and app versions:

    location of hide pins button on FixMyStreet

    And there’s also a ‘hide pins’ option at the foot of the map:

    location of hide pins button on FixMyStreet

    But even so, arriving at a map absolutely covered in pins and having to look around for that button doesn’t exactly seem like a nice, smooth user journey, so we’ve revisited the matter.

    Why not just delete the old reports?

    We’ve always had a policy of keeping every report live on FixMyStreet (unless it’s reported to us as abusive, or its maker contacts us to ask us to remove it — and even in this latter case we’d prefer to retain the content of the report while anonymising it).

    This is because the reports made to councils build up to create an invaluable archive of the issues that various regions of the country face, through time.

    The historic collection of reports allows planners to understand recurring or seasonal problems; and researchers use this data as well, to get insights into all sorts of issues. For examples, see Réka Solymosi’s presentation at TICTeC on using FixMyStreet data to understand what counts as ‘disorder’ in the environment, or mySociety’s own research on why some areas of the country report on FixMyStreet more than others.

    And so here’s what we’ve done

    • When you visit a map page on the main FixMyStreet site, by default, you’ll again only see reports that are less than six months old, and that are still open.

    A report remains ‘open’ until the council marks it as ‘closed’, or a user or the council marks it as ‘fixed’. ‘Closed’ means that the council doesn’t intend to do further work on the issue, which can be for reasons such as the issue not falling within their responsibilities or because it is part of their regular maintenance schedule and will be seen to in time.

    • You can still opt to see closed and fixed reports by selecting from the dropdown at the top of the list:Dropdown options at the top of a FixMyStreet map page
    • And you can also still see reports older than six months by clicking the checkbox:
    • The two filters work together, giving you the options of displaying:
      • Open reports less than six months old (the default)
      • Open reports of any age
      • All reports less than six months old
      • All reports of any age
      • Any combination of open/closed/fixed reports less than six months old
      • Any combination of open/closed/fixed reports of any age

    To keep things simpler for app users, the display there is set to only show newer, open reports, so if you want the full range of options, you’ll need to switch to viewing the site on a desktop.

    Additionally, reports that have been closed for six months without any update being made will now no longer allow updates. If you need to update an issue that falls into this category, we recommend starting a new report (possibly linking to the old one for reference if it provides useful information for the council).

    But you might not see this everywhere

    Some councils use FixMyStreet Pro as their own fault-reporting software. These councils can opt whether or not to adopt these defaults, so your experience may be slightly different when visiting FixMyStreet via your local council’s own site.

    We think that we’ve arrived at a more intuitive solution than those we tried before — and we hope that these options will suit everyone, whether you’re a user in a hurry coming to make a quick report, or someone who’d like to see a more in-depth history of the area. Give it a go, and then let us know your thoughts.

     


    Banner image: Jim Tilley (CC by-nc-nd/2.0)