1. Seeing spots with FixMyStreet Pro

    If you visit FixMyStreet and suddenly start seeing spots, don’t rush to your optician: it’s just another feature to help you, and the council, when you make a report.

    In our last two blog posts we announced Buckinghamshire and Bath & NE Somerset councils’ adoption of FixMyStreet Pro, and looked at how this integrated with existing council software. It’s the latter which has brought on this sudden rash.

    At the moment, you’ll only see such dots in areas where the council has adopted FixMyStreet Pro, and gone for the ‘asset locations’ option: take a look at the Bath & NE Somerset installation to see them in action.

    What is an asset?

    mySociety developer Struan explains all.

    Councils refer to ‘assets’; in layman’s language these are things like roads, streetlights, grit bins, dog poo bins and trees. These assets are normally stored in an asset management system that tracks problems, and once hooked up, FixMyStreet Pro can deposit users’ reports directly into that system.

    Most asset management systems will have an entry for each asset and probably some location data for them too. This means that we can plot them on a map, and we can also include details about the asset.

    When you make a report, for example a broken streetlight, you’ll be able to quickly and easily specify that precise light on the map, making things a faster for you. And there’s no need for the average citizen to ever know this, but we can then include the council’s internal ID for the streetlight in the report, which then also speeds things up for the council.

    Map layers

    So, how do we get these assets on to the map? Here’s the technical part:

    The council will either have a map server with a set of asset layers on it that we can use, or they’ll provide us with files containing details of the assets and we’ll host them on our own map server.

    The map server then lets you ask for all the streetlights in an area and sends back some XML with a location for each streetlight and any associated data, such as the lamppost number. Each collection of objects is called a layer, mostly because that’s how mapping software uses them. It has a layer for the map and then adds any other features on top of this in layers.

    Will these dots clutter up the map for users who are trying to make a report about something else?

    Not at all.

    With a bit of configuration in FixMyStreet, we associate report categories with asset layers so we only show the assets on the map when the relevant category is selected.

    We can also snap problem reports to any nearby asset which is handy for things like street lights as it doesn’t make sense to send a report about a broken street light with no associated light.

    Watch this space

    And what’s coming up?

    We’re working to add data from roadworks.org, so that when a user clicks on a road we’ll be able to tell them if roadworks are happening in the near future, which might have a bearing on whether they want to report the problem — for example there’s no point in reporting a pothole if the whole road is due to be resurfaced the next week.

    Then we’ll also be looking at roads overseen by TfL. The issue with these is that while they are always within a council area, the council doesn’t have the responsibility of maintaining them, so we want to change where the report is going rather than just adding in more data. There’s also the added complication of things like “what if the issue is being reported on a council-maintained bridge that goes over a TFL road”.

    There’s always something to keep the FixMyStreet developers busy… we’ll make sure we keep you updated as these new innovations are added.

    From a council and interested in knowing more? Visit the FixMyStreet Pro website

  2. Confirming the benefits: how FixMyStreet Pro integrates with the Confirm Asset Management System

    We often talk about how FixMyStreet Pro can integrate directly with council’s existing systems, and how doing so can help councils be more efficient — but what exactly does that mean in practice?

    Let’s take a look at our two most recent FixMyStreet Pro installations. Both B&NES and Buckinghamshire councils use the same asset management system, Confirm, and it gives us a great example of how FixMyStreet Pro’s ability to ‘communicate’ with such systems will make everything a whole lot easier for residents and for council staff, even with two very different types of local authority.

    Saving time and effort

    FixMyStreet has always provided the resident with an easy interface through which to file a street report. For many councils, however, such reports arrive in an email inbox and then have to be forwarded to the right location or typed into the council’s CRM, all adding to the sum total of time and effort dedicated to each report.

    Now, using the Confirm API, Bucks and B&NES councils can access and work on FixMyStreet reports through Confirm’s standard ‘inspector module’, removing any need for this extra step.

    Two-way information

    Optionally, the information flow can go both ways, and indeed this is the case for both B&NES and Buckinghamshire councils. What this means is that for example, when an issue has been inspected and council staff change its status (perhaps from ‘report received’ to ‘repair underway’), this status change will be passed back to FixMyStreet, automatically syncing with the site, and notifying the report-maker with the update — again removing another mundane task from customer services staff.

    If a highways inspector should come across a new issue while they are out and about on their rounds, they can raise an issue in Confirm just as they always would have. But now, that will also create a report on FixMyStreet which residents can view, keeping everyone up to date and ensuring that reports aren’t made about issues that the council already know about.

    Canned responses

    FixMyStreet Pro also allows for council administrators to create template responses — an invaluable timesaver when responding to one of the more common situations such as “issue identified and prioritised” or “issue now fixed and closed”. While Confirm also has its own template responses, FixMyStreet Pro offers more flexibility, as the same template can be reused across multiple report categories and status types. Buckinghamshire really saw the benefit of this: they were able to reduce the number of templates in use from around 450 to 46.

    Mapping assets

    Assets such as streetlights, grit bins and gullies can be pulled through from Confirm and overlaid on the map. This makes it significantly easier for both residents and staff to locate and report issue, speeding up the issue resolution time — we’ll be delving more deeply into this in our next blog post, with a few more technical details for those who are interested.

    Image: Highways England (CC by/2.0)

  3. Two new FixMyStreet Pro councils

    We’re delighted to welcome two new councils who are now using FixMyStreet Pro for their fault-reporting: Buckinghamshire and Bath & NE Somerset.

    Residents in these areas can make reports on the councils’ own websites, where they’ll find FixMyStreet as the street fault interface — or through the main FixMyStreet website and app. Whichever you choose, your reports will be published in all three places.

    So far, so convenient for residents — but behind the scenes, there’s lots more going on that improves the efficiency of the whole fault-fixing cycle.

    Both councils are users of the Confirm CRM system, with which FixMyStreet Pro can now be fully integrated. What that means in practice is that when you make a report, it drops directly into the council’s existing workflows, with no need for someone in the middle to retype or redirect your report.

    Council staff can use the best of both systems’ useful tools for shortlisting, inspecting and updating the status of your issues — and when a report has been progressed to the next stage of the fixing cycle, you’ll be automatically kept up to date both by email, and with messages posted directly to your report page.

    In another advance, both councils are now displaying assets such as bins, trees and adopted highways in context-sensitive areas of the report-making journey, so it’s easy to identify exactly which one you’re talking about when you make your report. That saves time for you, and for the council when they go out to fix it .

    If you’re interested in the technical details, we’ll have more about both Confirm integration and asset layers in future blog posts.

    Image: Kosala Bandara (CC by/2.0)

  4. New insights for councils, on FixMyStreet

    FixMyStreet sends users’ street reports to councils across the UK.

    But if you’re one of the staff that receives these reports, you might sometimes wish for more insights: which issues are most commonly reported in your area? What’s a bigger problem, dog fouling or potholes? How quickly do reports get fixed, and how does this compare with other councils’ performance?

    To make it easy to discover the answers to all these questions, we’ve just rolled out a new stats dashboard on FixMyStreet — and it’s free to access if you work for a council.

    Council staff can now view and download information that answers questions such as:

    • How many FixMyStreet reports have been made in your area across various time periods?
    • How many reports have been made in each category?
    • What are the average times between reports being made and being marked as fixed, and how does this compare to other councils?
    • Which categories of report are most common within your area?
    • Which categories of report does FixMyStreet send to your council, and which email addresses does it use?

    From this exclusive area, you can gain a more in-depth understanding of how FixMyStreet is being used in your area, while also getting a taste of the fuller functionality available with FixMyStreet Pro.

    So, if you work for a council, head over to the dashboard page now, and start exploring.

  5. Now you’re even more secure on FixMyStreet

    All mySociety websites have strong security: when you think about some of the data we’re entrusted with (people’s private correspondence with their MPs, through WriteToThem, is perhaps the most extreme example, but many of our websites also rely on us storing your email address and other personal information) then you’ll easily understand why robust privacy and security measures are built into all our systems from the very beginning.

    We’ve recently upped these even more for FixMyStreet. Like everyone else, we’ve been checking our systems and policies ahead of the implementation of the new General Data Protection Regulation in May, and this helped us see a few areas where we could tighten things up.

    Privacy

    A common request from our users is that we remove their name from a report they made on FixMyStreet: either they didn’t realise that it would be published on the site, or they’ve changed their mind about it. Note that when you submit your report, there’s a box which you can uncheck if you would like your report to be anonymous:

    FixMyStreet remembers your preference and applies it the next time you make a report.

    In any case, now users can anonymise their own reports, either singly or all at once. When you’re logged in, just go to any of your reports and click ‘hide my name’. You’ll see both options:

    report of puddles on the undercliff walk on FixMyStreet

    Security

    Security for users was already very good, but with the following improvements it can be considered excellent!

    • All passwords are now checked against a list of the 577,000 most common choices, and any that appear in this list are not allowed.
    • Passwords must now also be of a minimum length.
    • If you change your password, you have to input the previous one in order to authorise the change. Those who haven’t previously used a password (since it is possible to make a report without creating an account), will receive a confirmation email to ensure the request has come from the email address given.
    • FixMyStreet passwords are hashed with an algorithm called bcrypt, which has a built in ‘work factor’ that can be increased as computers get faster. We’ve bumped this up.
    • Admins can now log a user out of all their sessions. This could be useful for example in the case of a user who has logged in via a public computer and is concerned that others may be able to access their account; or for staff admin who share devices.


    Image: Timothy Muza (Unsplash)

     

     

     

     

  6. Where there’s muck there’s brass

    We created FixMyStreet Pro to help councils and city governments better manage inbound street reports and issues from their residents.

    In the past few months we’ve rolled out the FixMyStreet Pro service to new customers including Bath & North East Somerset, Buckinghamshire and Rutland councils; each of whom are taking the opportunity to get rid of legacy software, simplify their operations and make use of a much simpler and intuitive way for their residents and staff to make and manage reports.

    We’re now looking for input from councils to help us guide the next phase of our service development on FixMyStreet Pro.

    Having spoken to dozens of councils we think we can help them save more money by extending FixMyStreet Pro to other areas like waste and environment services and we would like to explore how much development work that might entail.

    Not just for streets

    As FixMyStreet’s name would suggest our focus so far has been on handling issues related to highways like potholes, lighting and gullies (drains to me and you), but FixMyStreet Pro already handles reports for a whole range of issues beyond streets.

    Typically council users of FixMyStreet Pro have around 13 to 15 different self-selected categories that they accept reports on – each of which can be directed to different teams or departments. Tree reports can be sent directly to the parks department, graffiti or abandoned cars can be passed along to the just the right team in street cleansing.

    These ‘front end reports’ all have one thing in common: all we need to make the report is a location and description, plus a contact for the reporter, which could be as simple as an email address or phone number.

    But once you get deeper into the glamorous world of bins and waste services for individual residents the situation gets a little more complicated.

    Missed bin collections, requests for recycling bags, bulky waste collection – these all require the resident to be identified, the particular property to be checked with the UPRN (Unique Property Reference Number), and in some cases payments levied and collected.

    FixMyStreet Pro doesn’t currently offer these additional waste services, although it doesn’t require a huge leap of imagination to see how we could add these adjacent features to the service, not least because we already do a lot of the pieces across our other commercial services.

    Fortunately there has already been a lot of work done to define common standards, such as the Local Waste Service Standards Project from 2016 and more recent work by individual councils to apply some of this work – we also have a lot of our own research and experience to draw upon with numerous specific feature requests from our current local authority clients.

    Let’s talk

    To make this happen we’d like to recruit at least two or three friendly councils available for interviews and possibly a workshop or two, to help us determine specific requirements and test out some of our early prototypes and hypotheses. From here we’d aim to develop these features into fully working aspects of FixMyStreet Pro over the summer.

    If this is of interest to you, if you’re already grappling with this in your own council, or you’d just like to find out more, please get in touch with enquiries@fixmystreet.com and we can have a chat.

    In the meantime you can always find out more about what FixMyStreet Pro can do on one of our regular Friday Webinars.

    Image: Smabs Sputzer CC BY 2.0

  7. Peak performance

    At mySociety we believe in an open, inclusive web and such we try to build web apps that are accessible in the broadest sense. So while we do care deeply about things like WAI and the Equality Act this post isn’t about that — this is about making a site that works if you have a weak connection or an ageing device. I’m talking about performance.

    Graph showing total transfer data for mobile webpages in last year.Now while it isn’t a great metric to track, the fact that the average size of a web page is now over three megabytes (and pages served for mobile devices reaching an average of 2.9mb!) demonstrates that this is an age of bloat that assumes good broadband or 4G connectivity and we don’t think that’s right.

    As an example here are some numbers about the FixMyStreet site as it displays on mobile after some recent improvements.

    To load a working and styled front page on your phone takes around 9KB of HTML/inlined CSS/inlined images (that isn’t a typo – nine kilobytes). How do we pull that off? Well, the site logo and menu are both inlined so we don’t have to wait for them to load, as is the CSS needed to show the top part of the front page. 5KB of JavaScript is loaded (which amongst other things enables the geolocation) and in the background an additional massive 14 kilobytes of CSS (the main mobile stylesheet) and the remaining 20 kilobytes of images (the example report photos and footer links) are being pulled in. The page also uses prefetch to start fetching the remaining JavaScript while the user is entering a postcode or address to actually get started on FMS.

    On a desktop there’s a little bit more to add to the mix (more like 66KB of images, 19KB of CSS, plus a webfont taking 77KB) but it’s still lightning quick.

    The team haven’t reinvented the wheel to achieve this – they’ve just been ruthless and absolutely focused on only using the minimum amount of code to meet the user need. When the FixMyStreet site is deployed, the JavaScript and CSS is automatically minimised, and at that point we run penthouse to work out the critical CSS to be inlined on the front page. And whilst our main JavaScript does use jQuery, we dropped it from the front page to save yet more up-front time (jQuery is far larger alone than our current front page).

    If you are interested in more details of how this was achieved, here’s a post Matthew prepared earlier on many of the same techniques, which he used on his own project traintimes.org.uk.

    There are of course still improvements to be made – I imagine many front page viewers of FixMyStreet never need or want to scroll down as far as the images in the footer, so ideally we wouldn’t load them unless they do. Due to Windows Lumia users, which we support for a specific client use case, we’re using Appcache for offline support, but adding some form of more modern service worker would also be nice. And most of this work is for the front page (though it helped other pages too); our main JavaScript could be split up more than it is. It’s a continual process, but here is a good place to pause.

    Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

  8. Join us for a FixMyStreet Pro Webinar

    After several months of consultation with councils, feature development and testing, a new improved version of FixMyStreet for Councils was born. Now renamed FixMyStreet Pro, the service’s enhanced backend features — designed with and for council staff — and seamless integration with existing systems represent a genuine leap forward in street reporting software. Now we’re ready to share everything it can do for you.

    From this Friday we will be hosting fortnightly webinars to demo our FixMyStreet Pro service. If you work in street or environment services within a Local Authority or City Government we’d love you to join us.

    The sessions take around 45 minutes with plenty of time for questions and discussion – you can sign up for the next one on the FixMyStreet Pro site or use the Eventbrite form at bottom of this post.

     

    What we’ll cover

    We’ll show you how you can use FixMyStreet Pro as a single end-to-end case management service for citizens, council staff and contractors alike.

    We will take you through all of the major features, and explain how FixMyStreet Pro can help you provide a better reporting service to your citizens for street and environment issues, whilst reducing the burden on your customer service teams – avoiding any rekeying and connecting directly into your current management services.

    You’ll learn how to setup and customise FixMyStreet Pro to support your existing workflow, how to manage, moderate and respond quickly and easily to reports. We’ll also take you through the more advanced features for making use of asset layers and inspector tools.

    If you can’t wait until Friday, you can try a demo version of the service for yourself at demo.fixmystreet.com – just click on ‘Sign in’ and you can try the service in a variety of roles such as a customer service rep, a highways inspector, or a site administrator.

    If you can’t join us on a Friday please get in touch with me directly and we can arrange a one-on-one demo for you and your team.

     

    Sign up for the next FixMyStreet Pro webinar

  9. FixMyStreet reaches Borsetshire

    What would Eddie Grundy do if he came across a pothole? And how would Linda Snell deal with flytipping on the site of the Ambridge village fete?

    Fortunately, these fictional characters now enjoy the same access to FixMyStreet as the rest of us, thanks to the new demo site we’ve built.

    The thinking behind it is not, of course, to gather reports from an entirely fictional world. We’re not that mad. Rather, we needed a sandbox interface where we could show councils exactly how FixMyStreet works, and allow them to play about with both the customer end and the admin side, all without causing any major repercussions to the running of the standard site. Enter FixMyStreet Borsetshire.

    Prospective buyers of the system from local councils can experience the various levels of administration that the back-end allows. Just log in with the credentials seen on this page and see exactly how reports can be shortlisted, actioned, or moderated.

    So, we’re expecting reports of pigs on the loose, flooded culverts and perhaps even a flying flapjack. But if you’re hoping to find out the precise location of Ambridge, unfortunately you’ll be disappointed: the map is actually centred around Chipping Sodbury, far from the village’s supposed Midlands locale.


    Image: Martin Pettitt (CC by/2.0)

  10. Training an AI to generate FixMyStreet reports

    Artificial intelligence and machine learning seem to be everywhere at the moment – every day there’s a new story about the latest smart assistant, self-driving car or the impending take over of the world by robots. With FixMyStreet having recently reached one million reports, I started wondering what kind of fun things could be done with that dataset.

    Inspired by a recent post that generated UK place names using a neural network, I thought I’d dip my toes in the deep learning sea and apply the same technique to FixMyStreet reports. Predictably enough the results are a bit weird.

    I took the titles from all the public reports on fixmystreet.com as the training data, and left the training process to run overnight. The number crunching was pretty slow and the calculations had barely reached 5% in the morning. I suspect the training set was a bit too large, at over 1M entries, but end result still gives enough to work with.

    The training process produces checkpoints along the way, which you can use to see how the learning is progressing. After 1000 iterations the model was starting to be aware that it should use words, but didn’t really know how to spell them:

    Mertricolbes
    Ice does thrown campryings
    Sunky riking proper, badger verwappefing cars off uping is!
    Finst Knmp
    Lyghimes Jn fence
    Moadle bridge is one descemjop
    

    After 15000 iterations it’s starting to get the hang of real words, though still struggling to form coherent sentences.

    Untaxed cacistance.
    Broken Surface in ARRUIGARDUR. Widdy movering
    Cracked already nail some house height avenue.
    Light not worky
    I large pot hole
    Dumped shood road nod at street.
    Grim
    Dog man
    Ongorently obstructing sofas. This birgs.
    Serious Dirches
    

    After 68000 iterations there seems to be enough confusion in the training data that things start to go south again with the default parameters:

    Urgely councille at jnc swept arobley men.
    They whention to public bend to street? For traffic light not working
    

    Tweaking the ‘temperature’ of the sampling process produces increasingly sensible results:

    Large crumbling on pavement
    Potholes all overgrown for deep pothole
    Very van causing the road
    Very deep potholes on pavement
    Weeds on the pavement
    Several potholes in the road
    Rubbish Dumped on the road markings
    Potholes on three away surface blocking my peride garden of the pavement
    Potholes and rubbish bags on pavement
    Poor road sign damaged
    Poor street lights not working
    Dog mess in can on road bollard on pavement
    A large potholes and street light post in middle of road
    

    As well as plenty of variations on the most popular titles:

    Pot hole
    Pot hole on pavement
    Pot holes and pavement around
    Pot holes needings to path
    Pothole
    Pothole dark
    Pothole in road
    Pothole/Damaged to to weeks
    Potholes
    Potholes all overgrown for deep pothole
    Potholes in Cavation Close
    Potholes in lamp post Out
    Potholes in right stop lines sign
    Potholes on Knothendabout
    Street Light
    Street Lighting
    Street light
    Street light fence the entranch to Parver close
    Street light not working
    Street light not working develter
    Street light out opposite 82/00 Tood
    Street lights
    Street lights not working in manham wall post
    Street lights on path
    Street lights out
    

    It also seems to do quite well at making up road names that don’t exist in any of the original reports (or in reality):

    Street Light Out - 605 Ridington Road
    Signs left on qualing Road, Leave SE2234
    4 Phiphest Park Road Hasnyleys Rd
    Apton flytipping on Willour Lane
    The road U6!
    

    Here are a few of my favourites for their sheer absurdity:

    Huge pothole signs
    Lack of rubbish
    Wheelie car
    Keep Potholes
    Mattress left on cars
    Ant flat in the middle of road
    Flytipping goon!
    Pothole on the trees
    Abandoned rubbish in lane approaching badger toward Way ockgatton trees
    Overgrown bush Is broken - life of the road.
    Poo car
    Road missing
    Missing dog fouling - under traffic lights
    

    Aside from perhaps generating realistic-looking reports for demo/development sites I don’t know if this has any practical application for FixMyStreet, but it was fun to see what kind of thing is possible with not much work.


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    Image: Scott Lynch (CC by/2.0)