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. EveryPolitician data plays a key role in campaigning! But we need more stories like this…

    As we’ve highlighted in recent posts, EveryPolitician is an open dataset.

    We’ve always been strong advocates of open data, but there’s no doubt that it come with its own challenges. For example, when data is freely and openly available, without even the need for registration, we have very little idea of who is accessing it. That, in turn, makes it hard to prove that the project is having impact…and subsequently to find funders to support the maintenance of the project.

    So we were fortunate that user research interviews for the Democratic Commons led us to Andrew from New/Mode. New/Mode deliver advocacy and engagement tools that are used by hundreds of the top campaign, nonprofits and advocacy organisations around the world.  

    These tools are connecting people to their representatives, so information is key: specifically, information on who politicians are and how to contact them. And that’s just what EveryPolitician is, in part*, providing for New/Mode’s tools which are used by groups in Australia, Canada, the US and the UK.

    We asked Andrew what impacts have been created through New/Mode’s tools, and he told us that:

    • In the UK, ONE’s supporters sent 6,500 emails to MPs over the space of a week, helping to successfully pressure MPs to vote for a Sanctions and Anti Money Laundering Bill that increases transparency and cracks down on global corruption.
    • In the US, Win Without War used New/Mode tools with EveryPolitician data to block a defence bill that would have given Trump more nuclear access. The Sunrise Movement is currently using New/Mode tools to push for swift action on climate change.
    • In Canada, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East prompted 16,000 emails to Canadian MPs in support of Trudeau’s comments condemning violence against unarmed Palestinian protesters.

    We need more of these stories to help us build a picture of who uses EveryPolitician and why it is important, to make a case for why we should keep working on it. As mySociety’s Mark Cridge outlined in a previous post, we’ve recognised that EveryPolitician can only become sustainable at scale as part of a wider community effort, which is why we are collaborating with Wikidata — but we still need the resources to do that.

    Any ideas, or suggestions, please let us know by emailing democracy@mysociety.org

    *PS, In case you were wondering which APIs New/Mode uses, here is a breakdown:

    • Currently, Open North’s Represent is providing the bulk of the data for Canadian politicians. But senators’ data and Twitter handles for the MPs and senators are pulled from EveryPolitician.
    • For the US, Google Civic does a good job of providing the bulk of information, but again EveryPolitician is used for congressional fax numbers and to fill in any blanks with Google Civic data.
    • In the UK, New/Mode are using another mySociety tool, Maplt alongside EveryPolitician. EveryPolitician data is only available for the national level of politicians as yet.
    • For Australia where they focus on national politicians, the data is drawn from a mixture of Open Australia and again EveryPolitician.

    Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

     

  3. Democratic Commons update: November

    What do you want? An update on Democratic Commons!  When do you want it? As regularly as possible!

    …well, that’s what you’re getting, anyway. Whether or not you know that’s what you wanted is another matter — because you could be forgiven for having completely missed the Democratic Commons,  the ambitious project that mySociety is helping to develop right now.  

    Even more than that — you might think the issues that the project is addressing were all done and dusted years ago. Not having open access to basic data on elected representatives? That sounds like a 2005  issue, especially somewhere like the UK with its thriving Civic Tech sector and a government that’s declared its commitment to open data. And by ‘basic data’, we mean the fundamentals — stuff as simple as the representatives’ names,  the positions they hold and the areas they represent… not exactly rocket science, is it?

    But, here we are,  it is almost 2019, and the information on who our elected representatives are is still not easily available as structured, consistent and reusable public data.

    And so, we have been busy working closely with Wikidata to support a change. Here’s a rundown of everything we’ve been doing:

    • Supporting the gathering of lots of data on politicians internationally — including detailed electoral boundary data

    We’ve been working with partners around the world to get the basic data on political systems, and who is currently elected into positions, into Wikidata.  And we have the electoral boundary data to match the areas they represent.
    From the national, down to the city and local level within these cities, this data is now openly available through Wikidata and our GitHub repositories (we’re just writing the documentation for the latter, so watch this space). If you’d like to know more, contact: democracy@mysociety.org

    The countries where efforts have been focused to model and/or gather data so far are:
    Australia, Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Hong Kong, Italy, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, South Africa, Taiwan and the UK!

    Our partners include Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), Fundación Conocimiento Abierto, Distintas Latitudes, g0v, Code for Pakistan, OpenUp, Open Knowledge Bangladesh and Factly.  

    • Building a tool to help you visualise Wikidata and discover what data on politicians exist for any country

    Specifically, a visualisation tool that helps you explore what data exists that fits the Wikidata every politician data model (see this blog post). mySociety Developer, Alex Dutton, has been fiddling about in his spare time to create this tool, that runs off SPARQL queries.  Take a look to see what structured data currently exists for any given country – and tell us what you think!

    Or, if it shows you that there ’s data missing,  get on Wikidata, and make edits. You’re welcome to ask us for help on this and we’ll be very glad to give it, but you should also know that the Wikidata Facebook group is a great place to ask questions if you’re a newbie.

    • Talking to lots of people about their need for structured, consistent and reusable data on elected representatives
      It’s all very well having all this data, but it doesn’t count for much if people aren’t using it.
      Over the past few months, I’ve been connecting with people and asking how they currently access and maintain data on politicians, and, the implications this has on their work (you may have seen a recent post asking for more examples: this still stands!).
      I’ve also been exploring how people think they could contribute and benefit from being part of a collaborative effort. Here’s a rundown of a few choice conversations:

      • We’ve spent time with Democracy Club, Open Data Manchester and Open Council Data talking about possible approaches to making UK councillor data more accessible. Sym has nicely summarised where we’re at here. I recommend joining the Democracy Club slack channel #councillors if this is something that interests you.
      • Talking to UK focused organisations such as campaign organisation 38Degrees, the brain injury association Headway and the creator of the iparl campaigning tool from Organic Campaigns about how they currently gather and maintain data on elected politicians (ways range from paying for detailed data to supporting political students to maintain spreadsheets); and exploring what they need from data for it to be useful in their work, and the implications of not having this data up to date (small charities struggle to run e-campaigns, for example, that ensure their supporters can connect to representatives).
      • Talking to international organisations who build software for nonprofits and campaigners — like New/Mode, Engaging Networks and The Action Network  — about their data needs, the struggles of candidate data, and whether any of the new data we’ve been collecting can be helpful to them (it can!). In particular, it was great to hear how useful our EveryPolitician data is for New/Mode.
      • Checking what support we can offer to our partners (as listed above) to increase reuse and maintenance of the data in the regions where they work. Also: if you know any further groups interested in reusing data on politicians for their work, please tell them about us.
      • We met with staff at Global Witness and heard how they’re using EveryPolitician data on politicians to uncover potential corruption.
      • And we checked in with the University of Colorado for an update on their project to model the biographies of members of Congress  and see if a politician’s background affects voting behaviour.  
      • We’re also supporting editathon events to improve political data, being delivered by SMEX in Lebanon (read about their event here), France based F0rk and Wikimedia España.
      • And last but very much not least: I attended the Code for All conference. It was really inspiring to meet people from our previous collaborations through Poplus such as Kharil from the Sinar Project, hear some amazing speakers and meet lots of new friends, who we hope to see more as mySociety is now a Code for All affiliate organisation. Also, I surprised myself with my enthusiasm for talking about unique identifiers over a glass of wine…!

    What next?

    Through November and December, we will be focusing on:

    • Delivering changes to the EveryPolitican.org site to reflect our desire to source the data from Wikidata (not the current arrangement of 11,000 scrapers that keep breaking!) and offer more guidance on how to contribute political data to Wikidata.
    • Working with Wikimedia UK to create some engaging ‘how to get started on Wikidata’ and ‘editing political data’ resources to share with you all.
    • Making sure lots of people know this data exists, so they can use it (and hopefully maintain it). Got any ideas?
    • Finding out what support is needed to continue this work internationally and keep gathering people who also think this work is important — and putting together funding bids so that we can keep supporting this work


    Want to get involved? Here’s how

    • Contribute to the Wikidata community: if you are Wikidata user, or keen to learn, the first step is to visit the Wikidata project page on political data. If you need guidance on tasks, do feel free to add to the Talk page to ask the community.
    • Join the conversation on the Code for All Slack channel #democratic-commons: https://codeforall.org/ (scroll down and find the ‘Chat with us’ button).
    • Tell us (and others) how you think you would use the data: this project can’t just be about collecting data for its own sake: it’s about it being used in a way that benefits us all. How would the Democratic Commons help your community? We’d love people to share any ideas, data visualisations, or theories, ideally in an open medium such as blog posts.  Please connect with Georgie to share.
    • Something missing from this list? Tell us! We’re @mySociety on Twitter or you can email democracy@mysociety.org.

    Photo by Artem Bali on Unsplash