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Latest news from the team behind FixMyStreet Pro

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

We’ve upped the security on FixMyStreet

We’ve recently introduced some stronger privacy and security measures on FixMyStreet, to make things safer for everyone. They also have some nice knock-on effects that help you with moderation.

Privacy

If you’re a FixMyStreet Admin, you can now:

  • Make a user anonymous across the site, so even if they’ve made multiple reports, their name won’t show on any of them on the live web pages. Removing users’ names is a frequent request, especially from those who may have strong personal reasons not to be identified online. Users already had the ability to anonymise their reports singly or in bulk themselves, but sometimes it’s easier to do it for them, particularly if they are distressed when making the request.
  • Remove a user’s account details entirely An important point in the forthcoming GDPR regulations is that we all have the right to request the removal of our personal data from databases. In this case, the user’s reports and updates remain, but not only is the name removed from public webpages as per the point above; their email address, phone number and any other personal data are scrubbed from our own servers, too, leaving no record.
  • Hide all a user’s reports/updates from the live site. In the event that you discover a large quantity of, say, abusive reports from the same person, you can now remove them all from the online environment at a single stroke.

Security

Security for users was already very good, but with the following improvements it can now 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.

Still got any questions about privacy or security? Drop us a line and we’ll be glad to answer them.


Image: Timothy Muza (Unsplash)

Six low-cost ways to promote your FixMyStreet Pro service

So we’ve pressed the button and your shiny new FixMyStreet Pro installation is now live on your website. Fantastic… now how are you going to make sure your residents know about it?

In these cash-strapped times, huge marketing campaigns are most likely not an option, so here are some ideas for low-cost coverage.

Cross promotion

What other services do you offer your users online? Whether residents are applying for parking permits or commenting on planning applications, there’s generally a ‘thanks’ or ‘success’ page at the end of the process.

This can be an ideal place to promote new services: after all, your users have pretty much self-identified as local residents, and also as people who like to complete tasks online.

Get some free local coverage

Your local paper will probably be happy to cover the story of your launch, but you can ensure continued regular coverage too, by sending out press releases based on stats.

FixMyStreet Pro’s dashboard allows you to run off statistics and create stories such as how many faults in a specific category are reported — and fixed — monthly; or to compare this year’s results with previous years.

There are many stories just waiting to be told, and local papers always like an easy angle.

Social media

Facebook, Twitter and even Snapchat or Instagram can be great places to make sure people know about your service, and for free.

You might consider running a small contest for retweeting or sharing your message, which would ensure that it reaches people beyond your own followers.  Or ask your staff to get creative and photograph themselves at every stage of a fault report, making a compelling visual journey that allows your residents to see just what happens to their reports once they click ‘submit’.

Find your local champions

Once you’ve been up and running for a few months, check in the admin interface to see whether there are residents who are making more reports than the average user.

These are likely to be the people who will recommend the service to others, especially if they’ve had success with getting their issues fixed.

They’ll often be happy to be interviewed for your newsletter, or photographed for other promotional activity. You could even identify them as a group of ‘super users’ and ask them to mention your service on social media, or to drop leaflets and posters at their habitual haunts such as coffee shops or their place of work.

Unexpected places

Once you start thinking, there are all sorts of places where a service can be promoted:

  • Email signatures: ask any staff who deal with external emails to add a small link to their sign-offs.
  • Postmarks: Some franking machines include the ability to customise your postmark: what a great way to get your message right into residents’ homes.
  • Street furniture: What could be more ideal in terms of positioning than a message on assets such as bins, public benches, bus shelters or streetlights?

Leaflets and posters

A leaflet through every door is a costly exercise, but it’s much cheaper to deliver a stack of posters or flyers to local hubs such as libraries, job centres, gyms, playgroups and schools.

Or get creative and consider the organisations and groups most likely to use FixMyStreet: clean-up volunteers for your waterways or parks; civic societies or local history clubs, whose members tend to care about their surroundings; or perhaps there’s a local Britain in Bloom group or similar, who have a stake in keeping the area clean and tidy.

 

Those are our top ideas for cheap promotion: let us know if you have any more!

Image: Francesco Casalino on Unsplash

How to use the FixMyStreet Pro dashboard to get insights on your service levels

Anyone in Highways Maintenance management will know the importance of tracking their team’s performance. It’s only by looking at the stats that you can clearly understand where improvements can be made.

That’s why client councils get access to a useful dashboard as part of FixMyStreet Pro’s fully-featured admin back-end, showing all reports within your chosen timeframe. These can then be further filtered by ward, status (in progress, fixed, et cetera), and category. You can even check to see how many reports were made through the website, and how many on the app, giving you a good feel of your residents’ uptake of mobile.

As you’d expect, everything can be exported as a .csv file, to add to your own reporting spreadsheets.

You can see how it looks — and have a play around — on our demo site, at https://demo.fixmystreet.com/dashboard. If you have your own installation, you’ll be able to access it if logged in as a staff member with the right permissions, at your own installation URL followed by /dashboard. Then just click on ‘Stats’.

Got questions? Why not drop in to one of our regular Friday webinars?

FixMyStreet Pro and GDPR

GDPR is on everyone’s minds at the moment: the new data protection regulations come into force in May and will give new rights to citizens as regards the storage and use of their personal data.

We’re fortunate at mySociety in that we’ve always adhered to strong principles when it comes to privacy. That said, we’ve not always been great at setting those protocols down in writing, and the arrival of GDPR has been very good for us in that respect.

Over the past few months, we’ve been very busy creating internal documentation and updating the privacy policies which sit on each of our sites, so that we all know we’re on the same page. Staff now have a set of written guidelines that we all adhere to; users can very clearly see how we use and store their personal data, and how to opt out if they wish to.

FixMyStreet Pro, a service we host, but which allows our client councils access to users’ personal information, has required particular thought. The result is our data sharing and security agreement, a document which we hope that you, as a potential or existing client, will examine with care.

Got any questions? Don’t hesitate to drop us a line.


Image: Samuel Zeller (Unsplash)

Getting the most out of FixMyStreet Pro: make it easy to find

Once you’ve invested in FixMyStreet Pro, then of course you’ll want to ensure that your residents can find it easily. Here are a few ideas for making sure everyone knows where to make those street reports.

Full-site search and replace

It sounds pretty obvious, but if FixMyStreet Pro is replacing a previous service, make sure you search your entire site to check that all your links are pointing at the right place. It’s always surprising to find just how many forgotten pages can be found in this way, taking users to retired parts of your site, or dead links.

While you’re at it, are there any automated emails or printed materials that might still include out of date URLs?

A memorable URL

By default, we place FixMyStreet as a prefix to the council’s URL, like this: fixmystreet.eastherts.gov.uk.

If you prefer, we can go for something shorter, like Bromley did: fix.bromley.gov.uk.

Once you’ve got a nice memorable URL, it’s easier to put on leaflets, posters and in newsletters and emails.

Give a bit of space

Consider adding a link directly to your FixMyStreet Pro service on your website’s homepage, at least for a while until your users get to know where it is.

How about some promotion?

If you have a budget for marketing, you can see very good returns for a small investment on social media and search engine marketing.

You might like to run ads for a limited time on Facebook or Twitter, where just a few pounds can bring you both brand recognition and multiple click-throughs; or on Google Ads where you can bid on keywords such as ‘report potholes in [the name of your council]’.

If money is tight, see our recent post on low-cost ways to promote your FixMyStreet Pro service.

Or optimise for free

Your web editors are probably already au fait on how to optimise web pages to ensure they rank highly on search engines for relevant phrases. Make extra sure they’re putting their best SEO efforts into your report gateway page for maximum benefits all round.

But don’t worry too much

One nice thing about FixMyStreet is that users don’t have to come via the council website to make a report: if they go via the national FixMyStreet.com website or app, and their report is within your council boundaries, it’ll come to you anyway. It’ll also appear on the council’s FixMyStreet Pro installation.

That happens the other way round too, so the national site also displays reports made through your website. The upshot is, if your residents can remember FixMyStreet.com, they can make a report directly to you.

Image: Sydney Rae (Unsplash)

Grit bins displayed on Bristol Council's FixMyStreet Pro installation

Upping the accuracy of reports, with asset layers

Did you know that, as a FixMyStreet Pro council client, you can add your own asset layers to your installation?

If you’ve got data on features such as, for example, trees, bins, streetlights, bridges… or anything else, and they’re in a GIS format, we can slot them in to FixMyStreet.

That means that when your residents make a report, they can click on the precise asset where the issue is. Net result? Your inspectors and contractors don’t waste any time looking for a problem, because they have the data that lets them know precisely where to zero in.

These visuals needn’t clog up the map interface, either: we can set it up so that they only display when the user selects the relevant category. So, choose ‘streetlights’ from the drop-down menu, and as if by magic they’ll appear on the map.

You can see this feature in action on a few FixMyStreet Pro installations, but Bristol is a particularly good example, as they’ve added a lot of different types of asset. Take a look at this reporting page, and select Bridges/Subways, Grit Bins or Gully/Drainage to see how they’re handled.

Asset layers are available to councils who go for the FixMyStreet Pro ‘Avenue’ package. Find out more about pricing here.

Multi-selectin’ fun on FixMyStreet

As a user or a council, it’s quite possible that you’re already enjoying one of the usability improvements that FixMyStreet version 2.0 has brought — but, as it’s a fairly subtle change, perhaps without actually even noticing it.

multi-select

 

In these days of eBay and department store shopping, we’re all quite used to refining results through the use of multiple checkboxes.

But for FixMyStreet, we hadn’t given much thought to letting you filter reports by more than one dimension, until Oxfordshire County Council suggested that it would be a useful feature.

For quite some time, you’d been able to filter by category and status (“Show me all pothole reports” or “Show me all ‘unfixed’ reports”), but this new functionality is more flexible.

You can now select multiple categories and multiple statuses simultaneously (“show me all pothole and graffiti reports that are unfixed or in progress”) — and all through the power of tickboxes.

If you’re a non-technical person, that’s all you need to know: just enjoy the additional flexibility next time you visit FixMyStreet. But if you are a coder, you might like to read more about how we achieved this feature: for you, Matthew has written about it over on the FixMyStreet Platform blog.

If you’d like to know more about all the features we’ve recently introduced to FixMyStreet, why not join one of our regular Friday webinars?

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

Setting your own categories in FixMyStreet Pro

When a resident makes a report on the national FixMyStreet site, we ask them to choose a category for the issue, and to place a pin in the map to show its exact location.

These two pieces of information inform where the report is sent. Each council can stipulate exactly which categories they would like displayed: commonly these will be Potholes, Street lights, Graffiti, and any other issue types they deal with. Many councils, and especially larger ones, assign each category to a different email address (or route within their CRM if they’ve opted for full integration with FixMyStreet).

As a FixMyStreet Pro client council, you’ll have the ability to edit categories via the dashboard: delete them if you no longer use them; change the title or email address if required, or add new ones — try it out for yourself on our demo site. Non-client councils, by the way, can get in touch with us at any time to ask us to do the same on their behalf, for the nationwide FixMyStreet.com site.

But there’s a little more that FixMyStreet does, too. As a council, you’ll be well aware that just because a report’s made within your boundaries, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s dealt with by you. In the two-tier UK council system, responsibility for different categories of report are often split between county and district councils, or borough councils and the GLA, for example.

FixMyStreet can effortlessly deal with this, based on which category has been assigned to each report. If it needs to be directed to a different council or body, you need never even see it — even if the report is originally made via your own website, it’ll still appear on the map for other residents to see, but it will be winging its way safely to the other authority.

Find out more about FixMyStreet Pro, and ask questions, at one of our regular Friday webinars.

FixMyStreet Pro blog

FixMyStreet Pro is the street & environment reporting service that integrates with any council system.

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