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Latest news from the team behind FixMyStreet Pro

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Buckinghamshire on video

Buckinghamshire County Council are one of the councils we’ve worked with closely to develop new features and enhancements for FixMyStreet Pro, and while we knew they were pretty happy with the results, it was gratifying to discover that they’ve made a video to share that sentiment with others!

One thing we’re always glad to learn about is the actual figures that councils calculate when they assess the savings that FixMyStreet Pro has brought to them.

Of course, they’ll differ from council to council, but here Bucks indicate that while a report made by phone cost an average of £6.69 in staff time and resources, a report made through FixMyStreet costs a tiny fraction of that at just 9p.

It’s amazing and somewhat pleasing to think that every time you make a FixMyStreet report, you’re effectively saving the public purse a whopping £6.60.

Bucks go on to list many of the innovations we’ve delivered with them, from adding a winter gritting functionality, to street light mapping and indicating when a road is private or not the council’s responsibility.

It’s also lovely to see the subscribing option mentioned: this is something you’ve always been able to do on FixMyStreet and which any user can access across the UK: read more about that here.

We didn’t have any hand in this video, so many thanks to Buckinghamshire for taking the initiative and showing what works so well for both residents and council staff.

Four cardboard jigsaw peuecs fitting together. Image by Rawpixel.

Towards more elegant integration

How FixMyStreet Pro copes with a diverse range of different council systems

Full integration: it’s one of FixMyStreet Pro’s main selling points. When a council signs up as a Pro customer, we hook our systems up to theirs. Citizens’ FixMyStreet reports drop directly into the existing workflows, and the council’s updates are fed back to them. Both sides continue to work exactly as they always have, but now they are communicating with one another.

Our dream set-up is when a council uses an Open311 interface, which makes this hookup very straightforward — but it’s pretty rare that things are that simple.

mySociety developer Struan explains the Open311 translation setup we’ve put in place, that keeps everything working smoothly and has the added benefit of keeping our code tidier. While his account is pretty easy for any reader to follow, this will definitely be of most interest to coders and council IT folk.

Struan: In FixMyStreet’s early days, all reports were sent to councils by email: this was done with a big script that essentially grabbed a list of any reports that hadn’t been sent, looked up the email address to send them to based on the council and report category, sent the email and marked the report as sent.

This was fine until we started offering proper integration with council systems. Barnet was our first council client, and initially we just added some if Barnet: use other send code bits to the script. But as more councils came on board, this wasn’t really sustainable — you don’t want code full of various exceptions for each council.

Checking out libraries

At that point we rewrote things so that the sending method was stored in the database against the council, and moved the sending code out into a set of libraries with a common interface. This meant that when the sending code got to a report, it could look up how to send it in the database and use the appropriate library to send it. This also means that from our end, changing how a council accepts reports is as easy as selecting a different option in the Send Method drop down in the admin.

One benefit of this setup is that we were able to add a method to pause sending to a council, which is handy if they are doing something like weekend maintenance. Reports get queued in FixMyStreet and we don’t get the many error emails saying can’t send to council X.

This was a fine approach, but as we added more integrations this resulted in more and more code in FixMyStreet which was fundamentally about our commercial operations and not relevant to anyone else installing the open source FixMyStreet codebase for their own country. We needed a way to move this code, and any configuration related to it, out of FixMyStreet.

Speaking Open311

One of the sending libraries that we created sends reports over Open311, which has the advantage that it’s pretty flexible and handles pretty much everything you need to communicate as part of an integration: sending reports, fetching reports, fetching updates, sending updates and fetching report categories. Obviously, it would be lovely if every council could provide us with an Open311 interface, as we could just plug that in directly. Sadly this is not the case.

So, we did the next best thing: we provide our own internal Open311 interface to FixMyStreet which then translates Open311 calls into whatever format the customer’s system requires. This removes the need to add code to FixMyStreet for a new integration, and it also moves lots of the integration specific configuration out of FixMyStreet too.

It works by using the jurisdiction_id that Open311 passes in to load up the correct configuration so most of our council integrations look pretty much the same on the FixMyStreet side.

Inside the Open311 adapter code we do various things to make the actual back end system work like Open311 expects. Some of the calls Open311 makes require multiple calls to an integration to carry out so the adapter does those and aggregates them for the response. We also do things like transforming complicated hierarchies of attributes representing category types into a much simpler list.

The Open311 adapter itself is stateless: it simply translates calls from FixMyStreet and hands back the results. Overall, it makes things much simpler on the FixMyStreet side and moves a load of irrelevant code elsewhere. So far it’s working pretty well with six integrations running through it.

Image: rawpixel

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.

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.

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: just explore this website to find out more.

Header image: Luca Florio

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

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

 

 

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 activities, Mark is the one to ask about how FixMyStreet Pro sits within the current shift towards smart, digital solutions for councils. He’s also been instrumental in bringing councils in on the planning phase of our products — 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.
 
 

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 Anna Fitzgerald (Principal Officer – Infrastructure Information Management Asset and Data Systems) from Oxfordshire County Council will be sharing the council’s experience of integrating FixMyStreet with their back end systems. Presentation followed by a Q&A session.

How FixMyStreet Pro transformed the customer service experience

Thursday 8th November 2.30pmTracy 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

New FixMyStreet Pro case studies from client councils



We know there’s no substitute for hearing straight from other customers when you’re considering a big purchase, so you may be glad to hear that we’ve added to our Case Studies section.

You can now read about Lincolnshire County Council, Bath & North East Somerset District Council, and — for the contractor’s point of view — Transport for Buckinghamshire, the banner under which Ringway Jacobs provide services for the council.

We’re glad to be able to include direct quotes from clients, which really give you a taste of how the process was for them. Here are three of our favourites:

“The whole implementation process, from start to finish, has been incredibly smooth.” Andrea Bowes, ICT Data and Information Systems Architect at Lincolnshire County Council

“Feedback from staff across the organisation is almost unanimously positive, in stark contrast to that of the system FixMyStreet replaced.”
James Green, Business Implementation Officer at B&NES Council

My role is to help improve customer satisfaction, and FixMyStreet certainly makes the reporting of defects as easy as it could be, so I’ve no complaints there. Dan Elworthy, Customer Projects Officer for Ringway Jacobs

You’ll find these, and a selection of other case studies, in the menu at the top of this page.

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. In a recent post, 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, make sure you’re subscribed to the Better Cities newsletter.

Image: Marc-Olivier Jodoin

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 citizens to the fact that they may not need to make a report, because it’s already in hand.

When reports are a waste of time

In general, councils appreciate FixMyStreet reports from residents: 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 that citizen’s report will be nothing more than a time-waster all round.

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 users will only be alerted to pending roadworks when they go to make a report near where maintenance is already scheduled.

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

Buckinghamshire FixMyStreet roadworks alert
Buckinghamshire FixMyStreet roadworks alert

Of course, they can still go ahead and make their 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

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