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Pothole on a road

Things that go bump! How to smooth out the process of dealing with pothole reports

Whether you’re a council or a citizen, potholes are an all-round pain in the bum(per), aren’t they? 

When it comes to citizen reports made on our FixMyStreet service, potholes are always up there among the most frequently reported problems. In fact, in 2020, despite lockdowns and less frequent travel, more potholes were reported through FixMyStreet than ever before

For councils, dealing with pothole reports has never been a bigger challenge. Aside from being expensive to fix (and no sooner have you fixed one than another appears), staff shortages caused by COVID-19 as workers are required to isolate have made coordinating pothole fixes a much longer, more complicated process. 

Be that as it may, at a time when most road travel is being carried out by key workers, it’s more important than ever to make the process of reporting potholes and responding to such reports as easy and as fast as possible.

This being the case, we thought we’d highlight all the ways in which FixMyStreet Pro can and does make dealing with pothole reports easier, cheaper and much less bumpy for councils and their residents. 

  • Cut the cost of your pothole reports

Now more than ever, councils need to save money wherever they can. Investing in a channel shift to FixMyStreet Pro for the management of your streets and highways reports could help you save up to 98.69% per report, just like it did for Buckinghamshire Council

  • Reduce duplicate reports 

As well as needing to save money, councils and their customer service teams also need to save time – especially time wasted on dealing with duplicate reports. FixMyStreet’s transparent approach to reporting helps to dissuade duplicate reports by allowing citizens to view reports that have already been made nearby and subscribe to updates from the council as the issue is resolved. 

  • Simplify how all of your existing systems connect with each other

We know how annoying, nevermind expensive, it can be when your backend IT systems aren’t quite getting along the way you’d like them to. With FixMyStreet Pro, we promise to integrate into whichever systems you’re using to facilitate a smooth user workflow for everyone. See how this worked for Oxfordshire County Council, who, by switching to FixMyStreet Pro, were able to make immediate workflow improvements and savings by removing layers of legacy software.

  • Customise your reporting forms

No one council is the same as another; you have different needs, different priorities and different ways of doing things. We take all of this into account when we’re setting up your version of FixMyStreet Pro, building it around yours and your residents’ needs. As an example, when it came to potentially hazardous reports (such as dangerous potholes), Island Roads, the company that handles highway maintenance on the Isle of Wight, requested to implement emergency categories to their version of FixMyStreet Pro to help safeguard against accidents and allow them to deal with problems faster.

Want to get started making your pothole reports easier to navigate? Get in touch with us.

 

Image: Editor5807 (CC BY 3.0)

User groups: how we’re involving clients in new feature planning

When it comes to drawing up plans for future features to add to the FixMyStreet Pro roadmap, it’s really important to us that we consult with the people who will actually be using them before we commit to anything.

That’s why we like to run user groups – events to which we invite clients to join us for a couple of hours to learn about what we’ve been working on and get involved in exploring any features which would be of benefit to them if we were to design them next.

 

Digital collaboration

Not wanting to let the pandemic get in our way of hosting these sessions in 2020, we moved them online, using Zoom to meet up and Miro to collaboratively share ideas.

Our most recent user group ran earlier this month as a perfect way to round off the year and influence our 2021 plans.

As part of the session, we broke off into small groups in order to answer this question: What’s the one thing you wished FixMyStreet Pro did that it doesn’t currently do?

Using Miro, each group was given 15 minutes to bounce ideas around for new features they would like to see on the FixMyStreet Pro service by pinning a digital post-it note to a board. Each idea was then discussed to determine what the feature is, what problem it solves and who would benefit from it. 

Before reconvening, the groups selected their favourite idea to be presented to everyone. The top ideas from each group were then voted upon to determine which was best, using a very snazzy feature of Miro’s platform.

 

Screenshot of the SocietyWorks user group Miro session
Our Designer Martin discusses the top ideas from the group sessions using Miro

 

Fast reactions

On this occasion, the winning new feature suggestion was to introduce the functionality to quickly create a report on a mobile device from a photo. Alex Brown from Island Roads, whose idea this was, explained more:

“If you’re familiar with iPhones and Android, you’ll know that there’s a share function which gives you a shortlist of things you can do with your photos.

“For example, you can open up a photo, press the share button, select your messages app and it takes you straight into the app where you can send the photo to one of your contacts.

“We’d like something similar to that [for FixMyStreetPro], where you can take a photo with your camera, open it, share it, hit FixMyStreet and it takes you straight into the app so you can log your report.”

As our Designer Martin said at the time: “Brilliant!”

A simple, yet smart idea that would make it even easier for citizens to act when they spot a problem within their local area. Plus, as we uncovered recently, reports with photos are around 15% more likely to be recorded as fixed than reports without a photo, so anything we can do to encourage the use of photos within reports can only be a good thing.

And here lies the beauty of running these user groups: not only is it the perfect opportunity for local authorities to discuss and share solutions to problems they’re facing, but it’s also the ideal environment to nurture brilliant ideas that we hadn’t thought of before. 

Going forward, we’re taking Alex’s idea, along with a few other suggestions from the day, into some discovery sessions in order to determine whether and when we can add them to our roadmap.

So, watch this space!

If you would like to come along to one of our future user groups, or you’d like to discuss any ideas of your own, do drop us a message.

Image: Dstudio Bcn on Unsplash

A woman looking at her mobile phone screen - image by Daria Nepriakhina

Integrating with Notify

Notifications via text: one feature that we’ve not previously explored for FixMyStreet.

And yet, it’s easy to see that this might be a desirable add-on, given the fast pace at which report statuses can change as they pass through the resolution cycle, and everyone’s increasing reliance on their mobile phones to keep on top of things.

Hackney Council gave us the nudge we needed to look at this more deeply: they had a GOV.UK Notify account, and wondered whether we could make it work with their FixMyStreet Pro instance to give their citizens more options for keeping up to date with reports.

So we’re now working with Hackney on a co-funded piece of development that, once completed, will be available to all our Pro customers.

When a new report is made in Hackney, the site will ask the report-maker for their email address or mobile number: once this has been verified, an account will be created.  This work has involved tweaking our SMS authentication functionality and adding the Notify functionality as the new SMS backend provider for the verification step.

Everything’s working well so far, and it’s now with Hackney to test and give us feedback.

Image: Daria Nepriakhina

Image by Jilbert Ebrahimi - a wheely bin against a sunny concrete wall

Sprint notes: 26 Oct – 6 Nov

Here’s everything SocietyWorks is up to this sprint.

A demo Waste site

As we’ve mentioned previously, we’re working on new functionality around bins and waste as part of the ongoing SocietyWorks brand and product expansion.

This service is coming on apace, and we’re creating a showcase site to demonstrate the new features as they become ready: as yet it’s really just a clickable prototype, but you can have a quick play with it here.

Roadmap progress

We’re moving forward on a couple of the tickets on our public Roadmap:

  • Hint tips that can be customised according  to the category
  • A newsflash banner that clients can add to their own cobrands.

Photos that show it’s all fixed

We’re a step closer to getting completion photos out of Alloy, and will be adding this to one of our client’s staging sites next week for feedback.

Making mobile better

FixMyStreet mobile improvements were demonstrated to everyone at mySociety last Friday — and board members also joined to see what progress has been made. We’re now scheduling in the development work to get these changes live with one of our Developers.

Image: Jilbert Ebrahimi

Someone taking a photo of some fly tipping to report on FixMyStreet

Sprint notes: 12-23 October

Here’s everything SocietyWorks is up to this sprint.

New development on FixMyStreet Pro

Photo first

One big area we’re working on this sprint comes from our development roadmap.

We’re referring to it as a ‘photo first’ workflow, and it’d enable users to take a snap of a street fault and upload it as a way of initiating a report. This all keys into a piece of research we’ve done which found that reports with photos attached have around a 16% higher chance of being fixed than those without.

As part of our exploration, Developer Dave’s been training an AI model to automatically scan each image and guess what category it falls into — very cutting edge!

But at the same time, we’re aware that we must keep every type of user’s best interests at the heart of all our development: we don’t want to sacrifice the simplicity that’s always been the key to FixMyStreet’s success, and the reason it has such vocal  advocates amongst its citizen users.

As an example of this: as we assess the available technology to help us work on this functionality, we’re being resolute about basing decisions on what the job needs, not which product has the most bells and whistles.

Geolocation

An avenue we’re also exploring as part of this work is the potential for extracting geolocation metadata from the photograph, which would cut down on the amount of detail the citizen needs to type in. However, here, again there are balances to be struck: we don’t want to increase the potential for errors where a phone’s GPS isn’t accurate enough, or where the data we pass onto councils isn’t as precise as they need it to be.

Mobile design and PWAs

Meanwhile, Designer Martin has been looking into the user experience on mobile, making improvements for what is increasingly the most popular way to report.

Design in progress on FixMyStreet mobile

We’ll soon be making the existing app redundant in favour of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) — Martin’s work will still be relevant there, though.

PWAs are more flexible, allowing each council to incorporate their own branding and templates at no extra cost, and effectively offer residents what looks and feels just like a dedicated app. We’ve written a bit about these previously.

New development on Waste and Noise

Waste testing

Development continues on our Waste product. We’re integrating with Bromley and Veolia’s Echo system and doing plenty of testing around that — in particular, making sure it picks up on irregular dates such as bank holidays, and that it can handle the 48-hour window for reports of missed bin collections.

Noise and ASB

And, having completed our user research and consequence scanning exercises on the Noise concept, we’ve come to the conclusion that it should incorporate anti-social behaviour reports: Noise and ASB are so intertwined that it makes the most sense to combine them into a single service, albeit one that will divert each type of report to the relevant council department.

Feedback from our test users was all good, so we’ve now reported our findings back to Hackney and are waiting to hear if they’d like us to progress with integrating with their two back-end systems.

Meanwhile, you can see more about consequence scanning in the well-received session Martin led at LocalGovCamp a couple of weeks ago.

Security

Pen testing

We’ll be conducting one of our regular scheduled pen tests to ensure the security of FixMyStreet Pro.

New integrations

Symology and Alloy

We’re setting up a new instance of FixMyStreet Pro for our latest client: this one involved Symology, a system we’ve worked with extensively in the past, so it should be reasonably straightforward.

Hackney’s instance, an Alloy integration, should be going live by the end of this month, so we’re making plans for that.

One exciting feature here is that we’re looking into pulling ‘completion’ photos out of Alloy — that is, photos taken by the maintenance crew to show that the problem has been fixed — so we can display them on the relevant FixMyStreet report, and possibly also include them in an email update to the report-maker.

Aerial views and location codes

We’ve recently introduced two new ways to locate yourself, and your reports, on FixMyStreet.

From up in the air

You might have noticed a discreet little ‘aerial’ button on the bottom of FixMyStreet’s map pages recently.

The 'aerial' button on FixMyStreet map pages

This toggles the view from the usual Ordnance Survey maps to a Bing aerial satellite view:

Map and aerial view on FixMyStreet

We hope this will make it easier for people to locate their reports accurately, in those cases where it’s a bit easier to identify landmarks from above.

This isn’t an entirely new departure for FixMyStreet: as far back as 2013 the site we made for the City of Zurich had a satellite view as default — and indeed, it still does.

At the moment, this feature is available on the nationwide fixmystreet.com, and on fifteen client authorities’ sites. Why not all authorities’ implementations? It’s basically to do with whether they have their own map servers: where we host the maps, it’s obviously more straightforward for us to deliver the alternative view.

Open Location Codes

Another option to help you find just the right spot for your report comes with the introduction of Open Location Codes, also known as OLCs or Plus Codes.

Coincidentally, these also have a connection with Zurich, as they were developed in Google’s offices there. They’re basically a more convenient and quicker way of entering latitude and longitude, and can be used to identify any spot on the planet (though of course, each FixMyStreet site has its own bounds).

As their name suggests, OLCs are open source and available for anyone to use. Want to try it out? Google Maps on mobile gives you an OLC when you drop a pin: see more details here.

This function adds to the number of ways you can search for a location on FixMyStreet from the homepage search box, which include inputting a postcode, a street name, an area, a town or city, latitude and longitude, and allowing the site to auto-locate you.

So here’s hoping these developments will allow for ever more accuracy in report locations.

 

Image: William Hook

 

Leeds in lockdown - image by Dan Burton

Reflecting the covid-19 needs of authorities and citizens on FixMyStreet Pro

Have you considered using FixMyStreet Pro as part of an application to the Emergency Active Travel Fund? The service can easily be adapted to allow citizens make requests for cycle paths and street widening, for example, or to report areas where social distancing is difficult and intervention is needed.

This way, your covid action plan becomes needs led, instigated by the community without the need for expensive surveys or reports.

The pandemic has brought many changes to the way we move around our towns and cities, and authorities are having to adapt to them quickly. 

FixMyStreet Pro offers one quick and easy way to reflect the new requirements we have of our environments: the addition of new report categories.

Some authorities are already taking advantage of this and have added categories that enable citizens to request wider pavements or cycle paths, or note where social distancing signage might be useful.

You can also head off the type of report that is better made elsewhere: for example, if a citizen wishes to report a business for poor practice — a report that clearly shouldn’t be public on your website — they can be routed towards the correct channel to do so, perhaps a phone number or a private contact form.

As a FixMyStreet Pro client, you can add, remove, or rename categories as needed; you can also nest subcategories, or place a subcategory under more than one main category to help users find it.

If you’d like to know more about categories, or any other feature, do join us for a webinar, so we can take you through FixMyStreet Pro’s main features and answer any questions you may have. You can book a slot here or drop us a line if you don’t see a date that suits you.

Image: Dan Burton

A number 3 hanging from a wire

What you’ll notice on FixMyStreet 3.0

We recently released version 3.0 of the open source software which FixMyStreet runs on.

This brings some substantial improvements to the code. The update is available to anyone running a site on the FixMyStreet platform, which includes our own fixmystreet.com; the installations we provide for councils and authorities; and the FixMyStreet instances run by others, in places from Australia to Uruguay.

If you run a site on the FixMyStreet platform yourself, or are just interested in the technical details, you can read the release notes here.

Meanwhile, here’s a rundown of the new front-end features you might notice if you’re a user of FixMyStreet.

Run the site as an app

FixMyStreet can now be added to phones (and desktops for that matter) as a ‘progressive app’. Here’s what to look for when you visit fixmystreet.com:

On Chrome for Android:

Installing FixMyStreet on Chrome on Android

Access from the bar at the bottom of the screen.

On iOS:

 

Share button on iOs

Click the share icon at the foot of the screen.

Add to homescreen

Then select ‘add to home screen’.

On Firefox for Android:

Installing FixMyStreet on Firefox for Android

Look for the pop up notification or tap the home icon with a plus sign in it in the URL bar.

Any of these methods will install a version of FixMyStreet that will behave like an app, placing an icon on your desktop, browser start page or home screen.

This way there is no need to download or update from the app store, and changes to the main website (which are invariably released sooner than on the app) will be immediately available to you.

Cobrands (for example the councils that use FixMyStreet as part of their own websites, and people running FixMyStreet in their own countries) can provide their own logo and colourscheme as well.

Mobile browser improvements

Whether you install the progressive web app or just visit fixmystreet.com on your mobile browser, you may notice some nice new features.

  • If you use the geolocation function (‘use my location’), your position will be displayed on the map:Marker showing user's location on FixMyStreet when viewed on a mobile browser
  • When viewing an area, you can access the filters to narrow the reports displayed down by their status (fixed/open etc) and category:Filter options on FixMyStreet's mobile browser interface
  • If you’re about to report something that looks like a duplicate, you’ll not only be shown the report/s that have already been made, but you’ll also see a small inline map without having to scroll back to the main map to check where they are.
  • The site recognises that when you’re on a mobile, the message about uploading a photo shouldn’t invite you to ‘drag and drop’, but rather to either take a new one or select a photo from your phone.Prompt to add a photo on FMS app
  • If you’ve placed the pin incorrectly, the ‘try again’ process is clearer.

Sharing reports

If a picture paints a thousand words, then your Twitter character count just went stratospheric. Now, when you share a report on places like Twitter or Facebook, if there’s a photo included in the report, that will also be pulled through.

Previously, the ‘open graph image’ that was shown by default was the same for every report — which could get a bit boring in aggregate, and certainly missed some of the impact that people might want to share when they’re posting about their own, or others’ reports.

Tweet showing a picture pulled through from a FixMyStreet report

Social media isn’t the only place that FixMyStreet reports can be piped to, though — the site also has several RSS capabilities that have been baked in since its early days.

For those not totally up to speed with RSS and what it can do, we’re now no longer displaying them as raw XML but as a nice simple web page that explains its purpose.

To see this in action, click ‘Local Alerts’ in the top menu of any page. Here’s a before and after:

FixMyStreet RSS feeds before and after a design refresh

What benefits one, benefits all

Much of this work is thanks to NDI, the National Democratic Institute.

NDI offer the FixMyStreet codebase as one of their DemTools, installing it in countries around the world as an innovation which empowers citizens to keep their neighbourhoods clean and safe.

Thanks to this partnership, NDI funded the addition of new features which they had identified as desirable — and which, thanks to the open codebase, will benefit users of every FixMyStreet site worldwide.

There are some other significant additions in this release, including integration, back end and security improvements, all of which will be of most interest to developers and site admins — so if you’d like to see them, head over to the full write up on the FixMyStreet platform blog.

Image: Max Fuchs

Santander bikes parked on a London street. Image by John jackson

Get bikes back to their docks

There’s now a new category on Streetcare, the TfL version of FixMyStreet, for reporting abandoned bicycles.  

The Santander Cycle system, allowing Londoners to travel from A to B cheaply and conveniently, is managed by TfL.  

You hire a bike from one docking station and responsibly return it to another when you’re finished, so someone else can use it. Unfortunately sometimes bikes are not docked correctly and can end up missing and eventually abandoned.

TfL wanted to give citizens a simple way to report abandoned bikes, so they could arrange for them to be collected and returned to the scheme as soon as possible.  TfL asked if we could add a reporting function on Streetcare as an option to report abandoned bikes.

Anyone can make a report quickly and easily on Streetcare, with no need even to provide contact details (unless you want updates on your report). ‘Abandoned Santander cycle’ is one of the category options, and as with any other report, you can add photos and more details, while marking the precise location on a map.

These will be passed to the relevant team so they can go and make the collection — and you can feel like a good citizen, assured that there’s one more bike back in the game and available for use.

Image: John Jackson

A FixMyStreet Pro heatmap

The heat is on

As part of FixMyStreet Pro’s ongoing development programme we’re pleased to announce that the heatmap feature, created with Bromley Borough Council, is now available to all clients on the Avenue tier.

Bromley wanted to see at a glance which issues are most prevalent, and where in the borough they are being reported. The heatmaps we developed in response to this need can be accessed through the staff dashboard.

These can be used in conjunction with the category dropdowns to display the report patterns for just one or any number of categories at a time.

If you’re a subscriber to our Avenue plan, the heatmap is now available to use. Just log in as a staff user, then click Admin > Stats > Heatmap. Let us know if you need any extra support, or if you have feedback about this feature.

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