We’re longstanding supporters of LocalGovCamp, the conference where innovators in Local Government come together to share knowledge on how to improve services.
This year we’re both sponsoring it and running a couple of hands-on, interactive sessions. All online, of course, given the way things are these days.
On Tuesday 6 October, join a mySociety-led discussion with Mark and Zarino, on how consistent data standards across councils could open the doors to much better innovation.
We’ll be looking at our own Keep It In The Community project, nodding to our Council Climate Action Plans database, and inviting attendees to join a wider discussion on how we can encourage better joined-up data across councils.
And on Weds 7 October, our designer Martin will be running a mock ‘consequence scanning’ exercise. He’ll take participants through a new and useful way of assessing and mitigating risks in new government services, as conceived by Dot Everyone, recently taken up by Future Cities Catapult, and now used successfully in service design workshops by SocietyWorks.
We hope you’ll come along and enjoy some good discussion and deep dives into local government service improvement: find out more and book your place here.
We’ve now made it much easier for councils who have FixMyStreet Pro installed to:
The more you can do with your forms, the easier — and maybe even safer — it is for everyone.
For example, when someone picks “highways obstruction”, you might want to tell them that if the obstruction is a potential cause of accidents, they should make their report by phone.
Or when the ‘graffiti’ category is picked, you might want to add a question like, “Is this graffiti offensive?”. If the answer is ‘yes’, you know that you need to act more speedily to get it removed.
Pro users have always had the ability to do this, but we’ve now made it much simpler.
We’ve also added some extra functionality: if desired, when a user selects a particular category, or selects a particular answer to a question the form can be disabled altogether.
Here’s what these options look like in your admin interface:
Just check the box if you’d like submission to be disabled when a specific category is chosen. To add questions, use the ‘add field’ button.
Once you’ve created your question/s, you can use the interface above to decide what happens when they are answered in specific ways.
Why would you want to disable your forms?
Well, thinking again of highways obstructions, you may wish to ensure that any and every such report is reported by phone rather than via the site, so that it can be attended to as a matter of urgency.
As soon as that category is chosen, you can display a message to say ‘Please report all highways obstructions by phone, for rapid attention‘ and give the relevant phone number.
Any user who doesn’t register the message, and continues to try using the form (let’s face it, we all skim text on the internet), will find that they can’t submit it.
If required, you can also add a link to point the user to a more suitable place to make their report. This means that you may even want to include categories for issues that you don’t actually deal with.
If you already know, for example, that your residents come to FixMyStreet trying to report gas and water leaks, parking issues or antisocial behaviour, you can include these as options, but disable the form submission and provide the correct link to take them to a preferable reporting route.
Finally, just a small thing but one which will save you time and effort: we’ve made it easier to change category titles.
We’ll be adding all these details to the user manual imminently, and hope you enjoy the increased flexibility and control that these features give you.
Image: Toa Heftiba
Sometimes the route that’s best for the user isn’t the most obvious one. And sometimes, it takes talking to users to find that out.
When someone goes to make a report on FixMyStreet, they’re asked two things: the location of the issue, and its category.
Categories are set by each individual council and usually reflect their own internal structure — so for example, reports about potholes might be routed to the road maintenance crew, while reports about overflowing bins go to the waste management team.
Some councils have just a few categories (covering all bases with the broad titles of roads, graffiti, fly tipping, parks, pavements, and ‘other’) while many have a very detailed list (potholes, road markings,street signs, road blockages, spillages, and that’s just for starters…).
For a few years now, we’ve grouped subcategories under main headings, to make it easier for users to navigate what can turn into quite long drop-downs. And that seemed to deal with that.
Until one of our council contacts did a little user research and discovered something that’s actually quite clear once it’s pointed out: users don’t necessarily all think the same way about categories that the council does.
It’s easy to assume that every subcategory of report has its own natural place — so for example, potholes sit under road repairs, while a pile of rubbish at the side of the road would go under fly tipping.
But say you want to report a piece of graffiti in the park loos. Would you look under ‘parks’, ‘public toilets’ or ‘graffiti’? Ideally the user picks the correct category so that the report can be forwarded to the cleaning crew, but we can’t assume they have the required insider knowledge on which is the best choice.
Now, with a bit of clicking round, the chances are that most users will eventually find the most relevant category — but why make them put in the effort? Our contact suggested that we introduce a simple change that should make things easier for everyone: so FixMyStreet Pro client councils can now opt to put any subcategory under one or more headers. If this is something you’d like to explore, drop us a line.
Our developers say: “The techy detail is that this is mostly getting in to FixMyStreet via the standard Open311. We fetch a list of services which contains details like category name, sometimes a description, the code to use for the council’s backend system and, optionally, a group.
“We’re now allowing the group to be a comma separated list of groups rather than a single one. It’s slightly trickier than that as it’s possible you want a comma in your group name so what we’re really doing is allowing the group item to be a single line of CSV which handles things like commas etc. We then parse this and where we stored a single group per category we now store a list of groups.”
If you didn’t follow that, don’t worry: all you need to know is that categories can now go under more than one header, and that life should be slightly easier for your residents as a result.
Image: Abraham Barrera
It’s obviously good citizen behaviour to report something that needs fixing to your council, whether it’s a pothole that could cause an accident, or a broken streetlight that has plunged the area into darkness.
But there’s one type of report that isn’t very useful to councils, and in fact brings unnecessary costs and inconvenience: when you tell the council about an issue that’s already been flagged up by someone else.
FixMyStreet has always been helpful in this regard. It was groundbreaking in displaying all reports in public, unlike most council systems when we were first developing it. A user who goes to make a report can see right away if there’s already a pin in that spot, and check whether the existing issue is the same one they were going to add.
Now we’ve taken that concept a step further in some work which was first trialed on Bath & NE Somerset’s implementation of FixMyStreet Pro and is now available to all councils on the Avenue plan.
When a user starts to make a report, the system checks to see if there are any other open reports in the same category within a small radius. If it finds any, you’ll see a prompt, like this:
All similar reports will appear here. If you think one might be identical, but aren’t sure, you can click ‘read more’ to see the full text along with any photos attached to the report:
And if you recognise it as the issue you were about to report, you click the green button and will be given the option to subscribe to it, so you know when it’s being seen to, effectively being kept just as up to date as you would be if you’d made the original report:
If it’s not the same issue, no worries: just click ‘report a new problem’ and you can do just that:
Thank you to Bath & NE Somerset who trialed this feature and provided feedback before we rolled it out to everyone else on the Avenue plan.
We’d been keen to hear from you if you have any feedback or if you’ve seen a reduction in the amount of duplicate reports received.
Image: Kevin Grieve
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
If you’ve used FixMyStreet recently — either to make a report, or as a member of a council who receives the reports — you might have noticed that the site’s automated emails are looking a lot more swish.
Where previously those emails were plain text, we’ve now upgraded to HTML, with all the design possibilities that this implies.
It’s all part of the improvements ushered in by FixMyStreet Version 2.0, which we listed, in full, in our recent blog post. If you’d like a little more technical detail about some of the thought and solutions that went into this switch to HTML, Matthew has obliged with in a blog post over on FixMyStreet.org.
Still got questions? Join one of our regular Friday webinars and let’s hear them.