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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

Image by Abraham Barrera - several roads converge into one, aerial view

Subcategories in multiple categories

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.

Picking a category and subcategory on FixMyStreet

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

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