Welcome to the first of our sprint notes.
For anyone who’s interested in our work around Noise, or who would just generally like to understand more about how development is managed at SocietyWorks, these regular catch-ups will allow you to follow along as we progress through the various stages of making a new service.
So: here’s what we did last sprint.
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