Admin boundaries and FixMyStreet

When you set up FixMyStreet, you usually need to provide admin boundaries for each of the bodies you'll be sending reports to. If you're lucky, the boundaries might already be available. If not, you'll have to make them. This page explains your options.

Why FixMyStreet needs boundaries

When someone sticks a pin in the map to report a problem, FixMyStreet uses boundaries to answer the question: who is responsible for fixing problems here?

This also means that boundaries can be used to determine if the pin has been put somewhere that is not covered by any bodies.

We've written a separate page about how FixMyStreet uses MapIt, which is the service that determines which area any point (pin) is within. It's helpful to understand how that works — because it also explains how FixMyStreet determines which categories of problem can be reported at any location — but the rest of this page is about making and using the boundaries that FixMyStreet needs.

FixMyStreet finds all the bodies that are associated with the area (or areas) that the pin is inside – those are the bodies to whom the report might be sent. Which of these bodies is actually chosen depends on the category the user selects when they complete their problem report.

Boundaries are independent of your maps!

Boundaries are not really anything to do with maps — they exist independently of the maps you’re using (although, of course, both are about geography). FixMyStreet shows the map before the user clicks on it to place the pin. It doesn’t check the boundaries until after the pin has been placed.

Every body must be associated with an area

So if you’re setting up FixMyStreet to run in your region, you must provide these boundaries to FixMyStreet. Once you’ve done this, you can associate the bodies you’ll be sending reports to with these areas. This is easy to do in the FixMyStreet admin: you simply choose the area (or areas) from a drop-down list when you create or edit the body.

Where to get your boundary data from

If the bodies you are going to be sending reports to are local government departments, it’s possible that this data already exists. We use the admin boundary data from OpenStreetMap, and many countries’ data is already available. If that’s the case for you, then this is going to be easy! You just have to identify the areas you need, and tell FixMyStreet to ignore all the others.

But if the boundaries you need are not already in Open Street Map – maybe nobody has ever put them in, or maybe your government doesn’t publish such data for people to use, or perhaps the areas your bodies use are not admin boundaries anyway – you’ll have to create your own.

The geometry of boundaries

Areas often don’t overlap – because it’s common for local government to arrange its jurisdiction so that each has its own area to cover.

But actually the MapIt service is very flexible, and you can have areas that overlap, or be entirely separate and never touch, or even contain all or part of one another. This is because all FixMyStreet really cares about is asking MapIt “which areas is this pin in?” MapIt may reply with none, one, or many areas, depending on how your boundaries are arranged.

Note that more than one body can cover the same area (actually it’s quite common). For example, two national bodies (the Highways Department and the Water Department) might both have the same national boundary data.

Also, it’s possible to associate a body in FixMyStreet with more than one area from MapIt. For example, a single port authority could be associated with the ports on three different islands.

Types of boundaries

The type of boundary data you need depends on a number of factors, but will probably be one of these:

If you’re not sure which is for you, read through the sections below.

“Everywhere”

This is the simplest boundary: it’s infinte, so anywhere the user clicks is inside the area called “everywhere”.

Use this type of boundary if:

  • the bodies you’re sending reports to don’t depend on the whereabouts of the problem
  • or all the problem reports are always sent to the same, single body
  • you don’t mind that FixMyStreet will never reject any problem report because it’s too far away

The advantage of using the boundary “Everywhere” is that it’s very easy to set up. The disadvantage is that your FixMyStreet will accept clicks anywhere on the map. This may be acceptable if you are limiting your geocoder to a very specific area.

How to set this up

This is the default setup of a new FixMyStreet installation (if you used the installation script or the AMI install).

Set MAPIT_URL to be blank, and set MAPIT_TYPES to the special value ZZZ. FixMyStreet will use a fake MapIt that always returns "Everywhere" as the only area that contains the point — for any location.

Your conf/general.yml file should contain this:

MAPIT_URL: ''
MAPIT_TYPES: ['ZZZ']
MAPIT_ID_WHITELIST: [ ]

Simple approximate area

Sometimes you just need a boundary to broadly determine if a pin in the map is too far away from the single area you’re receiving reports for.

Use this type of boundary if you:

  • don’t need an accurate boundary (for example, “anything roughly near the town centre is OK”)
  • do want to prevent problem reports for locations that are not within this area

How to set this up

You need to install your own MapIt instance, and add the area to that. The MapIt admin interface (which uses the Django framework) lets you click-and-draw a polygon over a map. Alternatively, we run a MapIt server for custom areas like this, so — especially if you are just doing this as a probationary trial — we may be able to host this for you (note though that we do rate-limit calls to MapIt). Either send us KML shape files, or if you can't do that, maybe a clear image of the map with the boundary drawn on it for us to copy.

In your conf/general.yml, you must set MAPIT_URL to either your MapIt or our custom one, and set MAPIT_TYPES to the areas you want (the actual values will depend on what that particular MapIt is returning). You should also set MAPIT_ID_WHITELIST to the ID of the single area you want.

MAPIT_URL: 'http://mapit.example.com'
MAPIT_TYPES: ['CITY']
MAPIT_ID_WHITELIST: [ 133 ]

Simple approximate areas

This is the same as the previous example, but shows that you can have multiple areas. This works best if they don’t need to be very accurate — that is, no colinear borders.

Use this type of boundary if you:

  • don’t need an accurate boundary (e.g. anything roughly in an area is OK)
  • the boundaries don’t adjoin, or are very simple (no crinkly edges)
  • do want to prevent problem reports for locations that are not within these areas

How to set this up

Same as previous example: either set up your own instance of MapIt, or ask to have your boundaries added to our custom one. If you want us to host it, we'll need KML shape files or a graphic showing the boundary clearly shown so we can copy it.

Note that now there may be more than one type of area, and you'll need to explicitly nominate every area you're interested in with MAPIT_ID_WHITELIST (unless you want *all* the areas this MapIt returns for the given type, in which case you can set it to be empty).

MAPIT_URL: 'http://mapit.example.com'
MAPIT_TYPES: ['CITY', 'COUNTY']
MAPIT_ID_WHITELIST: [ 133, 145, 12, 80 ]

Accurate OpenStreetMap data

It’s possible that the admin boundaries of local government in your area are already available in the OpenStreetMap project. If this is the case, FixMyStreet can automatically use them. This is the easiest solution if the data you need is there because we already run two servers (UK MapIt and global MapIt) that make this data available.

Use this type of boundary if:

  • the boundary data for the areas you need is already on OpenStreetMap

How determine if the boundary data is available

Start by finding the lat-long of some of the places you want to cover, and look them up on global MapIt (or maybe the UK one). If you see the "Areas covering this point" include the admin boundaries you need, you're good to go! For example, here's the page for Oslo, in Norway.

Note that our MapIt servers' data may lag a little behind OSM, so if it's not there, look on the OpenStreetMap website just in case it's been added since MapIt's last update. If so, let us know, and we'll pull it in for you.

Here's an example of the steps to follow to find the data you need to use global MapIt. This example uses Zurich as an example city.

  1. Go to OpenStreetMap's geocoder and enter the name of the city, e.g., "Zurich, Switzerland".

  2. Check that's found the right place (and, if you want, check the map is how you expected). Click on the details link just below the name of the top hit. The details page lists lots of data, including the centre point (lat/long values that will look something like -34.9059039,-56.1913569).

  3. Go to global MapIt and paste those lat/long values into the text input.

  4. MapIt will show you all the admin boundaries that contain that point. You're interested in the ones that relate to bodies that serve those areas. For example, if a district council fixes the potholes in that district. Specifically, you need the Administrative Boundary Levels (which will look like O04 or O05), which are the values for your MAPIT_TYPES. Remember this data is boundary data from OpenStreetMap — if the boundaries you need are not shown, you may have to set up your own (described below). You can also click on any of the boundaries listed on MapIt to see the areas they actually cover on the map.

  5. The individual area_ids are also useful, because you put them into the MAPIT_ID_WHITELIST.

Using our MapIt servers: some restrictions

We run two public MapIt services: mapit.mysociety.org covers the UK (because that's where we're based, and it serves our own UK FixMySteet site), and global.mapit.mysociety.org, which covers the whole world. The data we use for global MapIt is from OpenStreetMap, so if someone has put administrative boundary data for your country into OSM, before too long global MapIt will have it too.

Please get in touch with us if you are expecting to generate a lot of requests or if you are using it commercially. We rate-limit calls to MapIt, so if your site gets really busy, you should set up your own instance (we can help you, and the code is on github). But when you're setting your site up to begin with, you can usually get it running using one of our MapIt servers.

How to set this up

In your conf/general.yml file, point MAPIT_URL at the global MapIt server.

Find the areas you need by looking on the global MapIt website or the UK one. You must also nominate the types of area these are (effectively the level of admin boundary it is), and the generation. On global, the area types look something like [ 'O05', 'O06' ]. (Note those contain capital letter O followed by digits). To determine what types you need, look for the codes marked “Administrative Boundary Levels” that MapIt returns — for example, here's global MapIt's data for Zurich.

The UK MapIt types are different. For example, for UK FixMyStreet, we use:

MAPIT_TYPES: [ 'DIS', 'LBO', 'MTD', 'UTA', 'CTY', 'COI', 'LGD' ]

which covers all the UK council types (for example, DIS is district council, CTY is county council).

Finally, limit your installation to the specific areas you're interested in (otherwise you'll be getting areas from the whole world). Identify the specific areas you want to use, and list them explicitly in MAPIT_ID_WHITELIST. You should also set MAPIT_GENERATION, so that your areas can still be found when we update the global MapIt data.

MAPIT_URL: 'http://global.mapit.mysociety.org'
MAPIT_TYPES: ['O06','O07']
MAPIT_ID_WHITELIST: ['12345','345432','978638']
MAPIT_GENERATION: 3

Accurate data that isn’t on OSM

Use this type of boundary if:

  • you need accurate boundaries because the different bodies that solve problems in your region serve specific areas that are geometrically complex and/or are precisely adjacent
  • the boundary data for the areas you need are not already on OpenStreetMap
  • but you do have access to this data from some other source

This means you have to source the data yourself – either by getting your local government to release it, or else drawing it yourself. Then you need to import this data into a MapIt server and use that.

How to set this up

Ideally, if you can source the data from your local government (which means it's definitive), then it's great if you can add it (as admin boundary data) to the OpenStreetMap project. Our global MapIt will subsequently import it and your FixMyStreet can then use it as described in the previous example. If you're going to do that, the data must be open data and you should probably ask about it on the OSM import list first. Of course, if you do this then anyone else in the world who wants the data will be able to use it too, which is why we encourage this approach.

But if you can't do that, or the boundary data you have is not definitive, you can create your own. Use any good GIS software to plot the boundaries accurately, and then export it as KML shape files. MapIt can import these, so you can then either run your own MapIt instance, or ask us to add it to our custom one.

Can you see the boundaries?

FixMyStreet doesn’t normally display the admin areas and boundaries on the maps (mainly because most users really don’t care — they just want to report a problem). But it is possible, with some customisation, to change this behaviour.

If you just want to see a boundary drawn on a map to check that it’s covering the area you want, you can see this by going to the MapIt server it’s on, and looking at that area’s HTML page. For example, see the boundary for Norway on the global MapIt server.