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Daffodils, dolphins and diamonds: How we helped Living Streets motivate thousands of school children to be healthier.

A generation ago, 70% of people in Britain walked to school - now it’s less than half that.

Living Streets came to us with a clear problem they needed to fix, and, appropriately, it was traffic based. Their Travel Tracker tool was not coping well with the success of the initiative, and classroom users and school administrators were experiencing problems with the site crashing or slowing down to such a degree that recording the journeys of 30 excited school children was becoming an impossible task.

The Travel Tracker tool is designed to help incentivise school children to take a more active journey to school. Children record how they get to school each day using an easy icon selector, and are awarded badges if they exceed a set threshold of active journeys.

This tool needed to be rebuilt and improved upon to ensure that during peak registration times, when schoolkids all over England, Scotland and Wales are logging in to record how they got to school, the system continued to load quickly and not only record all of those journeys, but also make complex calculations according to how many school days there are in that week, how many active journeys each child had made that week, and how engaged that entire class was that month.

This was a really interesting problem for us to tackle, for two reasons:

  1. The tool already existed and needed to be rebuilt, but in a more robust way
  2. The traffic usage is restricted to a tiny window each day (the start of a school day), so the site would need to be able to cope with a high peak without affecting performance

We spent a period of time in Discovery with Living Streets and internally, ensuring that we understood the needs of the different user groups, from school teachers to children to local authorities. We mocked up data to test how we would ensure that our rebuild could withstand the unusual traffic patterns and demands, using exciting tools that let you hammer servers with traffic - it’s impossible to have a bad day in the office when you get to use sites called Bees With Machine Guns!

Living Streets knew their audience really well, and provided brilliant insights into their analytics and created user stories for us to explore. This meant we knew exactly who our users would be, what they needed to do on the site, and the challenges we faced with the morning registrations.

The key part of the brief was of course to handle the traffic. However, it was also a great opportunity for the Living Streets team to get improvements made to the site along the way, such as:

  • We built in translation tags from the beginning of the build so that the site will be able to be translated in the future and begin its spread towards a global Travel Tracker!
  • We’ve built in lots of different ways of manipulating the data by the site admins, so they can view a lot of complex data sets in more simplified ways.
  • We’ve built out a new registration system on a Department of Education powered database that allows schools to search for themselves and get set up on the tool really easily and quickly, with minimum information input from them.

We worked closely with the project team at Living Streets, with weekly check in calls and daily communication via our project management tool to ensure good two way communication and regular updates. We knew we needed to rebuild the old site with all of its functionality, but worked with Living Streets in an Agile way to enable new functionality to be briefed in using prioritisation in order for us to deliver maximum value for them.

The new tool launched in August in time for schools returning from their summer holidays, and we’ve continued to monitor the performance of the site closely using New Relic, giving us great insights into this. We can see how many users are recording journeys and if we need to increase the server power behind the site, ensuring the performance remains optimal. So far the highest number we’ve seen has been 72,000 registrations a day, and we’re eagerly anticipating reaching a forecasted 140,000 later in the year.

If you’re interested in finding out how DEV can support your work at scale then we’d love to hear from you.

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