Information service for immigrants with poor reading skills
What is Discover Helsinki?
Discover Helsinki is a mobile phone information service that provides immigrants with poor reading skills with information about the public services and government agencies of Helsinki. Use of the service does not require literacy: the application can be browsed by pressing on icons and listening to the content.
To use Discover Helsinki, the user opens a web browser on their mobile phone or computer and goes to http://www.loydahelsinki.fi. Multimedia sounds must be turned on. Discover Helsinki is not a downloadable application, but a website optimised for mobile use, i.e. a web application.
After entering the address, the user is taken to the application’s home page. There, the user needs to select the application’s language by pressing the language icons in the top menu bar. Discover Helsinki speaks Finnish, Somali and Arabic. After choosing a language, the user will be taken to the main menu.
The main menu features 10 themes that are indicated with icons. The user listens to each theme by pressing on the icons for a few seconds. By tapping or clicking on an icon, the user will be taken forward in the application’s structure.
The application extensively utilises existing materials produced by governmental and local agencies and the NGO sector to support integration. The main source used is the InfoFinland service maintained by the City of Helsinki, which provides information on living in Finland in 12 languages.
Why Discover Helsinki?
The idea for Discover Helsinki originated from the needs of project’s target group. The KYKY project, predecessor of the Applying talents project, found that many of the project’s customers who were immigrant parents taking care of their children at home were practically illiterate. These individuals’ knowledge of the City’s services and agencies and their own rights and obligations relied on second-hand knowledge.
At the same time, the City of Helsinki, the state and other parties offer a great deal of information that supports integration. This information does not reach the immigrants who have poor reading skills and who, for one reason or another, are unable to take in the information in written format. Discover Helsinki is a solution to this need: it utilises existing information (primarily from the InfoFinland service) and makes it more accessible. Independent information seeking also frees up resources invested in personal guidance when the users are able to explore Helsinki’s service and administrative networks themselves.
When those with poor reading skills are provided with access to information, it has many positive impacts that strengthen the integration of immigrants in a vulnerable position. Having the opportunity to seek information independently is empowering, prevents social exclusion and encourages immigrants to become active citizens. Increased knowledge of services makes it easier to cope in everyday life and, for example, provides stay-at-home parents with the opportunity to consider alternatives to being a stay-at-home parent – such as work or education.
Structure of the application and navigation
Discover Helsinki is based on a hierarchical four-tier structure. The structure’s tiers are indicated with colour-coded tabs that open up when navigating the application. For more detailed user instructions, see here.
- Main menu (Pink tab)
- Topic menu (Green tab)
- Topic-specific submenu (Yellow tab)
- Service description (Orange tab)
From the menu, the user chooses a broad theme that they are interested in. They then choose a more precise topic and its subtopic and continue to the service description related to the subtopic in question, which introduces the user to the service or authority they are interested in.
The service description provides the user with the means to contact the service or agency in question. Literate users are provided with the opportunity to read more information online.
Example of navigation
The user wishes to make an appointment for a dental examination. They first choose the Health care theme from the main menu of Discover Helsinki, and then the Dental care subtopic from the Health care menu. Next, they choose the Dental examination service from the Dental care submenu.
The service description provides information on dental examinations, making appointments and the process of seeking dental care. By pressing the icons in the service description, the user can call and make a dental care appointment or check the addresses of dental clinics on a map, for example.
Service design and needs assessment
The actual development of the service began with a needs assessment and service design in autumn 2017. Application development workshops were held with experts who had contact with the target group in order to develop a website wireframe for the service, i.e. a rough picture of the application’s operating principle and content. The target group was taken into account by holding customer panels in cooperation with immigrant organisations. In total, these customer panels comprised several hundred Somali- and Arabic-speaking customers, who represented different age groups and levels of education. The panels allowed the customers to state their hopes and opinions about the service’s user interface, structure and content. The partners in these efforts included Al-Birr Lähimmäisapu, FINN-MAMU Monikulttuurinen yhdistys and Monik ry.
Software development and graphic design
Software development was launched at the beginning of 2018. In winter 2018, the service idea was presented to the framework agreement partners of the City of Helsinki, and Codento was chosen as a partner for the software development process in spring 2018. The objective set for the process was to implement Discover Helsinki as a functional MVP version, based on which feedback could be gathered for further development.
Discover Helsinki was produced as an open-source solution. Open source code enables similar applications to be developed for the needs of other cities, for example. The software development process was carried out in sprints, applying the methods of agile software development.
In summer 2018, graphic designer Annika Järvelin was chosen as the producer of the graphic design for Discover Helsinki.
Discover Helsinki’s source code was completed on schedule in autumn 2018. The amount of work agreed upon was not completely adhered to, as three more working days of coding had to be purchased due to additional requirements arising in the graphic design.
The content production process for Discover Helsinki was launched alongside the software development and graphic design processes. Content production has continued throughout the process, only ending in July 2019. Within the overall process, content production was the area that proved to be the most challenging in terms of staying on schedule. This was, above all, due to content production simultaneously involving the development of the application: new ideas and needs continuously arise, while previously published content may become outdated or change as services change. The original plan and schedule were very ambitious. Many surprises occurred during the development of the new service. Additionally, cooperation between multiple parties naturally takes time in an organisation as large as the City of Helsinki.
Materials produced by government agencies and the third sector to support integration were utilised efficiently in the application’s content. Most of the content is based on text materials from the InfoFinland website and the City of Helsinki website. The application also utilises the multilingual descriptions of the City’s services that were produced in the City of Helsinki’s Egalitarian Citizen (TAKU) project (2016–2017) and video materials collected in the At Home in Finland project, which is coordinated by the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment for Uusimaa and produced by several governmental and local agencies and organisations. Additionally, the application utilises Finnish language teaching videos produced in the Suomi taskussa project (2017–2018) by Suomi taskussa Oy and the City of Lahti (www.suomitaskussa.eu).
The last content update was released in July 2019, concluding content production for the application. All the 10 main themes shown on the home page can now be listened to with the application. A large amount of content was produced for the application during the project: Discover Helsinki can be listened to in three different languages, and it comprises a total of 137 service description pages.
The communications planner for the Applying talents project was in charge of content production for Discover Helsinki. The content production process progressed as follows: the communications planner first produced the texts that served as the basis for the content of Discover Helsinki, then had them checked by an expert, sent the texts to be translated into Somali and Arabic, delivered the translated and Finnish-language materials to sound technicians and finally edited the audio tapes and released them in Discover Helsinki.
The sound recordings for the application were completed with small-scale producers who were found through the project’s own contacts. Sound technicians were interviewed, and the best candidate was chosen. As a result, the application gained well-functioning voices, with whom cooperation was smooth. The sound recording work was also carried out at a low cost due to the sound producers making recordings as their secondary occupation.
The application was released as a pilot version with Finnish- and Somali-language content in October 2018. Marketing efforts targeted at the target group were launched immediately, and service testing was carried out in conjunction with these efforts. The application was presented to participants of Finnish Courses for Stay-at-home Parents (KOTIVA courses) by allowing the participants to immediately try out Discover Helsinki and give feedback. The Arabic-language version was released in November. Marketing continued throughout spring 2019, ending in June 2019.
In general, the marketing efforts were implemented in two ways. Organisations and agencies that have contact with the target group were informed about the service and received related training. Additionally, contact marketing targeted directly at the target group was carried out. The target group was reached out to through organisations, teaching of Finnish as a second language and, most recently, very effectively through adult basic education groups, among other channels.
Outreach marketing is necessary in Discover Helsinki’s case: due to the poor reading skills of the target group, the service cannot be marketed to the target group by ‘traditional’ means. The advantage of contact marketing is that it enables the target group to be personally instructed in the use of Discover Helsinki, and this allows for the information to be spread within the users’ own communities and networks.
As the application serves as an introduction to the services of the City of Helsinki, it is particularly important that information about the service be disseminated within the organisation. Through marketing efforts, the City of Helsinki Education Division has succeeded in reaching out to the following key operators: Helsinki Skill Center, teachers of Finnish as a second language, KOTIVA courses, the project’s peer-support groups, the Finnish language club Kotoklubi Kaneli, early childhood education and the adult basic education groups at Helsinki Upper Secondary School for Adults. The target group has also been successfully reached out to with the help of these operators. The project’s marketing efforts have received support from the communications units of Helsinki Vocational College and Adult Institute and the Education Division.
Another aim of the marketing efforts was to reach out to other key parties within the City of Helsinki that have contact with the target group. These include social and health care services, the City Executive Office, libraries and other projects. Within the social service and health care sector, the project was particularly successful in reaching out to the immigration unit, which already utilises Discover Helsinki in its daily customer work. The social guidance for adults and family work units held staff training to increase awareness and use of the service. Getting maternity and child health clinics involved was found to be more challenging, even though the target group would be easy to reach out to through them.
Within the City Executive Office, Discover Helsinki is well-known within individual units, such as the Labour Force and Immigration Unit of the Economic Development Division, the editorial staff of InfoFinland within the Communications Division, Helsinki-info and International House Helsinki.
Among operators outside the City, the project has been able to reach out to governmental bodies that work with integration (the Finnish Immigration Service; reception centres; Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment; TE Offices, etc.) and the main immigrant organisations.
In spring 2019, the application was accepted as a candidate into the Sharing & Reuse Awards competition organised by the European Commission for digital solutions developed by public administrations, but it failed to make it to the top ten. The competition promotes the dissemination and reuse of digital solutions developed by public administrations.
User data and website traffic
Discover Helsinki was released in October 2018. Between October 2018 and July 2019, the website has had a total of 2,363 visitors. The average length of a session was 2.30 minutes. During the most active marketing period in November and December 2018, the total number of users was 940, roughly 30–100+ users per day. During the months with less marketing, the daily numbers of users varied greatly, from five to 50 users per day.
Between October 2018 and July 2019, 75% of the application’s users were new users, while 25% were returning users. In January and February 2019, when the marketing efforts were less intensive, returning users accounted for 38% of the users, meaning that the users reached out to through marketing also return to use the application. The browsers used by the users were in various languages. The website sees steady traffic, with users also visiting the website outside of typical working hours, i.e. in the evenings and during weekends.
The user data shows that the target group seeks information through the service on a daily basis.
Outcome and reception
In accordance with the project’s objectives, the project succeeded in producing and releasing a functional low-threshold information service for immigrants with poor reading skills. Intended for Helsinki residents with poor reading and writing skills, the mobile phone application enables the target group to seek information more independently and instruct their children. The target group are also able to find the contact information of the authority in charge of each issue.
The application efficiently utilised existing materials that were produced by governmental, local and third sector operators to support the integration of immigrants.
Discover Helsinki has received a positive response from both users and government agencies. When marketed at the target group at events, the service, provided in the users’ own language, often inspired excitement. The need for the service is quickly identified: the most common question asked in feedback is why the service is not available in more languages. Target group representatives who tried out the service considered Discover Helsinki to be a unique way to learn about things and services independently.
The customer panels found it to be facilitating that the application makes it possible to access general information about a service or agency that is important to the user, even if the user needs help from an interpreter or a friend in contacting the service or agency. It is worth noting that the customer panels considered the service to be a helpful tool in running personal errands in what they found to be a rigid administrative system: knowledge of one’s own rights and obligations is stimulating and empowering.
According to feedback received from government agencies, Discover Helsinki is useful in situations in which a common language or interpreter is unavailable. In such cases, Discover Helsinki can serve as an interpretation tool, allowing the official and customer to listen to the same content, each in their own language. Many other parties could also benefit from the service in the same way if they discovered it.
An external evaluation of Discover Helsinki was conducted by the Helsinki-based software company Utelias Technologies. Utelias develops applications that utilise robotics and voice user interfaces for use in learning contexts. The evaluation is available in full here (in Finnish).
According to the evaluator, Discover Helsinki supports users in their integration process, guides them to basic education and Finnish language studies, provides information on employment paths, guides users to additional information and assistance and puts its users directly in contact with the right parties. The evaluation highlighted the unique nature of Discover Helsinki. Similar solutions or applications have not previously been developed to support the independent information seeking of immigrants with poor reading skills. Because of this, Discover Helsinki has the potential to become a significant product both nationally and internationally.
The evaluator proposed several measures for supporting the development work, which was off to a good start. According to the evaluator, efficient utilisation of the work performed in the Applying talents project requires further investment in Discover Helsinki’s marketing in the future. According to the evaluator, the marketing efforts could also be expanded to cover other areas of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area and the largest cities elsewhere in Finland. Outreach preparedness and, preferably, knowledge of the target group and contacts will continue to be important in future marketing efforts.
With regard to the usability of the service, the evaluator also paid attention to the challenges in content production. Some of the content is rapidly becoming outdated. At present, the process of keeping the content up to date is completely manual: the communications planner reviews the content and compares it to the sources used. This is a very laborious and impractical way of monitoring the content. The City of Helsinki website is updated by several divisions, and the website can change rapidly. Content monitoring that relies on the communications planner is also expensive. According to the evaluator, content management and production could be made more resource-efficient by combining textual content with a text-to-speech function.
Additionally, attention should be paid to closer measurement and monitoring of the outcomes and effectiveness of the service through a feedback collection system built into the application, for example.
Further development and future outlook
Discover Helsinki’s greatest challenge and main area in need of further development has proven to be the narrowness of the service’s target group. Due to this narrowness, the marketing efforts did not always reach the correct target group. The marketing efforts targeting non-Finnish speakers with poor reading skills also encounter learners who require special support and for whom the application’s content is too difficult. However, this particular group has a great need to access information in a way that does not depend on literacy. If this group included non-Arabic and non-Somali speakers, the application also failed to be helpful to them if their Finnish proficiency was insufficient to use the service.
Discover Helsinki is the most useful for native speakers of Somali or Arabic – the application’s Finnish-language content is too difficult for other individuals who are learning Finnish as a second language. Because of this, the service’s range of available languages limits its number of users and audience. The number of ‘organic users’ who use the service has remained low despite the fact that the service is used on a daily basis. The number of users is insufficient, particularly in comparison to the service’s costs.
Another area clearly in need of development is the service’s profile. At the end of the Applying talents project, Discover Helsinki should find a new ‘home base’ within the City of Helsinki organisation. What makes this challenging is the lack of clarity regarding the service’s profile and purpose. Discover Helsinki was developed in the Education Division based on the history of the KYKY and Applying talents projects, but it also serves other divisions. The application contains a great deal of information on social and health care services and more general civic information, for example. This makes it difficult to identify a natural place for the application to be relocated to. At the time this report was written, a new owner had yet to be confirmed for Discover Helsinki within the City of Helsinki organisation.
Because of this, any further development of Discover Helsinki must start with consideration of 1) how the application’s user base can be expanded and 2) how the application’s profile can be made clearer.
As a solution to this, the Applying talents team proposes that plain Finnish be added to the available languages. Adding plain Finnish will expand the audience of Discover Helsinki to cover all learners of Finnish who find it difficult to learn from or find written information. Additionally, based on feedback we have received from teachers of Finnish as a second language, adding plain Finnish would enable Discover Helsinki to function as a tool for learning Finnish, and, by adding new features, for learning how to read.
The expansion of the target group should also be taken into account in the service’s marketing. Illiteracy both limits the service’s user base and is very sensitive, or even stigmatising, as a term. During the Applying talents project, this description naturally came to be avoided in practical marketing. In marketing efforts, the service’s target group should be defined as ‘beginner Finnish learners’ or ‘beginner Finnish literacy learners’, for example.
In the process of developing Discover Helsinki from a prototype or pilot version into a viable and permanent product over the long term, attention should also be paid to improving the service’s resource-efficiency. The majority of Discover Helsinki’s costs stem from personnel resources, i.e. the wage costs for the communications planner who is in charge of maintaining and updating the application and producing new content for it. The service’s costs could be lowered by automating the monitoring of the content and transferring the responsibility for content management to a party that manages it in any case (such as InfoFinland). Once the text-to-speech function also becomes available in Somali, the application can move on to text-based content, making it simpler and faster to keep the application up to date.