Improving accessibility in the city with Open Services
Using 'Open Services', District09 developed an innovative alert message service for and with blind and visually impaired citizens. Results were presented at our launch event and the recent international Smart City congress in Breda (NL).
From Open Data to Open Services
District09 and the City of Ghent have long been making open data available to the public. Our 10-month project Improving accessibility with Open Services ('22-'23) took the City of Ghent's Open Data innovations a step further. Thanks to Next Generation Europe and Gemeente zonder Gemeentehuis funding, we were able to launch our first couple of Open Services to third parties.
Open Services provide reliable, standardised, interoperable and free digital access to digital city services. Such access is facilitated to any interested party (IT-companies and start-ups, but also non-IT companies, associations, students, citizens, etc.) Through Open API-access, these parties can not only request city data, but also submit actual city service requests, directly invoking city functionalities behind the scenes. The concept represents an ongoing transformation where smart city projects shift focus from 'we need a new app' to 'let's give other parties access to city services as digital building blocks'.
First use case for blind and visually impaired citizens
Blind and visually impaired rely on public transportation more than anyone else. Unfortunately, planned and unplanned disruption or detours create problems. Visual signage, such as a poster at the bus stop, does not help. As real-time information is becoming better available through mobile apps, even digital savvy disabled persons still report a steep learning curve and challenging accessibility features.
What if we combined open data from public transport companies with other city data to provide a user friendly, personalised and automated solution?
Together with a user research group, we explored if Open Services are helpful. Continuously involving test group feedback in the development, our service - launched in June 2023 - covers frequent routes (not ad hoc travelling) and minimises the number of steps (no mobile app to be installed, no account to be created, etc.)
Innovation through collaboration
Open Services unlock innovation. Third parties can:
- Offer an alternative user interface (eg. specifically built for a specific target group), through which citizens get access to the service
- Integrate the services in apps, web apps, web pages or any digital channel
- Work on the accessibility and user friendliness of the service, while the city focuses on handling all incoming service requests efficiently and transparently
- Link the service to other processes, or combine it with other useful services (eg. integration in a so called Super-app)
- Work together as different government layers to provide a unified user experience
As a result of this project, any third party with the necessary IT knowhow can connect to our infrastructure and invoke these services, to provide the public with an application based on our alert service.
Every now and then, a good innovation sets things in motion. This was definitely the case for this project. Ideas for improvement continue to surface thanks to regular testing, and the next version of the service is already under development.
One observation about the data was that plenty of data on public space nuisance is available, but predominantly about car lanes, while much less data is available on actual sidewalk nuisance (for pedestrians and wheelchair users alike). So the project triggered collecting structured information on sidewalk nuisance, a useful dataset that will be made available not only through the alert service but also through future applications for better mobility in the city.