How procurement drove Stockholm’s digital assistance for visually impaired and elderly pedestrians

e-Adept is a life-changing, mobile phone based navigation tool which enables visually impaired persons to move around Stockholm independently. It was made possible thanks to a new and ambitious approach to procurement. Overall, the pilot helped deliver city-wide value by increasing the freedom, mobility and employment opportunities of end users, while resulting in savings for relatives and city services.

Adapting Cities

Most cities are not designed to accommodate the needs of visually impaired. This restricts where they feel confident walking, as it is harder to navigate into unknown areas. In addition to potentially restricting independence and autonomy, decreased mobility may also affect visually-impaired peoples’ social lives, use of public services such as health care, and employment opportunities. The most common response to this type of challenge is to adapt urban infrastructure.

In 1999, the City of Stockholm declared its intention to become the world’s most accessible city by 2010. Up until 2005, this was mainly done through ‘Easy Access’, which included investment in physical adaptations to pedestrian crossings, bus stops, playgrounds, and installing ramps or hearing and speaking devices in public buildings.

Adapting cities, however, can be very challenging. It is often a slow, complex, and capital-intensive process. It requires ad hoc, step-by-step changes to various legacy infrastructures. Moreover, to work effectively, a high level of penetration is required — each and every barrier along the route must be adapted before the entire route is deemed accessible. Where these routes are placed also restricts where people with visual impairments can walk.

Empowering People through Procurement

Unsatisfied with the suboptimal results of their expenditures, the City of Stockholm decided to tackle the problem with a new approach to procurement. This resulted in e-Adept.

What is e-Adept?

e-Adept is a mobile phone based solution which allows users to navigate through Stockholm, assisted by real-time data. It integrates real-time urban data with digital maps, and makes these accessible to the visually impaired.

Users can ask (speech to text) how to get somewhere, and e-Adept tells them (text to speech) how to get there, step-by-step, from their current location. This includes passive and active warnings when approaching streets, changing terrain or passing certain obstacles.

It is also integrated with public transport services, for example guiding users to get on and off public transportation. Moreover, it includes an option where users can share their location and camera with others, so that relatives or social care providers can monitor them as they travel and provide assistance in case of emergency.

How did e-Adept develop?

E-Adept was made possible with a new and ambitious approach to procurement.

The most successful projects are led by an extremely engaged, motivated and committed individual driving the project, be it inside or outside the administration.

Elisabeth Harsanji, Project Manager, e-Adept

The City of Stockholm had recognized that ‘Easy Access’ adaptations were not delivering the best return on investment and so wanted to try to better address the needs of visually impaired people by making the procurement process more needs-driven.

Procurement started with a clear impact goal: helping the visually impaired become more independent, thereby increasing their likelihood of getting into employment and therefore becoming less dependent on social services and their personal support networks. This meant opening the door to different types of solutions.

Don’t do anything unless it’s based on user requirements.

Elisabeth Harsanji, Project Manager, e-Adept

An e-Adept pilot user in Stockholm — Source: Norconsult Astando

Stockholm City Council linked the procurement directly to two consultation meetings with stakeholders. These meetings involved, amongst others, the National Association for the Blind and a newspaper for the visually impaired. This consultation with end users resulted in positive feedback on the idea of a mobile phone-based solution. As a result, the objective identified was simply that a mobile phone should become a navigational aid, without specifying any technical details.

Visually impaired end users were not only involved in the earliest stage of e-Adept, but also participated in the development of the final product. In spring 2011, trials commenced with 13 users, and in fall 2012, in a second round of 7 users tested e-Adept unattended. During the development of e-Adept, user tests were performed almost every other month. User group meetings were also held every six months to ensure functionalities were developed and adapted to their needs.

Start small and with a restricted scope. Add on new things once you have an initial success.

Elisabeth Harsanji, Project Manager, e-Adept

e-Adept resulted from a collaboration between the City of Stockholm Traffic Administration, The Swedish Post and Telecom Agency, the Swedish Transport Administration, and Astando. The project was made financially and technologically feasible thanks to this dynamic collaboration.

Astando was originally commissioned to carry out a pilot project together with its sub-contractors MoSync to explore how mobile phone technology could be used together with the pedestrian road network database. Meanwhile, the Swedish Post and Telecom Agency had initiated a study on navigation tools for people with disabilities available in Sweden. Seeing these parallel developments, the Agency offered development funding if these organizations co-operated and created open services, and so the e-Adept project was born.

The process outlined above helped reinforce the idea that the visually impaired are not passive travelers through cities, but active and autonomous individuals. The participation of end users, in other words, redefined what the procurement project was about. Instead of removing barriers by retrofitting infrastructure, e-Adept empowers visually impaired to overcome barriers.

Aligning value for the user and for city government

For the end user, the benefits include increased independence, giving them a greater degree of choice in what to do and when. It helped them gain access to new facilities such as libraries, restaurants, and other urban amenities. They were able to go on trips feeling safer and to benefit from regular exercise.

In the long term, this could increase employment opportunities and allow for a more dynamic social life. The freedom and autonomy afforded by e-Adept helps reduce users’ dependency on social support networks, alleviating potential strains.

Value created for visually impaired through a digital aid solution in Stockholm. Source: Connected Cities — Your 256 Billion Euro Dividend (see end of post)

The city in general also stands to benefit from the increased autonomy of visually impaired persons. Overall, it is calculated to bring EUR 6,325,000 in benefits to social services and healthcare, for example by reducing paratransit costs by 10%.

The e-Adept service could have an additional purpose beyond assisting the visually impaired in the form of a service useful to tourists, attracting additional visitors. Moreover, the platform can be integrated with a host of commercial, location-based services. The wealth generated through extra tourism is calculated to be more than EUR 1.2 million.

Take Aways

A more open, integrated, and engaging procurement process will deliver value for citizens more effectively. e-Adept was innovative in that it started from an ambitious goal, involved end users, and remained flexible so as to respond to learning. This resulted in a solution that was closely tailored to the needs of end users and may have saved costs for the municipality.

Want to go even deeper?

Check out Chapter 4 of our Handbook on Service Innovation in Cities for a more detailed introduction to e-Adept story and the impact calculations.

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Sascha Haselmayer

Sascha Haselmayer

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Passionate about social + city innovation, delightful procurement, connecting social entrepreneurs and governments. Fellow @ New America | Founder/CEO Citymart