Stockholm, Sweden

SDG 9: Industry innovation and infrastructureSDG 10: Reduced inequalitiesSDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities

According to the annual investigation Svenskarna och Internet (Swedes and the Internet), an overwhelming majority of the population seemed to experience little or no difficulties using the Internet and its various tools. However, it turned out that SCB did not sufficiently include people with functional variations, which led the investigation to conclude that almost no one experienced difficulties as a result of those variations. According to functionality NGOs, their members experienced severe difficulties in using Internet tools, suggesting that contemporary Internet and smart technology design favours normative functionalities in society, thus effectively excluding a large proportion of the population (up to 15–20%). Even a smaller percentage suggests a substantial challenge in terms of democracy and possibilities for a transition to smart and energy efficient urban development.

In order to confront this challenge, new tools needed to be developed because no actor had previously been concerned with designing for various physical and cognitive functionalities. Actors from functionality NGOs and Stefan Johansson, a PhD from KTH and founder of the accessibility specialist start-up company Funka teamed up to address this issue together with Begripsam and the development company Access Lab. Begripsam had evolved as a project funded by Arvsfonden and Konsumentverket 2013–2016 and had mapped and framed the problem as viewed by the target groups. Begripsam then evolved into an NGO and a private company working with cognitive accessibility. The commonly agreed objective between these actors was to design prototypes of products or services facilitating Internet participation among certain target groups of individuals with functional variations. Chosen target groups were cognitive variations and visibility due to especially challenging conditions with regards to using the Internet. The DataSmart project was then initiated in 2017.

Good Practices & Solutions

DataSmart initially conducted data collection and then proceeded to develop data visualisations. Individuals of the stakeholder groups have been involved in testing prototypes all through the course of the project. However, because individuals within the target groups are unable to test prototypes due to their cognitive functions, alternative forms of visualisation have to be employed. Thus, various cognitive pedagogues are being hired to facilitate the testing process, one notable example being theatre-like scenarios of exposing target groups to the prototypes. Metaphors have also proven to be a successful alternative pedagogic tool. Thus, knowledge is created jointly regarding what works for the target groups.

Another issue being managed in DataSmart is democracy within the stakeholder constellation. The target group suffers from obvious limitations in exercising influence over the process, putting firm demands on Begripsam and the other designer actors to make efforts to empower them. Target group participants lack reading and writing skills, but for example they can make choices on which colour schemes to use in prototypes. The guiding principle has been to let target groups make decisions whenever possible if this serves the common objectives. Complete democracy and co-creation, however, is deemed unachievable in this process. At this point, the process has potentially been more time and resource consuming due to the particular preconditions of the target groups, but had they not been sufficiently included in the design process the end results would risk being inapplicable.

Social interaction such as joint meals, as banal as it might seem, proved to be crucial for enabling cooperation among the participants for various reasons; target group members are usually lacking in money and therefore risk going hungry, which would affect their capacity for participating, whereas the designers involved revealed – at least initially – a strong prejudice towards working with the target groups. Joint meals and other forms of interaction substantially mitigated these conditions and the designers renounced much of their previous skepticisms towards working with individuals who were notably different from the norm.

Outcome & Opportunities

The data collection phase generated the insight that about 40% of people with functional variations experience difficulties using the Internet. One reason why previous enquiries did not satisfyingly generate this insight turned out to be that questions were posed in a way that individuals with certain cognitive diagnoses were unable to understand and answer.

DataSmart has subsequently designed two user-friendly and iteratively tested products for gathering data from the target groups regarding their Internet use. Discussions with KTH Innovation regarding the scaling up and commercialisation of these products are currently on-going. Moreover, the data collection phase has suggested that corresponding errors are being made when statistically investigating various issues other than functionality and Internet use, demanding more initiatives similar to DataSmart.

Lessons learned & Recommendations

Stefan Johansson from Funka stresses the importance of curiously exploring a diversity of methods rather than attaching oneself to one designated method. Furthermore, self- reflection and self-critique is a fundamental part of DataSmart’s process, for example, with regards to participation; are the stakeholders really involved or are only certain groups or individuals able to use the tools with which the process is carried out? The answer needs to develop out of a co-creative process and be re-evaluated regularly as the various phases of the process in iterative loops are tested. It may become apparent that one actor is given considerably less time or resources than others. Providing the means of influencing the process and its decisions to those with little resources is key to achieving lasting results for the end users and to realise the main objectives in a project such as this. This in turn requires less conventional ways of operating, i.e. experimenting. The level of involvement consciousness expressed in DataSmart is likely due to the participants having such unalterably asymmetrical prerequisites and resources.

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Project: Stockholm Co-creation