The City of Helsinki sources insights through the eyes of its citizens

Jyrki Kallinen


Cities could be considered as living organisms. Cities have hearts, and these hearts beat when citizens live their lives, go to work, hobbies or buy groceries. Cities’ hearts beat when people move around the city and experience things, meet each others and exchange thoughts. Depending on time, trends, local developments and macroeconomic factors the city’s heart rate varies. While all cities have their history and cultural legacy, a city would not exist without its citizens who make the city what it is today. Developing any city requires collaboration between the city administrators and the citizens. This collaboration requires smart insights.

Helsinki is the capital and most populous municipality of Finland, having the population of around 645 000 (1,46 million in the greater metro area). Established in 1550, Helsinki became the capital of Finland in 1812. Known for its endless drive for development, Helsinki has adopted novel technological innovations to further enhance the city’s functions, operations and living quality of its residents. In September 2017 the Mayor Jan Vapaavuori presented his proposal concerning the new Helsinki City Strategy for 2017–2021. The City Council approved the City Strategy “The most functional city in the world”, and now Helsinki is on the mission to reach its ambitious goal.

The ongoing 6Aika program

One of the components integrated in the above-mentioned strategy is the 6Aika (“Six City Strategy”) program. It is selected to be Finland’s lead program in the 30th anniversary of the EU cohesion politics, and it is run in collaboration with the cities of Espoo, Vantaa, Tampere, Turku and Oulu. The thematic streams of the program link to learning, transportation, healthcare and gaming. Open data and interfaces, open participation and open innovation platforms are the fundamental principles that steer a variety of projects run within the program.

In a nutshell, the goal is to develop more open and smarter services while generating new type of knowhow and jobs in the cities taking part in the program. “We consider the 6Aika program as an investment in the future of Helsinki and all its residents”, opens Heli Rantanen, Head of Citizen Interaction Team at the City of Helsinki. “We aim at being the most functional city in the world, and we think that things like openness, participation and technologies enabling these principles to materialize are in the core of our strategy”, Rantanen points out.

Citizens’ view in the design

“The most important asset for us are the people of Helsinki. We design new districts, services, and cultural initiatives for our people, citizens who live here. Thus we want to include the citizens’ perspective in all possible things we do, enabling them to influence from the very beginning”, Rantanen describes. The citizens’ perspective was also at the heart of the project when the City of Helsinki kicked off the collaboration with Crowst.

Crowst is a service, but it is also a technological platform that enables crowdsourcing insights. “The way Crowst App works sounded very interesting to us so we wanted to have a first-hand experience on what the service is capable to deliver”, Rantanen outlines. “We saw Crowst as a new, innovative channel to hear people out, and try out a new type of dialogue with them.”

Eyes around the city

The City of Helsinki, like all other major cities, have a variety of offices, public facilities and touchpoints with people. Some of these may be serving the needs of tourists, some general public, some specific segments of the city’s citizens. Museums, libraries, social welfare and healthcare facilities, swimming halls, sports venues and public parks. These are just examples, naming just a few of the thousands of locations around the city where the citizens and city staff meet face-to-face.

“Naturally, we have carried out plenty of research that aim at mapping out the customer satisfaction in our services and public touchpoints. One of the challenges we have had is the fragmentation of the channels we have used to collect the information. In some cases we use digital channels, but we also still have traditional, “message in the box” type of feedback mechanisms in use”, Rantanen describes. Crowst Dashboard, accessed online, provided a centralized channel to target and launch studies, as well as to track the arriving responses in a single location, in real-time.

HAM Helsinki Art Museum, one of the locations included in the collaboration between The City of Helsinki and Crowst, aiming at mapping out the quality, clarity and style of signage. The citizens responded using the Crowst mobile app running on their smartphones.

The objective for the collaboration was to find out what the Helsinki citizens think about the placement, clarity and style of the signage in selected facilities of the city. The location-based study covered selected libraries, sports venues and swimming halls, museums, and public facilities across the city. From each location, 10 responses were set to be received, including the respondents’ answers to the signage-related questions and photographs from the spot. The results provided a rich set of data, including the evaluation, reasoning and justification of the respondents, coupled with the imagery they had taken themselves on the location.

Insights beyond the data

“It’s surprising how much you actually can learn from the responses”, comments Rantanen. “Obtaining results on the placement, clarity and style of the signage is one, valuable thing. The other one is the context and reasoning by the respondent; if the facility is not familiar to him/her before, it is eye-opening to read about the thoughts on the purpose and function of the facility in general”, Rantanen continues. “For some respondents the purpose of the space they visited wasn’t very clear even after stepping inside, Rantanen points out. “This type of information helps us to find ways how to clarify the positioning of the space in general”, Rantanen concludes.

By working with Crowst we have learned the strength of mobile in sourcing direct insights from citizens. People are able to respond using their smartphones, which means the responses and automated insights are available on the Crowst Dashboard, always up-to-date.”

“By working with Crowst we have learned the strength of mobile in sourcing direct insights from citizens. People are able to respond using their smartphones, which means the responses and automated insights are available on the Crowst Dashboard, always up-to-date”, Rantanen explains. The insights available on the Crowst Dashboard can benefit a variety of departments at the city. People working on the functions of culture, healthcare, transportation, or environmental factors are able to access direct citizen pulse and take the learnings into their daily work.

“During this collaboration experiment, Crowst showed how citizens’ direct participation and interaction of tomorrow could look like”, Rantanen closes.