Creating an effective peer-to-peer alarm network in social housing neighbourhoods for Homies

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Project background
Insurance company Achmea and consulting and IT services company Accenture commenced a collaboration in the fall of 2015 in an attempt to address burglary damages in social housing apartments. This project was called ‘Homies’. In order to achieve their goal of reducing burglary costs, the Homies team created a concept for an in-home alarm system that warns a network of neighbours, family and friends through messaging service WhatsApp whenever it is triggered. Homies’ working method is based on the ‘Lean Startup’ method: their aim was to start as soon as possible with releasing ‘minimum viable products’ (MVPs) to their (potential) customers and end users. Housing corporation Ymere agreed to participate in pilots, and facilitated the contact with its tenants. For this graduation project, I was able to use Homies’ pilots to test my own interventions and gather insights.

Break-in-and-entering in homes is a problem of substantial size in the Netherlands, in which socially deprived neighbourhoods suffer disproportionally. There are many stakeholders that are negatively affected by it, among whom victims and their neighbourhoods, governmental institutions, insurers and housing corporations. From my research on how Homies could address this problem, I discerned three major challenges:
1. Decreasing damages from break-in and burglary
2. Availability for social tenants
3. Promoting social cohesion

Research process
As the Homies concept was already being developed and tested in a pilot at the start of my graduation project, it seemed worthwhile to research the prototype in use, as well as its pilot users. My process consisted of interviews, observations, interventions, simulations with end users and creative sessions. The insights that I gained during this research, were in some cases directly used to alter the Homies concept and prototype (MVP). At the end of this process, I had contributed to an increase in the amount of neighbours that are warned for each alarm from less than one to 5 on average, helped boost the responsiveness of neighbours after an alarm fired and reduce the average time it took to assess if it was false alarm to below three minutes in 90% of the cases.

Key redesign factors
My research led me to believe that Homies’ mission and vision for its product and service have clear merits, but there are many factors that could impede success. I defined five key redesign factors, based on my research insights. I addressed these in a redesign for Homies’ service, that focuses mostly on a new interface that is meant to replace WhatsApp.
1. Guide users through alarm situations
Departing from the very limited possibilities for guiding alarm situations in WhatsApp, creating a new interface for users during alarm situations opens up many opportunities for Homies to guide their users in the best possible way. The redesign was specifically made to only give each user information that is relevant to them in that exact moment, and to suggest very specific actions that would lead to effective follow-up. Each view of the app is specifically designed to guide the user in taking their next step. As a significant part of the target group (social tenants) are low-literate, have little experience with technology and mobile phones and are insecure about their capabilities, I aimed for a design with decreased dependence on reading and writing skills, opting to always give users a few clear options for their next action, enhanced with as many visual cues as possible.
2. Provide better insight and oversight for users and Homies
By creating a new interface, social translucence can be taken into account specifically. Users will then be better able to work together and account for each other’s needs in the situation. Next to this, each button-press or other interaction within the concept can be captured by Homies and used towards understanding both user behaviour and the specific conditions of each alarm situation, which can be of great value for improving their service: the behaviour of individual users can be tracked back in more detail. Additionally, all aggregated data can be used to show trends and patterns in both user behaviour and alarm situation specifics. Homies can collect statistics on user, home and neighbourhood level and build a system of positive reinforcement for its end users around improving scores.
3. Reduce dependence on third party apps
Progressive web apps (PWAs) have the potential to solve Homies’ WhatsApp dependency and improving the alarm follow-up user experience, while also omitting the necessity for a native Homies app for each different smartphone OS.
4. Show users the value of Homies as integral part of the user journey
This custom interface that guides users better during the alarm situation, can easily be used during the onboarding process to simulate alarm situations. These simulations could provide a perfect environment for users to be prepared for alarm situations.
5. Engage users effectively over long time spans
It is important to keep users effectively engaged throughout their Homies membership, as it is important that, in each alarm situation, enough alarm group members engage in follow-up behaviour, otherwise Homies can’t effectively decrease burglary and fire damages. The onboarding process is designed following the effective engagement model that Yardley et al. (2016) propose: behaviour change is mediated by the digital behaviour change intervention (DBCI), where in the first phase, the DBCI prepares the user for behaviour change in a set of ‘micro’ level moment-to-moment engagements that keep the user come back to the DBCI. Throughout these micro level engagements, the DBCI aims to get the user to identify and engage with the larger intervention goals, which reinforce the user’s motivation to keep engaged on the micro level. The combination of these levels of engagement can then in turn bring the behaviour change about, onto a point where continued engagement with the DBCI is not necessary to keep the behaviour change.