Voice interaction design-studio in Rotterdam (NL)

14 May 2019 - Published by Evite van Winkoop
There are many indications that voice interaction will become a relevant part of public service delivery in the future. The big tech companies are investing in development of smarter technologies to enable more natural voice interaction. Although the level of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not yet advanced enough to make voice interaction likely to be implemented as common part of public service provision in very near future, application of voice interaction is already in an early stage in the private sector. Rotterdam wants to know: What opportunities does voice interaction have to offer in the future? To develop our position towards potential development, we need early proofs of concepts. It will inspire our view on future service delivery.

This spring, Rotterdam initiated a design-challenge for 3rd year students of the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, for students of Communication, media and design academy and the Creative Media and Game technologies academy.undefined

The challenge: “How can the municipality of Rotterdam use voice-assistants or voice interaction within future customer services?

In an 8 week sprint, students worked from identification of potential issues and target groups, to customer journeys, and finally to proto-types. Limited testing of the prototypes was part of their assignment. Mastering the technology involved with voice interaction was an important part of the project. Rotterdam municipality offered a masterclass Natural Language Interaction by to the students, to improve the fundamental understanding of this concept, which was highly appreciated.

To facilitate maximum creativity, the students were allowed to explore any issue, in any public service related domain, which meant they could build solutions for challenges in the social-, public space, or citizens services domain.

The subjects they came up with were very diverse. From improving the customer journey of people with a visual disability using our citizens service center, an application helping people with low literacy to apply for new documents, an app helping young adults to get out of their depts, an application for reporting noise nuisance, to an app to improve the study facilities of the public library.


This project gave great insights in new ways to work on customer journeys with people with a disability who are not well able to use the standard methods. It also gave insights in potential possibilities and challenges regarding inclusive ways to provide citizens services to people with a visual impairment or low literacy, and the way voice interaction could really make a difference in the future.

Whereas last years edition of the design challenge lead to the acquisition of a voice assistant for testing in the Digital Experiment Center of the municipality, this version provides input for the general ICT strategy regarding natural language interaction technology. It is food for thought on many levels regarding the development strategy. This will not likely lead to immediate development of such services, but the outcomes will hopefully proof to be helpful in establishing a clear view on necessary requirements for future NLP/AI applications, and strategic decision making.