Chatbot YANA guides youngsters on their way through Mechelen
In the city of Mechelen (Belgium), youngsters can now activate an extra digital layer of security when they go out. The city has developed a chatbot, YANA (“You Are Never Alone”), together with arinti, that can accompany you through the city. The chatbot automatically sends messages to your contacts when you have arrived safely, or alerts someone when you don’t respond to the bot in time.
The chatbot has been given the name YANA, an abbreviation for “You Are Never Alone”. YANA is an application that you can use via Facebook Messenger. It allows you to chat with the digital nightlife assistant as you would with friends or family. The difference is that there is now an automated chatbot on the other side of the screen, which asks you via messages whether you have arrived at your destination safely. All you have to do is provide the details of your trip, and contact information for one or more people you trust in advance. These contacts will then be notified when you arrived safely at your destination, or when you don’t reply within a certain timeframe.
“YANA will ask you where you are going, at what time and by which means of transport. It calculates when you should arrive and if you do not respond quickly enough upon the expected time of arrival, it informs your contacts,” explains Wouter from arinti.
It's super user-friendly and useful for when you feel unsafe, especially late at night.
sense of security
The chatbot was publicly launched in July ’21, but was previously tested by a number of youngsters, for whom the app is mainly intended. “I think it’s super important that something like this exists, because it often happens that you don’t feel safe, especially late at night. When you go to an unknown place or meet someone unknown, the chatbot can give you an extra sense of security”, says Lisa, one of the first testers.
“It is especially useful for teenagers who still have worried parents,” Lisa continues. “They are often asked to let their parents or other contacts know when they have arrived safely, but that is also often forgotten. YANA will help you with that by sending you reminders.”
Eleen Naessens, Social Prevention Service city of Mechelen
There are already cities and municipalities with a chatbot, but nowhere is there such a focus on the feeling of safety of young people. By adding a comprehensive reporting function, we can also encourage young people to report more matters. Because although young people use the public domain very often, the threshold to report something is often still too big.
Notifications to the city
Via YANA, young people can also report matters to the city, for example if they are confronted with violence or if something has been damaged in the public domain. “It is also an instrument for finding out the perception of young people of the city. If it concerns aggressive behavior or violence, the police will immediately receive a report,” says youth and prevention alderman Abdrahman Labsir (Open VLD).
“We are very happy to be able to launch this unique project and it also comes at the ideal time, now that young people can gradually enjoy the city and our nightlife scene again,” concludes Labsir.
“When the youngster leaves home, for example while going out, the chatbot asks the departure location, destination and means of transport,” says Managing Partner Wouter Baetens. “With that information, an arrival time is calculated. Once arrived, YANA asks the user to confirm and a message is sent to the contact person. If there is no response from the youngster, the contact person is automatically called so that they can try to contact the young person.” For the SMS and call-functionalities, arinti and the City of Mechelen collaborate with mobile operator Proximus.
The chatbot has been intensively tested by ten young users in recent months. “It was a very positive experience,” says Lisa (22). “The chatbot is accessible and user-friendly. It is tailored to youngsters, with short answer options (quick replies) to choose from. Now that there are activities again and we can go out more often, it is important that we can feel safe. YANA can offer added value in this, especially because as a youngster you sometimes forget to notify your contact person(s) when you have arrived safely. I will definitely recommend it to my friends.”
When developing YANA, a lot of privacy concerns were taken into account. “Because young people are a vulnerable group, so it is important to be extra careful,” says arinti. “The chatbot was made with Microsoft technology and is very safe in that regard. Furthermore, the young person himself decides how much information he or she wants to share. For example, when a notification is sent to the city, it is not mandatory to provide your name or contact info and only certain city services can access that info.”
Smart in the City - prize
YANA was realized thanks to winning the “Slim in de Stad” (smart in the city) prize. “The fact that young people are involved in a smart city project in this way is unique,” says Eleen Naessens of the Social Prevention Service. “There are already cities and municipalities with a chatbot, but nowhere is there such a focus on the feeling of safety of young people. By adding a comprehensive reporting function, we can also encourage young people to report more matters. Because although young people use the public domain very often, the threshold to report something is often still too big.”