Koronavilkku was created to help break coronavirus infection chains, and an ambitious goal was set for the app: one million downloads in the first month. This goal was surpassed on the first day, and 2.5 million Finns have downloaded the app to date.
Koronavilkku, developed in two months, is a milestone in our history of mobile apps. The primary design drivers were clarity, reliability, accessibility and security. The app's high adoption rate, Finnish expertise and community spirit have attracted the world’s attention.
The world woke up to the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020. The virus infected millions and its symptoms killed hundreds of thousands. By summer, the virus had caused 300 deaths in Finland as well.
How to break the infection chains? How to communicate information to citizens clearly while protecting their privacy? How to guide exposed individuals to contact healthcare services? To answer these questions, a public call for tenders was organised for a national mobile app that could help break infection chains.
The app had to pass the Finnish National Cyber Security Centre’s information security evaluation and meet the accessibility and clarity requirements set for public digital services. Furthermore, the app had to be integrated with multiple background and national health service systems, which made for a demanding technical implementation and schedule.
Solita’s tender for app development was declared the winner in June. Created on an intensive schedule in the midst of a pandemic and Finland’s traditional summer holiday season, Koronavilkku was released a mere two months later on August 31st 2020.
The team did not allow the incredibly tight schedule to dictate the work. Firm objectives were set for service design: security, clarity, accessibility and project transparency. An ambitious goal of one million downloads in the first month was also set.
During the design process, the team listened closely to the comments and experiences of both healthcare professionals and citizens.
During the design process, the team listened closely to the comments and experiences of both healthcare professionals and citizens. Careful attention was also paid to building trust through active communication and broad collaboration between the different parties: the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), DigiFinland, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela), the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the hospital districts, the National Cyber Security Centre, the Digital and Population Data Services Agency, international operators, etc. The app could only be successful by winning the trust of ordinary Finns and healthcare operators alike.
How Koronavilkku works
Designed and developed by Solita, Koronavilkku anonymously keeps track of the phones encountered by the user that have the Koronavilkku app or another compatible European coronavirus app installed.
The implementation was based on international standards and a decentralised model where there is no centralised place that collects users’ information. In this model, infection chains are identified based on pseudonymised identifiers that cannot be used to identify users. These design choices provide the best privacy protection possible.
Open communication and activating the Finnish community spirit were also at the core of the strategy.
Open communication and activating the Finnish community spirit were also at the core of the strategy. It was decided early on in the development process to publish the app as open source code, so that both enthusiasts and information security professionals could verify its security. The record-breaking download numbers were aided by openness, transparency and ample positive visibility in the media. A persistent effort was made on social media to answer the hundreds of questions citizens asked.
The highest possible quality and accessibility were sought for Koronavilkku from the start.
The app’s reliability, clarity and intelligibility were the focus in development. Accessibility was another important objective, and it steered technological choices, as it is important for public administration applications to be accessible to users with different special needs.
Quantitative objectives were also set as high as possible: the goal was to have one million Finns download the app within the first month. Sufficient numbers and coverage were needed for the app to be an effective tool in breaking infection chains.
An exceptional team spirit between public and private sector operators, as well as international corporations, made rapid development possible without compromising on the demanding objectives.
Expert groups and citizens were included in the design process of Koronavilkku. Remote workshops were used with experts to work out the processes and encounter calculation logic on Koronavilkku's back end.
How the app should function in different situations from the user point of view was designed together with citizens. Qualitative methods were used to include citizens in the design process, as this allowed rapid iteration of the design, which was critical for the project schedule.
The pandemic set its own challenges for participatory design: user interviews were conducted both remotely and face-to-face, sparing no expense in masks or disinfectant.
A prototype was made of Koronavilkku to aid in the interviews. The interviews were used to discover the questions and uncertainties citizens had regarding the app’s functionality, and to determine what instructions would be needed to dispel their doubts. The interviewees’ ability to successfully complete different scenarios presented by the prototype was also evaluated during the interviews: deployment, reporting an infection and receiving exposure notices.
The prototype’s design was continuously iterated on based on the interviews. Problems and successes were compiled into summaries and implementation tasks for further development.
The interview responses underlined the need for clarity, intelligibility and a calm tone. The visual appearance and illustrations produced by Solita were designed to serve these ends, and the same goals also served as guidelines for the app’s text. The text content was designed in collaboration by app developers, experts on the subject, and language editors.
New features related to Koronavilkku were developed for the national Omaolo online service, and as design work progressed, these features were tested with healthcare professionals and end-users.
Accessibility and a good user experience were emphasised in the technology choices made for the implementation: native iOS and Android apps would run the smoothest on their respective operating systems, and they would support the widest range of accessibility technologies.
The figures speak for themselves. The ambitious goal of one million downloads in a month was met in a day. Two weeks after release, the app had been downloaded two million times. Today, about half of Finland’s population have downloaded Koronavilkku onto their mobile device. Koronavilkku has a top adoption rate in Europe relative to the population and it has raised interest around the world: for example dozens of international media outlets have written articles about it, including The New York Times and Reuters. The project received further positive publicity by going well under the initial cost estimates of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
First and foremost, Koronavilkku has met people’s expectations: it is easy to install and use while being secure. The focus on intelligibility and security was a success, as the app has received high praise from Finnish users.
The Koronavilkku project is a shining example of the power of domestic and international cooperation. The project was characterised by international team spirit and openness. The major partners were THL, Kela, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Apple and Google.
The head of the Koronavilkku project, Aleksi Yrttiaho, and the Koronavilkku team have received the Finnish code pioneer award, and the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom has issued the Finnish Cybersecurity Label for the app. The most important recognition of the app’s value is its success in its mission: over 80 per cent of users diagnosed with an infection use the code they receive to report their infection in Koronavilkku, a world-class rate. More than 18,000 people have completed a symptom assessment in the Omaolo service, prompted by Koronavilkku.
Koronavilkku is a milestone in the history of Finnish mobile apps and a concrete example of how technology can be used to prevent the spread of disease and enhance the communication of information. The app has helped break infection chains and save Finnish lives in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Its high adoption rate and the Finnish community spirit have attracted interest across the world.