We interviewed Roland Luzi, Coordinator for our Swiss member Diakonie Schweiz on their work on innovation in the social sector.


Please would you give us a brief overview of the i-need app project and how it uses innovations to its advantage?

At the beginning of 2016, IG-Werke (www.diakonieforum.ch), an interest group of the Diakonische Werke (social welfare organisations of the church) of the former Diakonieverband Schweiz (Swiss Diaconial Association), together with some representatives of these organisations and parishes and churches from Zurich, set up a “Round Table on Aid to Refugees”. This gave rise to the idea of providing information and guidance for refugees. In December 2016, a website (www.i-need.ch) and a corresponding app called “i-need” were launched, with which refugees can get information in a simple and intuitive way about offers that might be useful to them. Based on the initial question “What do you need?”, users are always provided with up-to-date information on where (locally) and at which institution, for example, in the city of Zurich, help is offered with various basic needs (food, meals, accommodation, medical assistance, general advice, language courses and meeting places). In the meantime, the cantons of Aargau, Basel-Stadt, Baselland, Bern, Graubünden, Lucerne, Zurich and the city of Lausanne and its surrounding area have signed up. The eastern Swiss cantons of St. Gallen and Thurgau and the canton of Ticino in southern Switzerland will be the next to join. Regional managers are keen to ensure that the offers are kept updated and any new ones added. There will therefore soon be offers throughout Switzerland.

This app for refugees and those in need works like a navigation system, which makes them quickly and securely to what they are looking for such as a German language course or a legal advice centre. The content is automatically translated into the display language to which the smartphone or mobile phone is set. This means for example that if a smartphone is set to English, the content will be automatically translated into English for the user. A Google map integrated into the app guides users from their starting point to the advertised offer. As a result, the refugees do not need flyers, maps or other material items to find the required offer. All the information and details they need are integrated right into the app.


How does the increasingly digitised world affect your work? What are the implications of digitisation for users?

The digitised world enables the target group of refugees, who often have a smartphone or mobile phone as their only device, to quickly access up-to-date, well-prepared information. For example, they can independently find and make use of offers and are not dependent on external help. They themselves have the means to reach their desired destination.

For our work, it means that with modern app technology, we can quickly update offers or add new ones. Offers that are no longer available can be immediately removed from the app. Consequently, there are no flyers lying around in the advice centres of the Diakonische Werke or parishes that are no longer up-to-date or no longer entirely correct.

We have also included links to other important institutions as well as current events such as a refugee day.

Digitisation makes refugees and institutions less dependent on paper and specific local signposting.

We currently have inquiries from institutions dealing with the target group of the elderly, the homeless and those in need asking whether we can provide the programming background structure of the app for their needs. We are willing to make our technology available to other institutions and target groups for comparatively little money.


What are the positive effects of digitisation? Have you considered that it could have a negative impact on your organisation and the “I need” concept, and if so, how?

The Diakonische Werke and churches and their staff that are participating in the project are proud that they are able to provide the target group with this type of modern tool. The app also connects a wide variety of different institutions involved in refugee work such as the Red Cross, Caritas, HEKS/EPER, cantonal offices, parishes, etc., that are positive about the application and contribute their offers of services to the common digital platform.

An app has its limits and never replaces the “1-to-1 relationship” in diaconal work. Beyond the app, the face-to-face work and the concrete relationship between the professional expert and the person seeking help remain the indispensable and essential bedrock of the organisation. This message should be communicated internally and made clear.


What is the most important way your organisation can ensure the delivery of a quality service?

We are constantly developing the app. A service like this is not a simple finished product, but always a work in progress, so that complementary and new features relating to the services offered can be incorporated into the app. Informing people that this app exists for refugees and their carers and guides is also an ongoing issue for us. This is why we have developed a video trailer which is shown in institutions such as CARITAS before language courses for example, so that the target group becomes aware of what is available in the app.

Regional managers regularly check that the content is correct and up-to-date. Incorrect information devalues our app project. The upshot of all this is that topicality and correct information on the app are essential for this medium to find success with users.



To know more about our Swiss member, please check their website.


Photo © Diakonie Schweiz