How Roeselare used a private blockchain solution, developed by Howest, to support health coaching for their employees
Kimberley van Luchem and Jasmien Wellens – Stad Roeselare, Belgium Shane Deconinck – Howest University, Belgium
The ‘Fit4Work Challenge 2021’ pilot was a partnership between the City of Roeselare and the HOWEST University of Applied Science. The Fit4Work Challenge offered a preventive health program to the employees of the City of Roeselare, with a user-friendly onboarding process and a secure connection between trainer and trainee through blockchain. Roeselare tested this pilot with a group of 20 civil servants.
The labour market is at a turning point – workloads are increasing and more and more organisations are having to take action to support the physical and mental health of their employees. More than a third of Flemish employees are worried about mental fatigue and work-related
Sometimes it feels like companies only invest in external services to support their workers to comply with workplace legislation. Research shows that an unhealthy employee lifestyle results in higher absenteeism, lower productivity, lower employability and less employee involvement.
In the City of Roeselare, over 6.5% of staff time was lost due to illness in 2017. In response, the City of Roeselare set up the Fit4Work Programme, a well-received employee health policy. The BLING project gave Roeselare the opportunity to expand the Fit4Work program with the ‘Fit4Work Challenge 2021’ pilot.
The BLING Fit4Work Challenge Pilot
Offering personal coaching to guide health (both fitness and healthy lifestyle) is economically feasible if it is done digitally. Wearable devices are excellent tools for remote coaches to use
to understand if their guidance is effective. Because these wearables also collect personal information about the “bearer”, they are a privacy risk if this data is accessed inappropriately. Wearables that use a central database therefore pose a privacy and security risk for organisations and / or third parties that keep all data.
The solution for this pilot used a private blockchain owned by the City of Roeselare. Each test employee had a wearable whose data was added to the blockchain. The coach could make video training programs, and they could provide individualised feedback – all through the coach’s platform. This content was then delivered through the app. The personal coach could access the client data and use it to make sure the clients were given the right programme, but the employer and third parties couldn’t access the data. This is one of the pillars of this pilot: trust in blockchain, trust in the data, trust in the privacy.
By using blockchain technology, the data is only shared between the client and the coach, and the client owns their data – not the employer. The design of the blockchain component means the pilot is GDPR compliant.
Results Matter were hired to train the employees in the pilot and to manage their feedback.
Designing a blockchain solution
Roeselare worked together with HOWEST University of Applied Science to develop this pilot. Hyperledger Fabric Private Data was used to store data, and Chaincode was used to ensure that only authorised users could view and edit their data. When using personal data, there is always the risk of a leak. Howest mitigated this risk by using Hyperledger Fabric’s Private Data, where only the hashes of private data are published on the shared ledger, and not the raw data. That meant that only authorised users were able to access the employee’s personal data.
Howest provided knowledge of the blockchain ecosystem and platforms, and set-up the Fit4Work Challenge pilot. Roeselare used the pilot to learn how to talk to users and stakeholders about these kinds of innovation projects, tested it, and provided feedback. Roeselare was able to use the pilot as a real-world example of blockchain in use for other city employees.
Understanding the pilot’s impact
The aim of the Fit4Work Challenge pilot was to improve the (subjective) health of the participants, which should have an impact on their work and their mental and physical health.
In June 2021 Roeselare surveyed the participants, asking for their views on a range of issues after the three-month testing period (March-May), including questions about doing 10,000 steps a day, the online coaching, using the wearable, the Fit4work app, the Facebook community, blockchain, and so on. Users provided an overall feedback score of 8.05 out of 10, and highlighted the value in increasing their understanding of how much they were moving, identifying how much (or how little) exercise they had, the value of monitoring their activities and emotions, and of the value and importance of exercise.
What happened next
After the pilot ended, a series of governance questions emerged – key questions like ‘How can we incorporate this pilot as part of our regular service delivery?’, and ‘Who/what organisation will maintain the app and blockchain platform?’. These were fundamental questions that must be answered if the pilot was to become a permanent part of the Fit4Work programme.
Roeselare did a thorough analysis about what actions were needed to formalise the programme and determine the costs for this.
Roeselare worked with external parties to determine:
- How much would the online coaching cost?
- How much would it cost to build an Android version of the iOS app?
- How much would it cost to keep the app updated each year (specifications)?
- How much would it cost to keep the app up and running on the blockchain platform each year (technology)?
When these costs were reviewed, they were higher than anticipated. Making an extra Android version of the app was very expensive, but to keep the app up and running on a blockchain platform was very costly. Roeselare has a fixed budget for the total Fit4Work programme per year for all employees. If Roeselare had chosen to make the Fit4Work Challenge a regular part of the programme, it would have taken nearly half of that budget to only support 20-22 participants. Because of this relatively poor ROI, the city decided not to make the pilot permanent, as the blockchain component was too expensive.
It may be possible to find ways to scale up the app so that the development cost could be spread over more users, but that was outside the scope of this pilot. Exploring self-sovereign storage solutions such as Solid – in combination with a blockchain solution – might be the key to reducing the cost of this service.
Fit4Work Challenge was a very successful pilot for Roeselare – they learned a lot, the technical approach was successful, and the pilot resulted in significant cultural change for the pilot testers. While scaling up from a pilot to a full service wasn’t possible, the significant interest in the pilot and the learning from the pilot has been extremely valuable for other government organisations working in this area.