New version of MyWay student safety app goes live

TL;DR – feedback from students has been built into the new version of MyWay. Key changes include the ability to report incidents of drink spiking, and a more intuituve and faster user experience.

Our student safety app (MyWay) has been co-designed with groups of women students from the University of Reading over the past 3 years, and we have just released a new version which incorporates feedback from this year’s Freshers.

Previous experience of using IDEO’s Human Centred Design framework, and working with some excellent designers at Digital Catapult had shown me that collaborating with end users produces apps that much better meet their needs. It has proved absolutely vital with MyWay, where the lived experience of young women students new to the town is *very* different to my own experience as a more, er… “established” man who has lived in Reading for 30 years!

How does MyWay help keep students safe?

What we really need is a “creepy guy” detector to keep these people at bay and stop them being a menace to (mostly) women. Sadly that doesn’t exist (yet), so in the meantime apps like MyWay are proving popular among the student population. Students are more vulnerable than other groups because they go out more often at night, they don’t spend money on taxis so end up walking at least part of the way, and they tend to live in the same few areas.

Partial screenshot of the lower half of MyWay - shows a bit of the map, and the Take Me Home button down to the Menu button

MyWay helps by providing live information on what is happening on all the streets in the town centre and university area. The app overlays live data on Google Maps showing which streets are busy or quiet, which are well-lit, and any incidents reported by users – such as a guy approaching women, or a bunch of abusive drunks. There is a “Take Me Home” button which gives an instant route home (walking or bus) from your current location, and the app can automatically send an SMS to your mum (or best friend) to say when you’ve got home!

What’s in the new release?

This year there has been rising concern around spiking incidents around the UK, and so we have worked with students to add the ability for them to easily report incidents of drink spiking on MyWay. We are very happy to add this feature, and we will create a map of spiking incidents, so that we can share it with club/bar owners and help them stamp it out.

Partial screenshot showing a green Drink Spiked button.  Text reads "Press this button to report a spiking incident"

Through a series of interviews with students it was apparent that some people struggled to find all of the features on MyWay, so we have completely reworked the menu to make it much more intuitive.

We have also made several small changes to make MyWay quicker, and to make it easier for first-time users to get set up.

What’s coming next?

More co-design efforts with students! We want to put our hard work into features and changes that will give most value to the students, and help them feel safer walking at night. So we listen to what they tell us, and then work together to make meaningful improvements to the app.

We are also working on an exciting new sensor using AI which we hope will give some really useful information to MyWay users.

This coming year we are hoping to bring MyWay to other university towns across the UK, and help more students to feel safer walking home after dark. We know from our experience in Reading that our offering meets a real need, and is popular with students, especially those new to the town.

Thanks

Thank you to all the students at the University of Reading who have taken part in our surveys, interviews, workshops and helped us to make MyWay a better fit for your needs.

Many thanks also to the amazing team at RUSU and colleagues in the University for their continued support and desire to prioritise student safety.

Finally, thank you to Reading Council for providing a fantastic LoRaWAN network and giving us access to their infrastructure to help keep students safe, and for funding the project through its first year.

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