Road safety Smart mobility Sustainability
Tuesday, 1 November 2022

Co-designing future mobility - the importance of engaging citizens

The mobility of the future must be more sustainable. This transformation has already begun - but often without direct involvement of the key stakeholder: citizens. To achieve sustainability and innovation goals in the long term, a demand-oriented and multi-faceted vision of the future of mobility is needed. Dr Tom Vöge says that this can only be achieved if users and all their perspectives are actively involved.

Well-designed citizen participation formats increase the awareness of the necessary transformation in the mobility sector. At the same time it offers valuable input to policy-making and the design of regulatory measures and instruments in a more balanced way. A tailored approach is key for effective participation processes, as each is different. For this there are important methodological and process-related success criteria: i.e. which topics and which level should participation cover? Which methods are the most suitable? What formats reach the desired target groups? How to select participants?

The direction of travel for future mobility is set

Climate protection, reducing air and noise pollution and improving road safety: the goals for the mobility of the future are clear, but at the same time we also need to make sure that mobility provision is flexible, affordable, and remains socially just. The climate goals of the transport sector and the limits for particulate matters have been widely discussed in the media. In addition, there are also policies that are less in the public eye, such as target values to combat traffic noise, plans to limit the space dedicated to road infrastructure and parking, and strategies for more road safety (e.g. Vision Zero). Likewise, social issues of mobility are becoming increasingly important, e.g. equitable access to transport, social exclusion, and fair use of space.

There are policies that are less in the public eye, such as target values to combat traffic noise, plans to limit the space dedicated to road infrastructure and parking, and strategies for more road safety

For all of these aims and objectives to apply to everyday mobility, all stakeholders involved need to be included in their implementation. Although most people agree on the principles of future mobility, concrete developments are often perceived as rather long-term. Mobility concerns us all; every day we make various mobility decisions. However, in making these decisions, we tend to focus less on the wider aim of sustainable mobility, but more on our individual short-term needs.

Why are citizens so important for future mobility?

This gap between short- and long-term goals threatens to slow down the achievement of sustainability and innovation goals. Good civic participation on the other hand increases the awareness of the necessary transformation in the mobility sector. At the same time, it offers decision-makers input for the design of relevant policies.

The discussion about the mobility of the future is comprehensive and controversial, often driven by advocacy groups, and discussed in silos. Many of the discussions are emotionally charged, influenced by business models, and marked by uncertainties. Scientific Findings are often interpreted differently around personal positions. But citizens tend to be more pragmatic in their everyday mobility and more interested in solutions to specific problems.

The involvement of citizens has the following concrete benefits for shaping future mobility:

  • Raise awareness: Dialogue makes you aware that future mobility cannot mean business-as-usual. Citizens can reflect on their own mobility behaviour and discuss together what they want for a needs-based and future-oriented mobility system.
  • Create incentives: Policies need to be both effective and socially acceptable to encourage future-oriented mobility behaviour. Dialogues with citizens must present complex (incentive) instruments, give space for discussion, and make outcomes transparent to all citizens.
  • Set regulation: To achieve the climate goals, the mobility system must be governed through regulatory tools. Such regulations have so far been discussed very one-sided. Politicians need to inform citizens about the underlying reasons, policy options, and implications.
Findings are often interpreted differently around personal positions, but citizens tend to be more pragmatic in their everyday mobility and more interested in solutions to specific problems

How to shape citizen engagement for future mobility?

Successful participation processes need to be tailored, as each one is different. When defining contents and methods, specific process criteria are to be respected. It needs to be defined which topics to cover and at what level. The starting position is central here, i.e. how has a topic been discussed so far? The focus of previous discussions on mobility of the future invariably centred on climate, environmental, and health protection versus business and industry interests.

Successful transformation of mobility requires a broad dialogue, with everyone involved understanding size and complexity of the task. This prevents partial debates withdrawing to fundamental positions. The spectrum of content for citizen participation to design a holistic mobility system is wide, ranging from political strategy recommendations at national level down to small-scale local infrastructure development.

Successful transformation of mobility requires a broad dialogue, with everyone involved understanding size and complexity of the task

In addition it can be distinguished between the range of the results (i.e. how many people are reached and in which area), and level of detail of the consultation (i.e. how specific are the measures discussed). Spatial structures also pose different challenges for the mobility of the future, i.e. metropolitan (urbanisation, noise pollution, shared mobility, walkable cities) versus rural areas (i.e. decreasing population size, ageing society, heavily subsidised minimum public transport provision).

It is also important to communicate the complex issues of mobility and to "translate" technical and policy language for citizens, so that they can discuss them in reference to their own experience

Success criteria and potential approaches to implementation

The decisive factor is to give the citizens a central point of contact for questions, comments, and criticism. It is also important to communicate the complex issues of mobility and to "translate" technical and policy language for citizens, so that they can discuss them in reference to their own experience. For example, fiscal and economic policy instruments are very abstract, but it is precisely these issues, which have a significant impact on citizen´s everyday life.

  • Well-designed participatory processes require the following key considerations:
    Definitions: Clarification of the specific goals of the process, the wider context, and the desired participation functions (i.e. information, consultation, and participation).
    Participants: Adequate recruitment and involvement of citizens, different professional experts, and existing networks and platforms. ⮚ Outreach: Target group-oriented communication internally and externally.
    Management: Suitable project management structures to ensure permanent neutrality of the process and the ability to integrate strategic developments in an agile manner.
  • And some specific techniques and engagement formats should be considered:
    Preparation - Participation scoping: it is useful, particularly for complex topics, to start with a short participation procedure to determine the way forward. This feedback from political and technical stakeholders and with civic society increases acceptance of the actual participation process, which in turn increases support for the results.
    Format - Citizens' Council: In recent years citizen or regional conferences (same discussions in different locations) and focus groups (small group with intensive training) have become a frequently used format. Many are currently providing added value in social debates. In the Citizens councils do not include experts, media, or decision-makers, thus giving citizens a safe space for an honest and results-oriented discussion.
    Method - Backcasting approach: this method is particularly relevant for debates about future mobility with citizens. As a first step a vision for the future of mobility will be defined. Identified policies and measures then connect this future along milestones to the present. By using scenarios different requirements can be presented and evaluated.
    Composition - Random Selection: This has become an integral part of citizen engagement in recent years. Depending on the objective, purely random selections can be expanded to include quotas and weightings. Random selection closely mirrors the diversity of society and gives the participation process and its results higher legitimacy.

Dr Tom Vöge is Director of EU Relations and Projects at The Cadmus Group, based in Brussels.

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