Back where we started from

How can we convince people from Palermo to leave their cars and walk, ride a bike or use public transports?

A few years ago, together with a group of friends, we decided to take this question seriously and we started to develop a research about the impact of behavioural change techniques on the safeguard of the environment.

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Our idea was simple: encouraging citizens to move in a more sustainable way. How?  By rewarding their virtuous mobility habits through a fun digital experience and real gifts (goods or services made available by a network of local businesses and sponsors). We didn’t want to change the city infrastructures but improve and make the experience of moving around the city fun.

Basically a game: a mobile app, friends competing with each other, real-time rankings, badges, rewards, etc.

We started in 2012 with the research project trafficO2. Our idea was tested in Palermo involving a sample of around 2.000 university students and a network of 100 local businesses. We measured and published the results of our research showing a reduction of around 40% of CO2 emissions among the active users.

The project allowed us to win several and unexpected awards, publish papers and take part to important events and conferences around the world. Nevertheless, the Ministry of University and Research, co-financing the project, in 2015 simply disappeared leaving us and all the other researchers who won the “Smart Cities and Communities and Social Innovation” call with huge debts and disillusions.

Thanks to the unbelievable commitment and sometimes even sacrifice of all the researchers and designers in our team we managed not to give up. We thus wrote a convincing proposal together wit a strong consortium and in 2017 we won the H2020 call and launched MUV, a complex and exciting game with major ambitions and a scalable business model.

With MUV we want to show that there is an alternative to Limited Traffic Zones, cameras and command-and-control policies that have generally been adopted so far in our cities.

We have already successfully tested this approach in a very complicated context strongly affected by the scourge of traffic, Palermo (in some rankings the eleventh city in the world for congestion caused by traffic).  Now we want to do the same in more and more cities around the world, starting from Amsterdam, Barcelona, Fundao, Ghent, Helsinki and continue in Palermo of course!

The truth is that it’s not so difficult to push someone who has never taken a bus to do it or to go and find again that bike buried for years in a garage or to encourage people walking even if they are used to take the car even for very short distances.

We simply need to find the right way to get people involved, and we truly believe that way is a game!

Our hope? In 2020, at the end of the EU research project and depending on the results we will have gathered, to set up a new company, third to PUSH and the consortium, managing the commercial development of MUV on a global scale.

About the author: Alessia Torre works as EU Project Manager for PUSH, design lab for social and urban innovation and MUV’s project coordinator.

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