Virtual competition for energy-efficient mobility
How can people be encouraged to go on foot or by bike, to use public transportation or other innovative forms of mobility? GoEco! overcomes the limitations of the traditional awareness-raising approach and, by taking advantage of the diffusion of smartphone technology, opts for a bottom-up approach directly addressing citizens in their everyday life.
Project description (completed research project)
Bringing mobility behaviour into line with sustainable lifestyles is particularly challenging. Research in social and environmental psychology has shown that one of the most powerful triggers for sustainability transition lies in providing bottom-up personal feedback as well as comparisons with the behaviour and performance of other members of one’s community. In this framework, the diffusion of digital technologies and in particular of social media, community-based systems and smartphones has opened up new research opportunities.
GoEco! creates a “Living lab” in which citizens test a smartphone application (app) that challenges them to reduce individual car use by:
- tracking their routes, providing them with feedback on their mobility behaviour and suggesting alternative, low-impact modal options;
- letting them define personal change goals and targets;
- creating a community-based motivational system exploiting “gamification” elements, such as individual challenges, rewards and competition with peers.
The “Living lab” was run both in the Canton of Ticino and in the City of Zurich, two regional contexts that are very different as regards both the supply of mobility options and the socio-cultural attitude of the population towards mobility.
GoEco! app’s effectiveness was tested in a year-long, large-scale field trial involving around 600 citizens in two urban areas in Switzerland. Notwithstanding a large drop-out rate experienced during the three tracking periods (after one year of mobility tracking, there were only 52 active project participants left),
GoEco! demonstrated a statistically significant impact on systematic routes (decrease in car modal share, energy consumption and CO2 emissions per kilometre) in highly car-dependent urban areas, such as the Canton of Ticino. In Zurich, on the other hand, where high-quality public transport is already available, no statistically significant effects were found. Besides the quantitative results, the experience taught us some useful lessons that will inform subsequent practice-oriented research activities.
Implications for research
GoEco! was conceived with the aim of overcoming the limitations of previous persuasive apps in the field of mobility, which were not based on behaviour change theory and lacked strict field testing procedures: their results did not apply to the whole of society, long-term behaviour could not be measured, and in the absence of a control group, potential changes in mobility behaviour could not be attributed unequivocally to the app alone, since they may have been influenced by external factors.
Notwithstanding a dramatic reduction in the sample of voluntary project participants, the project shows that GoEco! can bring about statistically significant change in systematic individual mobility patterns. Although no firm conclusions can be drawn from these results, they do indicate that this line of research is worth pursuing further. Beyond the quantitative results, however, the most interesting outcomes of the project are the lessons learnt while designing, managing and evaluating the year-long field test, which will be of great use to future research in this area.
Implications for practice
GoEco! developed and tested a persuasive application fostering a change in individual mobility practices. Experience gained while developing and field-testing the app helped in framing recommendations on increasing the effectiveness of practical applications. These recommendations are already being tested by researchers in follow-up projects, such as the ERA-NET SmarterLabs project and the GreenClass project funded by the SBB. Such new apps could be successfully adopted in other contexts and regions, particularly in those “car-dependent” urban areas where the dominant mode of transport is still private and motorised.
GoEco! A community based eco-feedback approach to promote sustainable personal mobility styles