One step ‘back’, two steps forward

sCOOL2Walk is a collaborative project organized by EIT Urban Mobility of the Europe an Institute of Innovation and Technology. Darianne de Freitas and Ilse van Zeumeren are involved in this project on behalf of The Future Mobility Network. The goal is to develop an app that makes walking to schools easier and safer for groups to do. In the target samples of the three test cities, we want to increase walkability by 5%.

Walkability? At a company that is so passionate about seeking innovations in mobility to make the world more sustainable? Sometimes an apparent step back means several steps out. Darianne and Ilse explain why and why they enjoy working on this project so much.

With the app, caregivers will soon be able to coordinate daily who will accompany a group of children walking to school. Darianne starts enthusiastically talking about the benefits of this: “It is a project that encourages activity especially in children, but to a lesser extent also the caregivers This results in more active children, who spend more time outside. Caregivers also have more flexibility in the morning because they do not necessarily have to bring their children themselves, but it is done by another supervisor.”

Ilse complements her seamlessly: “In addition, it also reduces traffic in the street because caregivers leave the car behind more and specifically around schools making walking to them safer again. With that you can speak of a self-reinforcing effect. It also helps the children increase their independence.”

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Riga, Malta and Barcelona

 It sounds a bit like a summer hit single, but they are the three test cities of sCOOL2WALK. Why exactly those three cities? Darianne: “We were not directly involved in that choice, but Barcelona makes sense because the proposal designer CARNET is based there. In addition, they wanted a diverse collection of cities for input. In Barcelona the infrastructure for pedestrians is pretty good, in Malta it is very different because heavily focused on the car. In turn, Riga was interesting because of the different climatic conditions. So it was very balanced.”

Darianne and Ilse were in all three cities for workshops this year and they tell us about their experience. It turned out that the cities were well selected for diversity. In environment and target groups. Ilse: “The first workshop was in Malta and great attention span of the children there was very striking. They worked in a remarkable structured way and we were also impressed with the English they spoke. The other two cities we visited right after each other and the set-up was completely different, although it was very interesting to learn the views and insights of the kids there as well.”

“The Maltese children also had the most awareness about the environment and had a whole committee set up there discussing the project and sustainability. Extra interesting was that there were many caregivers with different backgrounds. This allowed them to give different insights on how they lived before coming to Malta. Many used to have to walk a lot and so were open to doing that more in the future,” Darianne adds.

“The built environment also makes a big difference. Malta is totally not designed for cyclists and pedestrians, to the extent that it was immediately obvious. In Barcelona, there is basically a fine infrastructure for walking, but caregivers are again faced with other safety considerations. Especially if they are out on their own.” Ilse: “In Riga, one of the main problems was that they drive and don’t want to walk a lot because of the climate difference . A combination of infrastructure and personal preferences.”

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Developing together

Darianne: “The goal is the eventual development of the app and we have just completed the initial phase to that end. We gathered very useful information by doing on-site workshops with the users: the caregivers as well as the children. Through questionnaires, conversations and awareness-raising, we gathered a lot of input for the app’s requirements and functionalities.”

This was done in a special way, according to Ilse: “One challenge is that we are developing it in a cooperative way, and that is an important aspect of it. We are making it for caregivers and children, but also with caregivers and children.  That’s why we tailored the workshops to the different target groups. Parents and children separately. We used that separation again to form the requirements of the app itself.”

By co-creating the app together with the caregivers and children, unforeseen variables also came to light. Ilse: “In the context of the workshops, it turned out that there were extra things to take into account that we hadn’t immediately thought of ourselves. For example, some children were carrying bags that were too heavy to travel certain distances.

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A fitting project

For both, it is a project they are passionate about working on because of a natural affinity. Darianne: “The project fits me very well because my favorite thing in work is actually being in conversation with users. What are the problems? What do they need? From my Spatial Development studies, I have always been very concerned with the needs of citizens. Developing concepts that work for specific target groups.”

For Ilse, much the same applies. “My background is Design for Interaction and that’s pretty much exactly what we’re doing here. The social layers behind this project and especially the higher purpose are interesting and then to be allowed to adapt that to the needs of the users and how to get there is the most interesting thing about any project.”

That’s why it’s nice working together. Ilse: “We are complementary to each other, but I don’t know if Darianne sees it that way.” Both laugh and Darianne continues: “It’s very nice. We both have a strong will and so our opinions. We approach the project in our own way, but know how to bring it together well. Precisely because it works complementary.”

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Well on its way

The ultimate goal, of course, is to fully develop the app, but the initial phase is now complete. Ilse: “During the summer vacations we are going to test clickable screens, so-called mockups. In Malta there is a summer school where we will test the app. While testing continues there on those screens, the app will be further developed. When schools start again we can start the actual app testing.” Darianne: “And at the end of the year, the first part is over and the prototype has to be built. In each city it will also be tested in the schools where the workshops were for two months.” 

Darianne continues:  “Besides the output from the workshops, we also used them to raise awareness and make the importance clear. We combined this by turning the output from the workshops into infographics and these in turn were put up by the schools to show what was on the minds of children and caregivers. This way we are again creating interest among caregivers who were not involved in the workshops and this will facilitate the actual implementation.”

Ilse: “A great example was a parent who told us that she was already changing her behavior. She now parks further away because by doing so she is helping to make the traffic around the school a little bit safer. That she came to that realization herself is a nice side benefit.”

Whether in the future there might only be groups walking the streets? A nice thought, but having children soon move safely through the streets as a small walking vehicle the size of a car, instead of perhaps eight cars, is already a great prospect.

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