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Article Article January 29th, 2019
Infrastructure • Cities • Legitimacy

Mobiliti, a co-design workshop to improve transportation, provides lessons on how to collaborate with purpose

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How can cities solve a problem like #transportation? @JohnBurgoyne07 reflects on lessons learned from @mobilitius.

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Can the power of inclusive collaboration solve one of the most difficult problems facing cities? @JohnBurgoyne07 explores. #Transportation

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Even the most inclusive, well-intentioned collaboration can fall short of its desired impact, says @JohnBurgoyne07.

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Partnering for Learning

We put our vision for government into practice through learning partner projects that align with our values and help reimagine government so that it works for everyone.

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Creating resident-driven solutions, ensuring a diverse range of perspectives and helping governments and their partners turn ideas into action - these three principles are central to our work at CPI. Through our participation in Mobiliti, a co-design workshop aimed at building transportation solutions, we witnessed the power of applying these principles of inclusive collaboration to solve one of the most difficult problems facing cities.


Key lessons learned

In a large room with an abundant supply of coffee, over a hundred employers, technologists and residents gathered for two days with an ambitious goal: to design the future of transportation for cities. Mobiliti, a co-design session organized by Maya Design and supported by our team at CPI, led to the development of 20 transportation pilots, several of which have already received funding or a partnership within just weeks of being pitched. Each of the pilots was designed by a cross-sector team that included residents who have firsthand experiences with the limitations of transportation options in today's cities.

The approach to collaboration employed at Mobiliti owes its effectiveness to three powerful drivers:

  1. Prioritizing the voice of those with relevant lived experience

  2. Consciously bringing together a diverse group of perspectives

  3. Reinforcing a “bias for action”, ensuring that creative ideas turn into concerted action


Lived experiences

Collaborative working sessions intended to solve complex problems too often exclude the most important voice: the residents whose daily lives will be most impacted. Whether deliberately or not, too many collaborative sessions today fail to prioritize the perspectives of the individuals who have the greatest understanding of the problems and their root causes. Seeking out the voices of those with lived experiences of the problem is something we at CPI often talk about in our legitimacy and empathy work.

Event organizers at Mobiliti partnered with community organizations to ensure that individuals with relevant lived experiences had a prominent seat at the table by providing subsidies and transportation vouchers to remove barriers to participation. Over 30 of the participants were recruited from the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh, the Community Kitchen, Homewood Children's Village and Hello Neighbor because of the challenges they faced trying to navigate their city with the existing transportation options.

To kick off the conference, these residents led an expert panel where they opened up about their daily experience of commuting: waking up in the early hours of the morning to start their shift at a workplace many miles away, travelling across town to reach the closest daycare centre, carrying groceries as they switch multiple bus routes. Other participants, including government officials, employers and technologists who hold key positions of power in the transportation sector, gained a much deeper understanding of the very real problems that residents face due to the lack of reliable transportation options at their disposal.

the #mobilitiPGH gallery walk was the most intense 4 me - this man shared his statement “how might we help ? riders overcome a sense that no one cares so that there would be more patronage” his “ideal commute” included well lit?? shelter, being greeted by the driver + clean ?

— danielle j harris?????‍♀️?? (@innovation_dj) 6 October 2018

While inviting those with relevant experience is a key first step, event organizers must also establish an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their stories, being creative and building relationships. One of the key ground rules laid out at the beginning of the workshop was to pay particular attention to those with the quietest voices. Facilitators trained in human-centered design led working sessions with small groups of 10 to 12 people, with representation from diverse sectors. These working sessions took participants through a series of exercises designed to spark ideas and build pilots to overcome the challenges residents face. Feeling empowered to give free rein to their creativity, participants worked together to develop visual displays of their shared visions for the future of transportation.


How to do this yourself - diverse perspectives

In addition to involving those with lived experiences, it is important to identify other key stakeholders who bring a valuable perspective to the problem. Involving individuals with a diverse range of experience ensures that your team builds on existing initiatives and lessons. In order to develop effective solutions that address the root cause of the issue, we recommend bringing together individuals who have:

  • The  greatest familiarity with the problem

  • Frontline experience of addressing the problem and identifying barriers

  • The resources to drive impact

In addition to inviting frontline staff from within the community, we also brought in people with experience tackling this issue in other US cities. We recruited representatives from eight different city governments across the US to share best practices that could be applied to Pittsburgh.

Mobiliti's lineup of city officials and regional orgs is stacked! We've got representatives from Washington DC, San Francisco, Detroit, NYC, Chattanooga, Portland, South Bend, and Tampa converging on Pittsburgh for #MobilitiPGH. Great minds think alike.

— Mobiliti (@mobilitius) 1 October 2018

The innovation team from South Bend, Indiana, who worked with CPI in the Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayors Challenge, presented their winning Mayors Challenge program, which was built by working directly with residents who had identified transportation as a barrier to their economic mobility. While every city must design a solution that takes into account its own unique context, collaborating across geographic borders can provide inspiration for impactful ideas and generate buy-in from key actors in the community.

Other important stakeholder groups include the funders and technology companies who are willing to commit resources to translate ideas into action. The pilots designed at Mobiliti were funded from multiple sources, including Pittsburgh's City of Tomorrow Challenge through the Ford Motor Company, which is designed to generate cross-sectoral collaboration in building mobility solutions within a local community. Nearly half the pilots generated at Mobiliti submitted a formal proposal to address the challenge, and one of them, Safe Shift, beat over 125 proposals to win the grand prize. Michael Kelly, the innovation lead at Ford, described what made the Mobiliti pilots so attractive: “public-private partnerships bring together stakeholders across typically siloed groups. The voices that aren't often heard are usually the most important to be heard.” Fifteen other technology companies joined Ford Motor Company at Mobiliti, bringing valuable perspectives on the solutions that drive impact, including Uber, Via, Audi, Moovit and Spin.


Bias for action

Even the most inclusive, well-intentioned collaboration can fall short of its desired impact. What separates a good working session from a great one is the ability to turn creative ideas into concerted action. In order to ensure that collaboration between a diverse group of stakeholders leads to results, we recommend emphasizing a bias for action by:

  • Clearly articulating the value proposition for each group

  • Defining the role each group is best suited to play to realize that value

  • Planning for long-term sustainability and continuously improving based on results.

South Bend's program, for example, was built on the assumption that employers who invest in their employees' commutes will see substantial productivity and financial returns. To test that assumption, South Bend used financing from Bloomberg Philanthropies to fund rideshare pilots for the staff of major employers in the community. The tests provided overwhelming evidence of the ROI, leading those employers to provide financial and operational support to grow the program. By making the business case to employers in the region, the city was able to secure sustainable funding from the private sector that set the program up for long-term success.

The value propositions and roles of key stakeholder groups were clearly defined in a way that set up the program for long-term success:

Cick to view larger version


Looking ahead

As we look towards the future, we are excited about the potential to apply this approach of inclusive collaboration to other communities that are seeking to solve their own difficult problems. We are always looking for new ways of working that drive public impact. If you share our passion and are interested in collaborating with purpose, we encourage you to share your perspectives, problems or ideas with our team.


Written by:

John Burgoyne Former Program Manager, North America
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