Community Co-Creation

A co-creating public can get involved for the purpose of “expression,” of being able to see their new vehicles rolling about town every day.

Last month I wrote about the United States Department of Transportation’s “Digital Transportation Exchange” concept, a crowdsource approach to mobility innovation (www.adandp.media/columns/mobility-co-creationfrom-the-us-dot). While the U.S. DOT is dreaming-up innovative new approaches, Local Motors has been in the field actually doing it. From its initial Rally Fighter off-road performance car, to its recent Olli autonomous community shuttle, Local Motors knows how to leverage its 60,000-member community effectively. Now with funding from Airbus and as well as additional venture capital money, Local Motors is ready to take its game to the next level.

And for full disclosure, I must admit that I’ve just signed a contract with Local Motors to help the company grow.

One of my interests is to see if the Local Motors’ co-creation model can extend more broadly from an online community of designers to an even larger group of “design-interested” people around one geographical market or city. 

Today, Local Motors has thousands of college-level car designers, professional designers (working at night), young (K-12) student contributors, along with engineers, programmers and other innovators in its community. Projects are offered to the community as competitions with cash awards for the best ideas. While I support it, I think there is another type of “community” model to be explored, one focused on a specific city, region or large market.

I’m interested in engaging all kinds of people in one city to be a part of designing their future mobility. Since mobility is moving from an automobile monoculture to a world of diverse vehicles (in size, type and accessibility) in our Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) future, it is likely that new vehicles for this emerging eco-system will be imagined or created by the “novice” community mobility designers/developers. These are people who may not have the same built-in biases of more experienced designers.

Engaging the public in mobility co-creation projects in major cities offers to greatly increase public participation in the larger re-inventing transportation effort. I believe one of the best ways to get people involved in creating switching to a new mobility paradigm is to enable them to be a part of creating it. A co-creating public can get involved for the purpose of “expression,” of being able to see their new vehicles rolling about town every day.

And it raises the question as to whether there may not be some full-blown business opportunities for those who are pursuing these developments.

I have had numerous new mobility companies inquire about finding a “visionary” city mayor or other civic leader, someone who understands this new mobility future. These companies seek a leader than can convince the public to support these new mobility strategies. I think there is a shortage of these visionary leaders, and in the end, what really matters is that the public knows about these new opportunities and supports them, personally and politically.

It has been interesting to see the city of Los Angeles try to engage more of the public in its outreach efforts. City leaders want more people to be involved with creating a better mobility city, but they have been discouraged by the low turn outs to their outreach events. They even came-up with a cool name (LA2B) for their program, but after meeting their chief planner Claire Bowin, I learned very few LA residents have interacted with these programs.

Unfortunately when residents in LA are approached about potential new bicycle infrastructure or new transit services, they are rarely given the benefit of learning about the broader array of new mobility services that are now possible. I’m talking about new shared mobility services, upcoming autonomous vehicle services, and other options to reduce travel through online commerce. Exposure to the full spectrum of transportation possibilities can be helpful in getting people engaged with alternatives.

Most cities or regions today still look at the vehicles (e.g., buses, light rail) they can buy from companies around the world, and wonder what their future can look like. But few to none actually wonder what unique solutions they could develop and deploy for their major city. Today, a large city could create new vehicles and solutions to meet their needs.

I have always liked Alan Kay’s quote about this; “The best way to predict the future is to invent it!”

Let’s see how many people we can get to co-create a better transportation future. 

�

Dan Sturges is mobility design consultant for team red and has been supporting “transformative” transportation projects for nearly 30 years. He trained as a car designer and worked as an entrepreneur to bring to market a new intermediate vehicle category. He supports a wide range of vehicle design and mobility planning efforts for both government and corporate entities.