This is a profile of Data Futures Lab awardee, Posmo.
You’ve made at least 7,000 steps today and on top of that, you are walking more this week than you did last week. This brief information nugget is likely to make the difference between one’s choice of driving to a local meet-up or walking. Seeing other people walk also encourages people to walk.
While this insight data might easily be collected and accessible via fitness apps, tracking and collecting active mobility data such as walking or biking for city residents is much more sparse and in many cases, non-existent. ‘Mobility planning is pegged on very little data, that’s low quality, and is limited to motorized mobility such as cars,’ says Lea Strohm, one of the co-founders of Posmo.
Mobility planning is pegged on very little data, that’s low quality, and is limited to motorized mobility such as cars
Lea Strohm, Posmo
Posmo, a data cooperative in Switzerland and an incubatee of Mozilla’s Data Futures Lab is rethinking ways in which public mobility data can be leveraged to support active mobility planning, such as walking or biking. ‘We want to push for active mobility, and these forms of mobility do not really have data,’ Strohm explains.
Posmo is currently working together with the city and University of Zurich, taking measure of how many residents use bikes as a transportation means. Understanding how ‘walkable’ or ‘bikeable’ cities are is a critical step towards developing more sustainable cities. At least 18% of global energy emissions are attributable to road vehicles, of which 60% are from passenger vehicles largely from city commutes. Indeed, embracing active mobility could significantly reduce carbon emissions. Putting a number behind how many residents bike and what distances across the city can help city mappers gain a better overview of what infrastructural changes need to be made to improve accessibility.
Additionally, harnessing data for public interest is a challenge Posmo is taking head on. The data cooperative Posmo, a term derived from combining Positive Mobility, functions both as an intermediary and cooperative — where city residents donate their mobility data and this data is then accessible to researchers and city planners to inform decision making processes on city development projects.
Members of the cooperative have a deciding role in how that data is governed, by electing an ethics committee that oversees the interests of the people and which institutions, organisations, or projects the data is shared with.
However, striking the right balance between asking individual members for their explicit consent to a particular data usage and making the aggregate data easily accessible is challenging . How can members participate in ways that do not overwhelm them? ‘There are people who care a lot about data privacy but there’s a majority that’s indifferent and might not participate. Think of it as a democratic process. Even then, not everyone who is able to vote, actually votes. One of our key concerns has been in finding ways to catalyze engaged participation from the members while also granting the ethical committee of elected experts the autonomy to oversee the data governance,’ says Strohm.
Strohm continues: ‘The co-decision model is a much slower process than somebody making an executive decision, but at the same time it's a fundamental part of the model. This is a new approach towards exploring alternatives that allow people to maintain control over their personal data while still contributing to collective value’
If to err is human, to build trust is divine — especially when it comes to personal data. ‘People are always sceptical of handing over their data to a government authority. To earn people’s trust, we must be transparent and invite them to the decision making table,’ Strohm concludes.