Last week. Last week, last week, last week. What did we do? Oh yes, an absolute tonne of work. Just how we like it. And it makes for an excellent place to start.
Monday was pretty much the only free day that we had for the entirety of the week. That meant we had to work on our presentation fo Smart Transport that is taking place this coming Wednesday (18th September). Engaging citizens in the future of mobility is important to us, and we want to use this presentation as a rallying cry to those talking a good game about people in future mobility, but not actually doing it. It is heavily influenced by our discussion paper on just this subject, and we hope to get the chance to talk to you about it.
On Tuesday we spent a day in that there London, and for a couple of good reasons. In the morning, we had a wonderful chat with David Simoes-Brown from 100% Open. If you do not know them already, you must get to know them. We went to them with a simple ask - what is the experience of openly innovating in a way that benefits society, and is also financially sustainable? We ask ourselves this all the time, so the chance to discuss this with an expert in the field was not to be missed.
Needless to say that our conversation did not stay on this for long. Politics, transport, holidays in Devon, and everything in between. Perhaps that is how an exploratory chat should be? What do you think?
Then in the evening, we had the pleasure of going to our very first Democracy Drinks organised by Involve, just across the road from the Department for Transport. What can we say apart from A-MA-ZING? The event format was simple - if you are interested in democracy, turn up and have a drink, with one or two talks to boot. We met so many amazing people - civil servants, activists, international non-profits, and volunteers who had set up their own website to encourage young people to vote. All wanting one thing in particular - to improve democractic discourse.
We left the event with our minds buzzing. How could we partner with people to magnify the impact of our work? Are participation challenges that we have in transport unique to it? And if not, what can we learn? So many brilliant questions. No time to answer them yet.
The following day, we had a long trek down to Bristol to be part of a panel discussing transport in the city. It was an extremely distinguised panel, chaired by Professor John Parkin of UWE, and it had all manner of panelists. Adam Crowther of Bristol City Council, James Durie of Business West, James Freeman of First West of England, James Lancaster of Enterprise Holdings, Malcolm Parsons of Network Rail, Sara Sloman of North East Somerset Council, and others who we have now forgotten. And us of course.
What interested us the most about the debate what the intricacies that make Bristol unique as a transport challenge. There is a rich seam of community engagement in transport in Bristol that it could leverage to tackle the transport issues that it has in common with other cities. I mean, which city doesn't have a congestion problem right? But the local intricacies matter when it comes to talking to people about the issues that they face.
My one issue with the event is that we barely scratched the surface. Everyone said their piece, there was 10 minutes of chat, and that was it. Hopefully the debate will continue afterwards.
Thursday and Friday were taken up with one thing - interviews. We aren't hiring, no. But we were talking to a lot of local authority people about their experiences on community engagement. 7 interviews in all over the 2 days. That was a lot of speaking, a lot of writing, and a lot of listening. At 5pm, our brain no work so good, so the after-work drink was very much welcomed.
As for what was said...we can't share that yet, sorry.
The last week gave us a rare opportunity to do things slightly differently compared to how we would normally be spending our weeks. With the conference season just starting up, we thought we would get a head start by attending a few events of our own this week.
This started with an event organised by the Transport Knowledge Hub on The Future of Mobility. It should really have read 'The Future of Mobility and what this means for public transport' as it seemed to be the central question that all of the panellists were seeking to answer. The panel was fantastic, with representatives from the likes of Arriva, Go-Ahead, England's Economic Heartland, TRL, CCAV, Stagecoach, and UCL among others. But we are not sure if the question was really answered.
What made us reflect on our position was conversations that we had during the break with Bus Users UK and the London Cycle Campaign. Both organisations campaigning to get the most basic things in place to enable access for all. Doing this by raising up the voices of the marginalised. Perhaps it was fate that this was raised further by the fact that RICS, where the event was held, is on Parliament Square. The scene of pro and anti-Brexit protests ahead of a key vote in Parliament.
People, feeling disenfranchised, wanting to raise their voices. Doing things to make that happen. Perhaps the question of the future of mobility won't be answered in workshops and conference halls?
The next couple of days we saw another side of how this question is being answered. We attended LCV Cenex, an event specialising in low carbon vehicles at the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire. It was two days of vehicles of all shapes and types, charging infrastructure, and bumping into many old colleagues from Connected Places Catapult, Zenzic, and Streetdrone.
What really shone through was the overwhelming belief in the power of technology to transition of a lower carbon future. Which it will play a role, of which there is no doubt. But nobody was mentioning truly radical ideas like travelling less, or changes in land use.
We guess we are being a bit too harsh. This was an industry event, and so naturally it would favour technologists and people who are interested in what things will make a difference. And to be fair, some of things were seriously cool to look at and try out. But a bit more chat on people wouldn't have gone amiss.
We then rounded off the week with a brilliant chat on Transport Planning Camp with the organisers. The event has been all but green lit! 7th November in Manchester. Mark it on your calendars! You can even sign up for reminders on the Eventbrite page.
We have to admit that we approached this meeting with some slight trepidation. It is to be expected with just 8 weeks before a major event, and with so much to do. Will the key decisions be taken? How will the debate go? What unexpected thing will come up?
It was worrying for nothing. Our brilliant organisers debated and decided thoroughly and quickly. All volunteered for additional tasks to make the event brilliant. It goes to show that your worst fears rarely come to pass we guess.
We started these weeknotes for two purposes really. The first was to give you the reader some insight into exactly what we are doing as a company. The second is to provide some opportunities to actually reflect on this work. What has gone well, what has gone badly, what we will learn for next time, things like that.
To be honest, we haven't really had that much time to reflect in recent weeks. We have been focussing a lot on doing and thinking (we did a lot of the latter this week), but not much reflecting. That has been to our detriment. Reflection plays an important role in engagement and strategy, allowing you to critically appraise progress and to digest the lessons learned. As we work on our own strategy, we must make more time for this. Which we will do so this week.
For those of you who have been following the blog this week, we have been busy working on our strategy for most of the week. You can see the blogs from Day 1 and Day2. We are just working on the blog from Day 3 right now, as the key learning from the week was that you need to spare the time to commit to the sprint.
As a means of testing this, we attempted to fit the sprint around our existing work that we had planned for the week. But it could not be done. Our focus was lost, we struggled to pick up loose ends, and trying to concentrate on several things at the same time means that we simply did not do a good job. We also lost a day that we tried in vain to get back. An important lesson learned.
On the positive side, we are very near our first deliverable from our Policy Diagnosis Tool Discovery Project. This week, our white paper on community engagement as part of transport planning will be released. And we could not be happier with it. So keep an eye on LinkedIn on Wednesday.
First lesson. If you are going to commit to a sprint, commit to it. Yesterday we did try to attempt what was ultimately impossible, as a way of stress-testing our Strategy Sprint offering. It turns out that you cannot do the sprint remotely, whilst popping in and out of client meetings. It simply cannot be done.
Like the first day of the Ashes, the first attempt at Day 2 was a washout. The second attempt was another story entirely.
Today, we started to look at our users. Or our potential users of the Mobility Lab services. We started off by brainstorming all of them. In the end, we came up with a list approaching 20 of them, Clearly that was far too many. So let's narrow that down to 3. After much debate, we got those 3 identified as:
The rest of the day was spent fleshing out a number of aspects of those users that are critical to the success of the sprint. These include specifying what these needs are, how they are being met and by whom, what needs are not being met, and how they are likely to change in the future. Oh, and trying to source evidence for all of this quickly.
This is far harder than it seems. For many needs, these have been identified through chance conversations and in meetings, so evidence is hard to source. Luckily, we had a few people who we could speak to today, so we did. Thank you to everyone who spared 10 minutes of their time today to check our work.
The final thing was the debate on what to include and what not to include. Over each user we debated and argued over every point, every sentence, every full stop and comma. So much so that by 4:30pm we realised that we had not written much. So in a 30 minute frenzy, we created some profiles.
Again, we would love your comments on what we have produced. Have we got the needs right? Are there suppliers who meet these needs that we are missing? Have we chosen the right users? All comments are welcome!
That was a fun start to our Strategy Sprint. Early this morning, the Mobility Lab team (and friends) rocked up at the local library (great WiFi, great atmosphere, and tea and coffee!) for a day of serious strategising about the future.
We started off by having quite a discussion about defining what our vision should be. And this is far, far harder than you think it is. Coming up with one sentence or statement that defines where you want to be in a few years time? Much, much tougher than it sounds. And it generated a lot of great debate. Should we focus on community engagement? How about strategy making? Should we change the world or just a few people? Who are we looking to change?
In the end, we decided to be democratic about it. We wrote down a variety of future visions, and put them to our social media and Slack channels. And we have loved the comments so far. Plenty to ponder over.
Then, onto sketching out the future space within which Mobility Lab would operate. We starting off by literally brain dumping all of the trends that we thought could affect us over the next 5 years. Wider mobility trends, cultural trends, and trends specific to our market. We brain dumped and discussed 20 in all. And this was surprisingly hard as well. Thinking of trends against the clock, and identifying evidence in support of them, is very tricky to do. It's instinctive knowledge much of it. But evidencing it? That's a whole other ball game. But we did it.
Then, we identified the most important trends to us. This was a very loose metric. These weren't to be the trends that will have the greatest impact on Mobility Lab, but the ones most important to our key stakeholders, potential clients, anyone really. This made it very easy to identify 5 key trends of importance for the next 5 years. They are:
To finish off the day, we took these trends and developed a narrative of the future. And where we sit at the heart of it. Storytelling is what we love doing the most, so writing this up and publishing it was most definitely the most fun part of the day!
So, what do you think?
Summer time is usually when you have a bit of down time. A chance to think and reflect on how things have gone, what opportunities are around, and regain your energy ahead of the hard sprint to Christmas. Or in our case, to strategise.
So, this week, we are going to practice what we preach. We are going to run our Strategy Sprint on ourselves, to devise our Business Strategy for the next 5 years. In keeping with our ethos of openness, we will also be doing this entirely in the open. And we want your help in devising our strategy to change transport planning forever.
Tomorrow is Day 1. We will be working on our vision and mapping the future of mobility. We will publish our vision in a blog post and on Google Docs, inviting you all to comment.
On Wednesday (Day 2), we will do some in depth exploration of the future and our users. We will publish our findings in a blog post, and summary documentation on Google Docs.
On Thursday (Day 3), we will start to devise solutions that will help us meet our end goal. We will publish these and work on them openly in Google Docs. We will then choose the ideas to work on in more detail on Day 4.
On Friday (Day 4), we will work on our plan of action to make these a reality. What capabilities we will need, what projects we will need to undertake, and over what timescale. We will publish these plans in full on a blog post, and share the documentation in Google Docs.
On Saturday - and in fact for a 3 day period - we will publish our strategy for your comments. This will be done by way of a Google Doc shared with you all, where you can write your comments.
How you can get involved
We are breaking open the strategy making process, just so you can contribute your views and have your say. But how will we do this? Well...
Follow the hashtag. Follow the #moblabstrategy hashtag on Twitter and Linkedin.
Join our Slack Channel. We will be sharing our updates throughout the week on a special Slack Channel. To join in, just follow this link.
Comment on our blog. We will be blogging every day. Leave comments and suggestions below.
It all starts tomorrow. Wish us luck!
This is a bit of a brief weeknotes this week. And slightly later than planned (sorry about that). The reason for that is rather boring actually. We only really have one thing that we have been able to reflect on this week. That is the launch of our Future of Mobility Scenario Game on Tuesday.
This is not because we have not been busy. We have been flat out for the rest of the week on proposals for clients and on both of our Discovery Projects. But the game is special to us, as it was the thing that really kick started Mobility Lab itself.
Several years ago, we got our first project with the UK Ministry of Defence. We were asked to research the future of transport for them out to 2050. This was a standard strategy project in many ways - identify the future trends, create scenarios, and develop policy recommendations. When Mobility Lab started out, that was what we intended to do. Be a strategy consultancy. Looking back at it now, it would have been painting strategy by numbers.
Then two chance conversations changed everything. To start with, Lt Col Matthew Sargant of the Ministry of Defence asked us a simple question. Could we come up with a tool that could bring the scenarios we created for them to life, and make them usable by other policy makers? The report we wrote, whilst of good quality, wasn't enough. This ask was outside of our scope, but we thought it was an interesting challenge to take up, and so we said yes.
During that very same week, we travelled to the EU's Policy Lab in Brussels, to learn about the new foresight and future research techniques. It was there, Laurent Bontoux demonstrated to us the Scenario Exploration System. And at that point, a light switched on. This was it, This was the tool we needed to get policy makers more engaged in the scenarios that we created. We discussed the SES further with Laurent, and devised a plan to create and test our own version.
But how did we go from here, to community engagement being a big part of what Mobility Lab does? Simple really. One of the most common comments that we received when playing the game was...
"This will be excellent for public consultation."
After about the 33rd time of hearing it, we decided to investigate this more. And yes, the comments were right. This game would be excellent for public consultation...and there is so much more that we can do here that it would be a foolish thing to pass up. Let's start off some projects to investigate this further.
And here we are now. All from two chance conversations. It's funny how life turns out isn't it?
Before we sign off, we have to thank everyone who attended and helped us run a session. Over 150 people took part in the beta test, and every comment has made the game better. We truly cannot thank you enough.
Today, we released the live version of the Future of Mobility Scenario Game. This “serious game” allows transport strategy teams, citizens, and anyone interested in the future of mobility in their area to role play through future transport scenarios in a highly-interactive board game format. After spending 18 months in beta, the final version includes all new features. These include supplementing the existing 4 roles that you can play (National Government, Local Government, Business, and NGO) with a further 7 roles for you to choose from. A ‘white labelled’ version of the game is also available, where you plug and play your own future mobility scenarios. Based on our beta tests, we have also provided guidance on how can take the lessons from your game and apply them to your strategy work.
The response that we got to the Future of Mobility Scenario Game over the last 18 months has been amazing. In that time, we ran scenario games for over 150 participants and several companies, as part of their strategy development and even strategy away days. Every bit of feedback that we got has been built into the live version. We cannot thank enough everyone who took part.
The Scenario Game can be downloaded from the Scenario Game page for free, and can be reused under the Creative Commons Licence. It is also a part of Mobility Lab UK’s Participatory Mobility Futures service, a full transport strategy development service where we work with Councils to develop transport strategies based upon the needs of citizens. You can enquire about the Participatory Mobility Futures service by emailing Mobility Lab on email@example.com.
It seems to be a time of a lot deadlines, a lot of work, and for the last week a lot of writing even though it did not necessarily result in a huge deal happening. Running to stay still is the downside of running any sort of business I guess. Anyway, this is what we got up to.
Monday. With a deadline of Wednesday, we set to work with Hannah Budnitz, Nic Cary, and Teresa Jolley on writing a response to the scoping report for Professor Phil Goodwin's project on A New Social Contract for Transport. We had already decided that citizen participation, accessibility, and resilience would be a big part of our response. It was more about getting our ideas down and trying to order them. Find the story you want to tell amongst many different strands of work is challenging, but through successful interations and work, you get there eventually.
Then, checking the tenders. We had put in for some work for Sheffield City Region for a future of mobility study. Sadly, this time it was not to be. We requested feedback on what we could improve next time.
Tuesday was the start of more writing. The first phase of our Policy Diagnosis Tool Discovery Project is drawing to a close, and we are writing a short paper on the effectiveness of public engagement in transport, based upon a review of the literature to date. The challenge here wasn't the lack of things to say. There is a lot to say on how effective organisations are at engaging with the public. The challenge is saying something new, reflecting the changing in community expectations and their role in transport services. We kicked around some ideas all day, and started to write in earnest.
Wednesday was a bit slack. It was end of the month, so VAT reciepts needed sending and payroll needed processing. Our lack of success with Sheffield knocked us a little bit, to be honest. It would have been a really good project to be part of, and we put our all into the bid. Still awaiting feedback. On the positive side, we published our response to Phil Goodwin's report. You can read it and comment on it here.
On Thursday we got the chance to get our mojo back by having a play of the Future of Mobility Scenario Game with ITS-UK. We had 3 players playing the game, all of whom really got into their roles and were very forthcoming in their feedback. Thank you Jennie and Rukshan for organising the afternoon and getting people involved in it. It was just what the doctor ordered.
We finished off the week on a high on Friday by calling some old friends to catch up and to plot future opportunities. Teresa was excellent as always, as was Tracy Savill from Connected Places Catapult, Lee Baldry from Waterman Aspen, and John Austin who we managed to catch just before starting a walk in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Sorry John!
This post is a restart of a series that commenced on the Transport Futures blog. Its intent is to give an insight into the goings on inside Mobility Lab, and the sorts of things that we are up to and who we are talking to. You can see the previous posts by following the below links.
Weeknotes #1 | Weeknotes #2 | Weeknotes #3 | Weeknotes #4 | Weeknotes #5 | Weeknotes #6
We'll be honest. We spent most of this week not trying to be completely broken by the record-breaking heat here in the UK. Not helped by the small fact that we had meetings on the hottest day :(. But we still managed to get a fair amount done, and some projects progressed.