Citizen-centred design for future transport #rcaktn

By Claire Thorne

Wednesday 1 May 2013 #rcaktn

Hosted by Innovation RCA, the Technology Strategy Board’s Knowledge Transfer Networks, and Open City Labs


What is citizen-centred design? And what does it mean in the context of future transport? What could, and should, future transport modes, networks and offerings look like? And how do we get ‘there’?

Whatever insights the day’s discussions promised, I turned up to the Dyson building, Battersea, sure of at least one success: The Royal College of Art had managed to bring a hugely diverse group of people [delegate list, pdf ] together under one (very stylised) roof.

Dyson Building, Royal College of Art, Battersea

The aim of the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) workshop was to scope out one/more potential ‘citizen-centred design for future transport’ multi-institute research programme(s) to take forward.

Here’s my summary of the day’s discussions and key themes:

Schematic summary of notes from the day's discussions

In a lecture theatre that resembles no other natural sciences, engineering or business school lecture theatre I’ve ever seen* the facilitator (with seemingly endless enthusiasm!) brought together representatives of Open City Labs, local authorities, the Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities, the Technology Strategy Board, Transport for London, the Greater London Authority, and organisations like Useful Simple and of course Digital City Exchange (Imperial College London’s smart cities research programme).

* There are a host of reasons, but for a start, it had windows. And lots of them.

View of London transport from the Dyson Building, Royal College of Art, Battersea

There wasn’t just variety to be found in the participant’s disciplines and sectors; all age groups were represented – refreshing indeed…

[Multi/cross/intra-disciplinary, multi/cross/intra-functional, multi/cross/intra-sectoral, multi/cross/intra-institute, multi/cross/intra-… we hear it everywhere in HEIs (and there’s no denying its value) but it never seems to go far enough. Where’s the equivalent promotion of multi/cross/intra-generational research and academia-industry collaboration?]

Nevertheless, I noted that we seemed a tad short on ‘techies’ (engineers, developers etc) whilst Beatrice Rogers (Creative Industries KTN) was wondering where the policymakers were… Perhaps they were there, or perhaps they got waylaid by other, more outdoors-y activities…

View from the bridge, Royal College of Art, Battersea

That special combination of a creative space coupled with creative minds led to, well, creative thinking and lively (but friendly) discussions… all manifested through the power of the humble post-it note, taking over every wall.

The discussions captured in post-it notes

[By the way, is there an app that can take a photo of multiple post-it notes, and generate a word (or other) document with all the content? (with the text appropriately coloured, and sized proportional to its importance). Anyone? That could be handy/slightly terrifying…]

Duncan Wilson’s  (Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities)  keynote [full slides, via slideshare] highlighted his ‘top 10’ thematic issues/opportunities for citizen-centred design for future transport:

1. Interfaces e.g. wireless electric vehicle charging mechanisms

2. Systems approach

3. Transactions

4. Peer-to-peer

5. Business Models

6. Nudging (i.e. often incentivised, behavioural change) e.g. Chromorama (gamification of London journeys, using Oyster card data)

7. Connected

8. Integrated

9. Feedback

10. Personal space

(and note they’re not sector-specific, and hence pretty much apply to any ‘smart cities’ initiative). Check out the city issue map – presented at the World Economic Forum approximately five years ago. Now in 2013, how has this landscape of issues changed?

City Issue MapDuring our very first task there was a struggle to get past the wording of the workshop’s title: Should we be talking about Citizen-centred design? People-centred design? User-centred design? Or other?

I wondered what role future transport could play in, not just moving people between sites, from A to B, but in building communities along the way. Jump on a bus in, say, Aberdeen, and if you don’t see someone you know, soon enough you’ll have sparked up conversation with someone you’ve not met before. (Of course this is in stark contrast to London, and undoubtedly some prefer it this way). Could the journey on the city bus become our modern-day ‘village hall’, or ‘community centre’?


Aside from the access to existing data-streams, I think Digital City Exchange would be keen to explore

  • the role of big/open data (and particularly real-time predictive modeling)
  • incentivising users’ behavioural change

in citizen-centred design of future transport solutions.


A great day, a tonne of data (thanks Rakesh Gaur, Head of Reliability, Availability, Maintainability at TfL!!) and… some transport trivia:

  • A London black cab costs £38,000.
  • In 1900, 90% of travel was on public transport (e.g. street cars).
  • There are 300,000 users of mobility scooters in the UK.
  • The majority of transport use in London is for journeys of ~3-5 miles.
  • What’s the most common reason why older people don’t use public transport? (it’s not about fare prices, fear of unsociable behaviour, or waiting for connections in the cold weather)… Guaranteed proximity to public toilet facilities!
  • The reason why General Motor’s genius (or dubious?) business model was really a success(!)


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