Photo by Luca Florio
Communicating MobilityPerformance and ability to adapt, participatory democracy and sustainability
How many times have we wondered whether our western societies are the best result of civilisation we can aspire to today? And where were errors made and where do they continue to be made? And last, but not least, which factors make a decisive contribution to promoting a growing crasis between what progress imposes and what the human being is prepared to support in terms of time, pace of life, ability to respond and adaptivity?
Let’s talk about ‘mobility’, an extremely vast concept. There are many types of mobility, often interrelated, often mutually essential. We have a concept of mobility that refers much more closely (and prosaically) to the dynamic event of movement in space – transport. Mobility that is faster and faster, more and more interactive, increasingly integrated with digitalised communication systems, more and more ‘communicative’ with the user and increasingly aimed at being compatible and acceptable. What do I mean? I mean to say that I think we can talk of ‘mobility models’ to the extent that these do not only and exclusively present a question of performance (in the evolutionary prerogative of “today better than yesterday”) but integrate a set of socially-rewarding parameters with it – sustainability, energy saving, health protection, improvement in the quality of life. And here an alternative (or integrative) concept of mobility emerges, perhaps less prosaic but no less relevant, based on the ability of our thought to sustain performance, to deposit it as experience and understand its meaning. In all this, what is the role of communication and how strategically important is it to think of a mobility project (meaning ‘transport’) without disregarding the final user’s ability to think, understand and remember?
Communication should be given a fundamental value from the very start, as planning a ‘communicating project’ (i.e. able to have an intrinsic message) is different from planning a mere ‘project’. In the first case, giving the project a declared intended content, with values and purposes represents a promise to the community that a ‘mere project’ doesn’t necessarily demand. While a ‘mere project’ can be pleasing in itself (or for the person that fulfils it), a ‘communicating project’ must be self-explanatory, be shown in its true essence and be liked by a much larger public than its creators. The conceptual, structural, functional, economic, cultural and social components of the project converge powerfully in the institutional message of the work – or service – and outline its contents. Although the approach through ‘communicating projects’ may be generalist, so able to develop and be successful in a design context (whether or not of transport), I believe it is useful to concentrate our focus here on urban mobility, as the weight and impact of ‘cities’ (urban agglomerates) is growing.
COMMUNICATION AND PARTICIPATORY APPROACH
In time, cities will find that they will have to take into consideration, and implement, important measures relating to transport and introduce policies aimed at an efficient and fully sustainable approach to urban mobility. The passage from present to future should have an aim to be achieved by combining socially sustainable strategies and innovative technological solutions – and more. The successful measures will be the ones that talk directly about sustainable mobility to the people they were intended and designed for; communicating directly and indirectly will be the discriminating factor, the added value. Thus, the aim is to favour the involvement of citizens right from the start, making them key players in change and participatory in the diffusion of a shared message. The European Commission (EC, COM (2013) 913 final) traced a very clear guide on the participatory approach, describing it as follows: “A sustainable urban mobility plan follows a transparent and participatory approach. The Local Planning Authority should involve the relevant actors […] from the outset and throughout the process to ensure a high level of acceptance and support”. Communication becomes an essential tool in enabling private individuals to take part in public choices, reducing the distances between the public decision-maker and the destinees of that decision from the perspective of participatory democracy.
A reference to the recent introduction to Italian law of ‘public engagement’ (Prime Minister’s Decree No. 76/2018 on “method of performing, type and size limits of works subject to public engagement”, adopted pursuant to Art. 22, sub-para. 2, Legislative Decree 50/2016) is almost natural. Public engagement is the expression of the participatory democracy process and takes the shape of interaction (within public, particularly administrative, and regulatory procedures) between society and institutions, which aspires to obtain a unitary result shared by all parties. From this point of view, Article 6 of the Aarhus Convention 1998 establishes specific criteria for the path of participatory democracy to be effective. In particular, there are three basic conditions: inclusivity, i.e. the person with knowledge useful for the decision is justified in taking part; timing of participation, i.e. this must occur when all the options are still open and all opinions are valid; the need for a reason, i.e. the participatory process ends with a document that summarises the essential content and presents the possible alternatives for the decision that the institution has to take. The ‘Débat public’ is a tool copied from France, which has been applied it since 1995 (Barnier law) to involve citizens in the definition of projects of a certain importance, even before they take on a definitive form. Although the public engagement system is a relatively recent introduction in Italy, it is certainly destined to become highly central for the management of large works, and, as is easy to understand, those that favour mobility (of people and goods) will have a discriminating role. Equally, it is to be hoped that a new voice will be given to citizens and the transmission of their needs in the decision-making process.
MOBILITY AND EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
Citizens are the reference target group when we talk about large-scale works and mobility (whether urban or not). People live in spaces and move in them not just using different means of transport but also with different functions and different destinations and purposes. The ability to elaborate specific, diversified communication methods is required to reach citizens effectively and efficiently.
Needs are identified and the aim of the design move forward through the investigation of the strategic reasons for the work or service, its economic and financial features, value positioning, sustainability, unique features and what I define as “future history”, i.e. the outlining of content that is the result of the combination of real data, project elements and avant-garde technological solutions. Starting to communicate this stage lays the basis of effective communication. Creating the message in the best way means tracing the bases of a strategic-narrative installation that will be able to sustain the values and ideals of the project in time. It draws its identity, makes it visible and tangible verbally and visually. The activation of social screening (quality-quantity geolocalised market research) integrates the contents not only of the project, orienting the results in the best way, but also contributes to determining a refinement of the positioning of the communication through listening to users’ ideas and requests. Surveys, workshops and training events concerning urban mobility keep attention focused on the value of communication and promote repeated and periodic co-operation with citizens.
MOBILITY AS A ‘BRAND’
I come from a context where the consumer is at the centre of the thoughts of someone who does marketing and communication every day – their ‘behaviour’ is the area of exploration, analysis, creation and any amendments. They have to be observed carefully, listened to, ideas connected, and new dynamics of attraction researched yet, at the same time, you mustn’t think that you have absolute, certain knowledge, nor the certainty to gain their preference or deceive yourself into thinking that you’ve won their loyalty and that nothing will change. The connecting element between people and our product (or project or service) can be a sign, a word or a colour. We call it ‘brand’.
Today, knowing how to communicate mobility requires the communication ability of a brand, i.e. a set of tangible and intangible values able to represent a unique identity and promise an equally unique experience. ‘Brand’ certainly has an infinite number of other definitions but, with respect to the topic we’re dealing with, it’s what I would suggest is the closest at present. An accessible, clear, correctly built brand, with contents replenished and transmitted intelligently can help consumers to understand the benefits of sustainable transport, a ‘modal shift’ in mobility or the introduction of a regulation that changes the status quo. A mobility project that intends to overcome diffidence, suggest a new way of moving, set out non-standard connecting routes among urban areas, and stimulate a more responsible, careful attitude to the environment and natural resources must be able to mix two ingredients, apparently very different but incredibly effective if combined in the right way – ‘reputation’ and ‘fun’. Reputation is an essential component in constructing the credibility of the project and its proposer or implementer; ‘fun’ is the dynamic suggested for the accessibility and exploitation of the project. The more the mobility project (brand) is able to acknowledge the preferences, needs, satisfaction and ‘dislikes’ of the community of users, and so change the design proposed to generate credibility and trust, the more the reputation is consolidated. In contemporary society, unlike the past, a brand can no longer simply be applied with the sole aim of giving it fame; it’s no longer enough. On the other hand, fun becomes the key word in building accessibility and exploitation, particularly in the form of the event. The brand – designed, reasoned and full of content, turns into physical reality through a tangible manifestation (the event) that results in it becoming collective property and which acts as a sort of ‘preview’ of the permanent experience available to citizens.
COMMUNICATING FOR THE FUTURE
The correct planning of the communication strategy for sustainable, aware mobility is not only a critical factor for achieving a quality result in economic and efficiency terms but also, and in particular a political and ethical responsibility towards the new generations, the ones that will deal with the challenge of the future that we are already immersed in. Communicating consists of wondering ‘why’ about things and sharing clearly the ‘reasons why’ without forgetting that mobility is best expressed in our thought and in our ability to imagine.