Helsinki tests gamification for more sustainable mobility

Impact StoriesELEVATE

Man cycling along Helsinki port

Image by MUV

Over the next several weeks, we will share stories from CIVITAS projects on-the-ground that implemented sustainable neighbourhood planning and SUMP solutions, both as news items, and later in a podcast episode, compilation publication and infographic.

This second story is based on work conducted by the MUV: the Mobility Urban Values project. MUV inspires behavioural change in communities through so-called “gamification” – in other words, changing citizens’ habits through a game that mixes digital and physical experiences. The project experiments with fostering sustainable mobility improvements – not through costly and rapidly ageing urban infrastructures, but rather by promoting a shift towards more sustainable and healthy mobility choices by engaging with local communities, businesses, policymakers, and open data enthusiasts.

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MUV is a particularly fun project aimed at changing mobility behaviour through gamification (i.e. games) and co-creation with residents. In parallel, the project has created tools for data collection, thus ensuring that games not only shift behaviours, but also support better local-level planning. A number of cities have been involved in MUV – including Amsterdam (NL), Barcelona (ES), Fundao (PT), Ghent (BE), and Palermo (IT) – but let’s focus on the pilot led by the City of Helsinki, in the neighbourhood of Jätkäsaari.

The local context

Each MUV city selected one neighbourhood to focus on in rolling out pilot measures. For its part, Helsinki selected Jätkäsaari, the city’s main testbed for mobility solutions. This neighbourhood is located next to the city centre, in an area that used to be a hub for port logistics. Today, it also serves as a sea hub for passengers commuting to Tallinn (EE), and has turned into a residential neighbourhood.

Jätkäsaari suffers from congestion generated by the passenger port, which is effectively the busiest passenger port in Europe due to daily commuting between Helsinki and Tallinn. Fluctuating congestion linked to the arrival and departure of the passenger ships is a particular challenge, and helps explain why the area is the focus of so many mobility projects and pilots.

Rolling-out solutions with Forum Virium

Forum Virium, a non-profit innovation company owned by the City of Helsinki, carried out the pilot and promoted the related urban planning participation and interaction opportunities. The Helsinki pilot materialised for residents mainly in the form of the MUV game, a co-creation process, and workshops.

Forum Virium used gamification to explore the use of crowdsourced data for planning. Projects like this one have demonstrated that crowdsourced mobility information can add new dimensions to inform the work of traffic planners. However, it also generates new challenges, such as requiring planners to consider new and unfamiliar data, with which they may not know how to work.

“You have planning on one side, and then you have citizens using all the results of the planning. You need people to give feedback back to the planners, and that becomes a loop. We asked, ‘how can gamification enable and facilitate that?’,” explains Sami Sahala of Forum Virium.

The MUV game and lessons learnt

One of the greatest challenges that cities face today is finding solutions to meet EU climate targets. Being one of the largest sources of emissions, traffic is naturally a major focus area for these efforts. New technology and regulations can help, but traffic emissions cannot be effectively reduced without also influencing residents, whose mobility choices have a major impact.

In that context, residents in Jätkäsaari have been invited to play a mobility game, and, by doing so, to produce data to support more effective traffic planning. Users of the MUV mobile game collect points when they use sustainable modes, like walking, cycling and public transportation. Users can also take place in challenges and training activities to gain additional points, and win real prizes.

The MUV mobile game helped gather information about people’s everyday mobility choices, including data on the use of sustainable modes like cycling. New types of traffic data were generated, which proved to concretely help city planners to better understand residents’ daily journeys, choices and routes, and thus to better meet their needs.

The game also helped encourage residents to use sustainable modes of transit. In fact, the game concretely increased Jätkäsaari residents’ use of sustainable modes, and helped them to document their daily trips. It should be noted, however, that no follow-up studies are available to confirm whether or not these shifts have proven to be long-lasting or permanent.

The project also produced learnings about gamification itself. Marketing a new mobile service to the public has proven to be challenging: there is a lot of competition with so many mobility apps on the market, and the project had limited resources and duration to contend with. This meant that a critical mass of users of the game could not be achieved. But, much could still be learnt from the relatively smaller number of users.

One key learning was the importance of engaging and partnering with local, neighbourhood businesses. In Jätkäsaari, a local, public sauna-bar provided free sauna entry to clients who arrived by foot or by bike.

Zooming in on impacts

Since September 2018, for a period of about one year, the 5,000 people across MUV cities who actively used the MUV game recorded over 260,000km sustainably travelled, and logged an average 32% improvement of their carbon footprints!

In Jätkäsaari, the project also contributed to an array of other positive impacts. For one, MUV measured neighbourhood air quality, with help from engaged locals, at several measuring stations installed on residents’ balconies. MUV also contributed to the development of Jätkäsaari as a test platform for new mobility solutions, while at the same time promoting a sense of community and local activity.

Indeed, MUV played a key role in establishing a Mobility Living Lab in Jätkäsaari. This helps illustrate the main, long-lasting impact of the pilot: the very close co-creation with residents and local planners created a culture of participation and participatory activities that has continued in other projects since then. MUV kicked-off this process and created a new way of collaborating with the residents, which was based entirely on local inputs. Projects following MUV have continued to work with the same pool of residents, benefitting MUV’s legacy.

In conclusion, MUV’s main benefits in Helsinki include the development of Jätkäsaari into a test platform for new mobility solutions and the emergence of a strengthened sense of community in the neighbourhood. Importantly, the project also actively supported the goal defined in the City of Helsinki’s strategy of reducing the climate impact of transport and emissions harmful to residents’ health.

This MUV pilot has been a small but successful experiment that has led to other projects in the neighbourhood, many of which are building on MUV success, also focusing on local mobility challenges and air quality.

Further reading



Photo Credits


Local Contributors

Janne Rinne, MUV project manager, Forum Virium
Jari Honkonen, MUV project manager, Forum Virium
Sami Sahala, Smart Mobility Project Manager, Forum Virium



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