This blog post reports on work-in-progress within the DfG course! The post is written by group 2C working with the Ministry of Transport and Communication’s brief on ‘Accessible travel chains’. The group includes Callisté Mastrandreas from the CS Design program, Jingchun Zeng from the CoID program, Greta Cappellini from the CS Design exchange program, and Sara Rynefors from the CS Design program.
Written by: Greta Cappellini
Welcome back to the urban drifters’ blog!
It is really difficult to gather ideas about what has happened in recent weeks. I can certainly say that there were many small discoveries, a ton of post-its and a lot of talking. And by that I mean hours, and hours: we exchanged ideas with each other, discussed between groups, and conducted interviews with stakeholders.
Envisioning possible futures
Last week we left you with what initially seemed like a super heavy and broad research question: “What can be the most valuable actions to implement in public transport?”. To understand that, we asked ourselves, “How will the public transport of the future be?”. This was certainly not a simple question to answer, so we asked for help from our stakeholders. And, yes, It took us three weeks to come up with an answer that satisfied us enough. First, we had to understand the full picture and analyse the current state of the Finnish transport system. I will describe our future vision in the next paragraphs, but if you are too curious and wish to get straight into it, you can peek in at Fig. 3.
Talking about the future is sometimes more complex than discussing current problems and existing roles. This kind of question clears the way for understanding the values, desires, fears and needs of the actors involved in the system. This applies both on a personal level – for example, in the case of end users – and on an institutional level – thinking of service providers and drivers.
Combining interviews with desktop research, we connected the pieces and created a map of the factors and trends affecting public transport in Finland, paying special attention to its accessibility. To understand which factors influence this – and following the model of the analysis STEEP – we divided them into five categories: environmental, political, economic, social, and technological (Figure 1).
Figure 1 – STEEP system map
At the end of this phase, we had a lot of elements on our desks and perhaps a better understanding of the context, but we needed to figure out how to continue and improve.
If we’re to understand anything, we have to simplify, which means we have to make boundaries.– Donella Meadows, 2015
So, we tried to compare our map to the future that the stakeholders had told us. This step allowed us to draw a boundary around the most valuable factors for shaping the public transport of the future: social equity, digitalization and data sharing, collaboration within the Nordics and urban planning.
Figure 2 – Stakeholders’ vision
Summing up, the public transport of the future in Finland should be inclusive, digital, collaborative, and integrated with the cities. Despite realising that this sounds utopian, pursuing such a high standards allows us to envision the future we are aiming for.
Figure 3 – Future Values
Understanding the present
In parallel to this visionary and futuristic process, we tried to understand how the system is now in order to have a firm grasp of the starting point.
We collected a lot of information – sometimes it even seemed too much. In the beginning, everything appears important and disconnected, but the more we analysed the more we started finding patterns.
Clustering the findings, we noticed that some problems were very pragmatic and related to infrastructure, such as snow management, while other pain points, for example data sharing between countries, could be placed in more abstract system levels.
But this was only one perspective: the same issues can instead be looked at with a different filter. If we focus more on the actors involved, we realize that we can deal with the system on local or on national level.
We learned first-hand that sometimes, looking at the system with different eyes can unlock new points of view. For example, discussing how different transport modes can be interconnected, we realized that, in most cases, passengers need to interact with the city infrastructure when moving from one transport mode to another one. “What a surprise!” – you will say – “we already knew that to get from the train station to the bus stop people have to walk on the sidewalks and cross the streets of the city.”
As obvious as this sounded at first, it helped us to start thinking about the streets and sidewalks not as elements of the city that act as links between means of transport but as an integral part of the transport system itself. This unlocked many questions: what if the connecting routes were under the responsibility of service providers? How will the elements of the system change according to this?
However, this was not the right time to try to understand all this. For the moment we just noted that we had re-learned something with new eyes, and we kept going exploring other topics.
The key is in the connections
Once we had the current issues and our vision of the future, we connected them and something interesting came out. Some of the problems we highlighted in the system analysis are obstacles to reaching future values. Okay, but what does that mean? For us, in this stage, this means that these problems are fruitful and that if tackled they could lead us towards a set of valuable actions.
Figure 4 – Linking the current insights to the future values
After having been in our “thinking bubble” for a couple of weeks, we stepped out and explained our insights and way forward to the stakeholders. New interesting reflections emerged during the discussions: the physical environment, as well as the collaboration and the shared responsibility, turned out to be the most interesting areas of intervention.
We still do not know which “would be the most valuable actions to implement to improve the public transport service for all” but we have narrowed our focus.
Don’t miss our next steps,
Meadows, D. H. (2015). Thinking in systems: A Primer. (D. Wright, Ed.). Chelsea Green Publishing.
Ministry of Transport and Communications. (2021). The National Transport System Plan for 2021–2032. Finnish Government. https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/handle/10024/163391
Open mobility data in the Nordics – ODIN. (2019, February 6). Retrieved March 6, 2023, from https://nordicopenmobilitydata.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/ODIN-Position-Paper.pdf
The DfG course runs for 14 weeks each spring – the 2023 course has now started and runs from 27 Feb to 31 May. It’s an advanced studio course in which students work in multidisciplinary teams to address project briefs commissioned by governmental ministries in Finland. The course proceeds through the spring as a series of teaching modules in which various research and design methods are applied to address the project briefs. Blog posts are written by student groups, in which they share news, experiences and insights from within the course activities and their project development. More information here about the DfG 2023 project briefs.