Interview of the month: Robert Braun – Senior Researcher at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna, Austria

Who is Robert Braun?

Robert is an academic doing research, writing on involving and engaging stakeholders in creating more democratic research and innovation processes. His primary area of research is Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), an inclusive and participatory mode of producing and disseminating new knowledge. He focuses on participatory practices on mobility, especially automobility and a critical assessment of the technology transitions to autonomous, connected and electric mobilities. He has published widely on these topics. His latest book is on Corporate Stakeholder Democracy (2019) and his upcoming book project is on Post-automobility (with Richard Randell), to be published by Rowman & Littlefield, 2021

Why is it important to involve citizens in urban mobility planning or in developing urban mobility solutions? And why is it important to do this  at an early stage?

Involvement should rather be engagement and co-creation. There is a lot of involvement already, such as  asking for opinions and discussing acceptance. However, much more rarely are citizens part of the innovation process: adding their ideas, arriving at consensus about their needs…Mobility is an especially important area for inclusion and engagement, as mobility is not about getting from A to B but about arranging our lives: where we live, find work, shop, school,  whether we commute or not, how much time we have for our children, have access to good quality services and so on. Also, current urban mobility systems are pretty unjust – they discriminate based on gender, physical abilities, place of living…We need to change this  and this can only be done with the help of a variety of citizens engaged in adding their ideas and challenging ours.

Citizens are a heterogeneous group. How to ensure that the majority of them are engaged in the decision-making process for urban mobility?

Of course they are and that’s the challenge. We have a number of methods to map different stakeholders and to engage a wide variety of viewpoints, and  processes in which different people can join and have their say. What is relevant here is that citizens need to be part of the process early on (as innovation creates what is called ´lock-in´ so people joining later have actually little say in significantly influencing what technologies will be on our streets) and also that they are equipped with decision making power. Otherwise they are involved but not engaged.

How to put citizen engagement into practice? Could you recommend some methods or tools?

There are a number of great methods that we have developed and use: we utilise  ‘social labs’ to address complex social challenges in innovation:a method that is in the realm of what is called ´change oriented action research´. Additionally,  we use ‘one-day consensus conferences’, which involve a set of different stakeholders in a managed process discussing and deciding specific issues together. Lastly, we do ‘participatory scenario building’ – discussing and defining future (mobility) scenarios to assist decision makers. There are excellent methods elsewhere; one that I specifically like is the ‘Shaping Futures’ method by Fraunhofer CeRRI. They use workshops to imagine technologies by lay people and then create working prototypes of the ideas that are discussed and modified. It’s a wonderful tool to aid engineering/design thinking with citizen ideas in a discursive manner.

Could you list some best practices that can inspire others to take up citizen engagement in the development of their urban mobility solutions?

There are a few. Austrian railways created a #MobilityCommunity based on inviting different communities (researchers, innovators, policy-makers and civil society organisation representatives) to collaborate in mobility innovation. In Vienna, in one new development area called Aspern Seestadt a living lab has been set up and  together with the local municipality and companies, citizens are invited to co-create mobility solutions for the area. There is a focus on how to change user behavior to more sustainable and healthy forms of mobility – co-created with locals.

Register to our MobilityTalks episode 6

Every month we give the floor to an expert in the academic, research or industry field to get her or his view on a topic related to urban mobility. In this edition we´re looking at how citizens can be drivers of their own mobility.