Expert article
Edit 19 June 2023
by Pietro L. Verga, UIA Expert

Playing Together Towards Sustainable Mobility. The Air-Break Gamification Experience

photo of user ending bike trip with app
Through a set of playful activities and gamified rewarding campaigns, the Air-Break project sets to bring about positive change in citizens’ mobility habits, towards more eco-sustainable behaviours.

“The main aim of the Air-Break mobility campaigns is to inform citizens and raise their awareness on the possibilities and advantages offered by the available sustainable mobility services and to encourage the adoption of different, more sustainable, mobility habits.”
(Bucchiarone, Bassanelli, Marconi, 2022)

Within the Air-Break project, Fondazione Bruno Kessler, with the support of MUA and the other members of the partnership, have designed and implemented a total of four sustainable mobility campaigns targeting different mobility contexts and addressing various target groups of end-users to maximize the outreach of the message that the project wants to carry forward, that is changing the quality of the air we breathe starting from our everyday mobility choices. 

The article offers an insight into Air-Break mobility campaigns and components of the technological tools that support the gamification experience. 

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Gamification is technically defined as a strategy for influencing and motivating behaviour change in people through the application of game mechanisms and design elements in non-game contexts (Hamari, J. (2019). In the gamification strategy, designers can exploit the symbolic nature of games to guide the players during their experience to foster behavioural change (Bucchiarone, Bassanelli, Marconi, 2022). This implies that the goals to be achieved in the game experience and the rewards (whether virtual or physical) assigned for achieving these goals are used as a form of “persuasion” in order to foster behavioural change. This strategy has also the benefit of creating a sense of community by encouraging participants to cooperate for the achievement of the objectives, thus conveying a sense of ownership and belonging. 
In order to be effective, a gamified system should consider the human heterogeneity that brings different individuals to be motivated by different factors. Therefore, an effective gamified system should be tailored towards the target audience. In the case of the Air-Break project, existing and new applications and virtual tools have been adapted or designed to meet and motivate towards more sustainable means of transportation both employees, students and the general civic society, using a more inclusive approach.  
The rewarding mechanisms can be of great support to the behavioural changing effort and for this reason are usually integrated into the gamified applications. “Rewards can be of a different nature (e.g., monetary return, object, or event that a citizen or an employee receives) and are received in exchange for having done something well (e.g., rewarding creative and inventive efforts, best practice, good work). Rewards can be real and extrinsic, but sometimes can also be virtual (e.g., social recognition, game-based virtual  rewards), providing positive feedback when adopting the recommended behaviour (e.g., less  environmental impact generated). Depending on the citizen’s personality and preferences specific rewarding mechanisms can have different impacts.” (Bucchiarone, Bassanelli, Marconi, 2022). Within the Air-Break project, Bruno Kessler Foundation (FBK) is experimenting with different rewarding schemes, selecting the most appropriate and attractive prizes for each target group.

Within the Air-Break project, four different sustainable mobility campaigns have been designed and implemented. The campaigns target home-to-work and home-to-school mobility contexts, involving employees and students, as well as leisure and free time mobility, thus addressing the general public. These campaigns have been designed to fulfil four key objectives that have been identified at the beginning of the project with project partners, citizens and stakeholders (objectives reported in D7.4.1 “Gamified approach for behavioural change”, WP7, 2021):

  1. Raise citizens’ awareness - make them aware of the existing and newly introduced mobility resources and services, raise their awareness on the impact of their daily mobility choices; contribute to the creation of a new culture for urban and rural mobility in Ferrara. 
  2. Behaviour change - promote a voluntary travel behaviour change towards more sustainable mobility habits combining virtual (game-based) and real incentives and exploiting personalized cooperative and competitive game mechanics.
  3. Community building - Contribute to the creation of a local community of users that are actively involved in Air-Break initiatives and events; target different user segments, deploying segment-specific behavioural change programmes to intercept a wide range of users (e.g., primary, secondary and high school students; employees); create synergies with other Air-Break initiatives and events.
  4. Produce measurable outcomes - Provide measurable outcomes, in terms of campaign’s impact (engagement, retainment, raise in awareness, behaviour change) and in terms of end-user experience. This objective is fundamental for evaluating the campaign’s impact as well as for tuning the second round of behavioural change campaigns, learning from the first round’s outcome.

 

A long-running gamified urban mobility campaign promoting voluntary travel behaviour change. In Play&Go, players exploit a mobile app to track their sustainable journeys, which are subjected to an automatic validation procedure and are rewarded with virtual points (green leaves) and allows the player to proceed in the competition. The green leaves points are attributed to the players on the basis of the kilometres of itinerary tracked through the App, and on the sustainability of the means of transportation used by the player, which they can specify. Play&Go combines standard game elements (e.g., points, badges, leader boards, real prizes) with personalized game content (i.e., single and multi-player, competitive and collaborative weekly challenges) that is tailored to the player’s profile and is specifically focused on encouraging and rewarding a positive change in the player behaviour.

Figure 1 -Home page and main functionalities of the Ferrara Play &Go App [old version]. Source: Bucchiarone, Bassanelli, Marconi, 2022
Figure 1 - Home page and main functionalities of the Ferrara Play &Go App [old version]. Source: Bucchiarone, Bassanelli, Marconi, 2022
Figure 2 - Home page and main functionalities of the Ferrara Play &Go App [new version]. Source: https://playngo.it/portfolio-articoli/playgo-cittadini/
Figure 2 - Home page and main functionalities of the Ferrara Play &Go App [new version]. Source: https://playngo.it/portfolio-articoli/playgo-cittadini/   

 

A home-to-work sustainable mobility campaign targeting employees from Ferrara public or private companies. The campaign was part of the sustainable mobility initiatives put in place by the Emilia-Romagna Region to meet the new challenges of the Covid-19 emergency and to promote the use of bicycles for home-work trips by providing economic incentives to employees. The campaign started in May 2021 and will end in December 2023. MUA decided to activate this initiative in Ferrara. Within the Air-Break project the campaign has been implemented and managed by FBK through the Play&Go Aziende platform: an extension to Play&Go that has been developed to support the management and operation of home-to-work sustainable mobility campaigns. Employees of participating companies are rewarded for their home-to-work trips by bike with economic incentives in their monthly pay checks. Companies are supported by:

  • A software platform or web console for the Mobility Managers to manage the necessary information and insert the data useful for the validation of the journeys of the employees (such as the address of the office, the non-working days etc.) and, through the “Statistics” feature, visualize the progress made by the employees with aggregated data or filtered on specific periods. 
Figure 3 - Web console for Mobility Manager (Company Information and Statistics feature). Source: Bucchiarone et. al, 2022
Figure 3 - Web console for Mobility Manager (Company Information and Statistics feature). Source: Bucchiarone et. al, 2022
  • The Ferrara Play&Go Mobile App that allows the employees to keep track of their trips and results (e.g., points earned, badges collected, active challenges with completion status, weekly and global leader boards ranking, personal mobility diary, Kms travelled and CO2 saved), and gives them information on weekly and global prizes, as well as the access to game rules and regulation
Figure 3 - Web application Home page and Trip tracking view [old version].  Source: Bucchiarone et. al, 2022
Figure 4 - Web application Home page and Trip tracking view [old version] . 
Source: https://playngo.it/portfolio-articoli/playgo-aziende/ 
Figure 4 - Web application Homepage and Trip tracking view of the Ferrara Bike2Work campaign [new version]. Source: https://playngo.it/portfolio-articoli/playgo-aziende/
Figure 4 - Web application Homepage and Trip tracking view of the Ferrara Bike2Work campaign [new version]. Source: https://playngo.it/portfolio-articoli/playgo-aziende/ 

This campaign will run in parallel to the Play&Go main action and will involve high school students in a class-level competition. Each student of a participating class will register to the Play&Go game and, with her/his performances in the main game (green leaves points earned with sustainable home-to-school and free-time trips), will contribute to the results of the class in the high-school competition. The class that, thanks to its team members, at the end of the competition will get the best results, will be rewarded with a class-level prize. 

Figure 5 - Web application Homepage and Trip tracking view of the Ferrara High School challenge. Source: https://playngo.it/portfolio-articoli/playgo-high-school-challenge/
Figure 5 - Web application Homepage and Trip tracking view of the Ferrara High School challenge. Source: https://playngo.it/portfolio-articoli/playgo-high-school-challenge/ 

Kids Go Green is an educational tool developed by Fondazione B. Kessler and already adopted by other Italian cities, that aims at changing the attitude of children, their families, and their community towards environmental sustainability challenges, by making the adoption of eco-friendly mobility habits a fun and social experience. Kids Go Green aims at reducing GHG emissions by inducing a collective modal shift from cars to clean sustainable mobility (walking, biking, public transport) in home-school trips for primary and secondary school pupils. 

The initiative involves the entire school community (children, teachers, and families) in a playful educational journey to promote sustainable and active home-to-school mobility for primary and middle school age children. In Kids Go Green, the sustainable kilometres made by each child on their trips from home to school (e.g., on foot, by walking bus, by bike, with the school bus) contribute to the progress of the whole group of children on a virtual educational journey to places in the real world that is personalized according to the group interests and capabilities. Stops are unlocked when enough sustainable kilometres are reached by the entire class, and thus can be exploited for in-class learning and for motivating children towards sustainable mobility transportation.

Figure 4 - Kids Go Green solution: an overview. Source: D7.4.1 “Gamified approach for behavioural change”
Figure 6 - Kids Go Green solution: an overview. Source: D7.4.1 “Gamified approach for behavioural change”
Table 1 - Air-Break campaigns. Source of the data: Bucchiarone, Bassanelli, Marconi, 2022 and subsequent update by FBK in June 2023 
Campaign Field trials Results
Ferrara Play&Go 2020 - 2021 (6 months) - before Air-Break project
  • 1.039 players
  • 19.747 sustainable trips
  • 77,000 km 
  Winter 2021 - Spring 2022 (6 months)
  • active players
  • 38.310 trips
  • 160.000 km
  Autumn 2022 - Spring 2023

results until June 2023

  • 2.197 players
  • 58.010 sustainable trips
  • 249.443 km
Ferrara Bike2Work since May 2021
  • 883 employees from 69 companies
  • 498.678 km of tracked bike journeys
  • 135 t CO2 saved
High- School Mobility Challenge  Autumn 2022 - Spring 2023
  • 104 participants
  • 7 teams
  • 3.041 sustainable trips
  • 9.212 km
  • 1,9 t CO2 saved
Kids Go Green School year 
2021 - 2022
  • 185 pupils
  • 10 classes from 4 different schools 
  • 18.389 km 
  • 7 virtual trips
  School year 
2022 - 2023
ONGOING

 

“In the Air-Break project, a particular attention is dedicated to the study and validation of rewarding mechanisms shaped on the target population to exploit contextual motivators and inhibitors.” (Bucchiarone, Bassanelli, Marconi, 2022)

Both the campaigns as well as the rewards have been specifically designed for each one of the target groups addressed by the project. Therefore, while for the employees and general public the prizes foreseen are mostly economic incentives (such as monthly payments in the paychecks or discounts); for the school age target the focus is on collective incentives, to foster the sense of community and shared objectives, and virtual, game-based rewards. 

Table 2 - Air-Break rewarding mechanisms. Source of the table: Bucchiarone, Bassanelli, Marconi, 2022
Campaign Target Users Reward Type Reward Description
Ferrara Play&Go All Citizens (14+)  Game-based individual incentives and Individual prizes  Ferrara Play&Go combines game-based individual virtual incentives - points, levels, badges, leader boards - with individual prizes - gifts and discounts. Weekly prizes are assigned to the player in the first position of the weekly leader board and to two other players drawn from the top 50 in the weekly leader board. Final prizes are awarded to top players in the global leader board at the end of the campaign. Weekly and final prizes are offered by local associations and sponsors. 
Ferrara Bike2Work Employees from private and public companies Monetary individual   Employees of participating companies are rewarded for their home-to-work trips by bike with economic incentives in their pay- checks: 0.20€ per Km, max 20 km per day, max 50€ per month. The funds for the monetary reward are provided by the Emilia- Romagna region, promoter and financier of the region-level initiative.
High- School Challenge  High School Students  Game-based collective incentives and Team-level prizes  The High School Mobility Challenge com- bines team-level game-based virtual incentives - points, team leader boards - and team-level prizes. At the end of the competition, the team that qualifies to the top of the leader board will be awarded with a collective prize (participation of the team to a social event/experience). 
Kids Go Green Primary
and Middle School students 
Game-based collective incentives and Educational material and activities  Kids Go Green combines game-based collective virtual incentives - virtual kilometres and team advancement in the virtual journey - with real incentives in the form of educational material and activities that are unlocked when the whole team reaches a stop in the virtual journey. 

 

The analysis of the results of the first trials of the four campaigns shows already a positive trend in the behavioural change of its participants. 

For what concerns the Ferrara Play&Go app, after the first trial “66% of players declared to have adopted more sustainable mobility habits thanks to the game and 45% experienced, thanks to the game, a new sustainable mode of transport.” (Bucchiarone, Bassanelli, Marconi, 2022)

“The BIKE2WORK campaign significantly increased the use of bicycles, bringing the percentage of participants using the bicycle for home-to-work commuting at least three times a week from 55.8% to 77.9%, with an increase of 40%. The experience has been positive for the users, regardless of the means of transportation used before the initiative.” (Bucchiarone et. al, 2022)
Furthermore, the open-source data sets collected through the initiative have a great potential in terms of support to the policy and decision makers, urban planners and designers. The observation of the trajectories that the participants choose for their trip support the understanding and identification of mobility and infrastructural problems on which the municipality should focus. 

Figure 5 -Map of BIKE2WORK commuters in Ferrara. Source: Bucchiarone et. al, 2022
Figure 5 -Map of BIKE2WORK commuters in Ferrara. Source: Bucchiarone et. al, 2022

The Kids Go Green initiative has demonstrated “strong impact in terms of sustainable mobility, with increased awareness and understanding of the topic by the children and an impressive impact on the mobility behaviour lasting beyond the conclusion of the trials. This solution also proved to be effective in terms of educational value, offering innovative, interdisciplinary learning opportunities integrated into the existing academic program and the creation of a sense of community as the students are motivated by a common goal and move together virtually through the space of the interactive, educational game.” (Bucchiarone, Bassanelli, Marconi, 2022)

The experimentation with the different typologies of rewards showed that virtual rewards, such as the ones that the participants can obtain directly from the application (badges, leader board position, points, unblocking game contents etc.) are best suited for short-term campaigns and for target groups that participate on a voluntary basis. On the contrary, external or economic incentives go better with long run campaigns and mandatory initiatives (Bucchiarone, Bassanelli, Marconi, 2022). 

Quote

One of the behavioural changes that we managed to trigger through the campaigns with children is that a good percentage of students has gone from being accompanied by car right up to the school gate to being left in the nearby parking lot, reducing traffic and consequently pollution in the area around the school. A small change that can make a relevant difference in terms of air quality.

Annapaola Marconi, Fondazione Bruno Kessler, 2021

Quote

Discussions with the mobility managers have already brought up some ideas that we will try and investigate to understand their feasibility. Ideas included corporate benefits, non-economic incentives, collaborations with sustainable mobility devices providers, and more!

Antonio Buccharione, Fondazione Bruno Kessler, 2021

In the upcoming months, the results of the second iterations of the campaigns will be analysed and presented to the general public. 
An increase in the use of local sustainable mobility means, especially of bicycles, is expected as a consequence of the interventions of infrastructure improvement that MUA is implementing within the framework of the Air-Break (e.g., the new Smart Bike Lane). 

The challenge now is how to take advantage of this new interest of the population in sustainable mobility systems by guaranteeing the continuity of the initiatives that have led to this positive trend. The platform and the mobile app developed within Air-Break are a legacy of the project and will remain under the management of the municipality. Rewarding mechanisms proved to be effective, but it’s hard to secure, on a regular basis, new appealing and targeted rewards. The partnership will start looking for alternative incentives to the ones provided by the Region and by the UIA project.

Bucchiarone, A.; Bassanelli, S.; Marconi, A. How to Foster Eco-Sustainable Behaviors through Multi-Campaigns Rewarding Mechanisms: The Air Break Experience. Sustainability 2022

Bucchiarone, A., et. al, An End-to-End Solution for Enabling Urban Cyclability: The BIKE2WORK Experience. IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON INTELLIGENT TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS, 2022.

Hamari, J. (2019). Gamification. Blackwell Pub, In The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, Malden. pp. 1-3

D7.4.1 “Gamified approach for behavioural change”, WP7, 2021

D7.3.1 Report on First Awareness Campaigns, WP7, 2022
 

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