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How Sweden is Sparking a Mobility Movement

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May 21 2018

Through IKEA, Sweden has already transformed the world of contemporary furniture and home furnishing. Now Sweden is taking on an arguably even more ambitious goal: leading the world in tackling some of the thorniest causes of global climate change. Through the Swedish Energy Agency and its partners, the nation is focusing on reducing pollution from the transportation sector. It plans to reduce (but not entirely eliminate) the need for private car ownership by improving alternative travel options for people in everyday life.

In more wonky language, the focus is on sustainable mobility as a service, an approach that brings all means of travel together. It combines options from different transport providers into a single mobile service, removing the hassle of planning and one-off payments. It’s an environmentally sound alternative to owning a car, and an approach to mobility now being propelled by urbanization, economic shifts, artificial intelligence—and the social and economic impacts of climate change.

Through its initiative, A Challenge from Sweden, the Swedish Energy Agency invited IDEO to join the effort. Here are three lessons we learned along the way through working alongside our Swedish counterparts.

1. Get outside

Swedes live for fresh air and natural landscapes. Even the most committed Swedish city slickers retreat to a cabin at the weekend, or dream of an escape to the countryside. The natural world is imagined and felt as replenishment—as a valuable resource to be respected and enjoyed.

Image by Jon Flobrant

For our design team, it was a reminder to take our research far beyond Stockholm or Gothenburg, especially as we considered designing for a nation of travelers. We took long train rides to meet people in smaller towns, and walked as much as we could. It felt good, and it was necessary.

Going outside also means seeking out inspiration from beyond your own context. We were inspired by examples of civic and societal change from around the world, and brought them into the project, almost as if we’d discovered precious acorns on the forest floor.

2. Engage tradition

Cultural traditions and norms might seem strange or twee to outside eyes. But they almost always hint at a deep societal agreement. We discovered that in Sweden, for sure. Fika is not merely a coffee break during the day: it’s an invitation to pause, to reflect, to reconnect with one’s thoughts or emotions, and to restart.

We introduced fika in our project space, and observed it when we were with the team from Sweden. It added a note of calm and confidence to our work and to our individual energies, even as the work accelerated in intensity towards the end.

Similarly, we drew on Nordic storytelling tradition to share the story of our research in Sweden. Instead of using dry descriptions to describe the different ways Swedes might be triggered to make new transportation choices, we told a three-dimensional fable that told the story of a mythic waterfall, and the different paths that four people took to find it and use it.

The fable allowed us to invite our collaborators into a instinctive understanding of what we’d all learned together, as well as a logical one. The story resonated, it brought joy into an otherwise serious, complex topic, and it was easy to repeat.

3. Be brave

The scale of Sweden’s ambition is remarkable, but—in Sweden itself—commonplace.

Swedes recognize that their country is small, their population tiny, and their contributions to global climate change negligible. But they also understand that, by leading with bravery, they have earned outsized influence in the world. Other countries look to them as an example of how to set goals and make change in service of healthy, sustainable growth.

Sweden has set a goal of achieving a fossil neutral transportation sector before 2030. That’s a big ambition, and an exciting one.

Through a global innovation challenge, Sweden is now inviting engaged political leaders and some of the world’s most capable companies to help make sustainable mobility as a service a reality.

In other words, Sweden is going places fast.

Find out more about Mission Innovation 3 and A Challenge from Sweden.

  • Alex Gallafent

    Design Director, IDEO New York
    Alex's hats include: public radio journalist, actor, improviser, writer, composer, sound designer, and design researcher. IDEO encourages him to wear them all at once.
  • Randy Plemel

    Portfolio Director, IDEO New York
    Randy makes things for people. Randy leads IDEO New York’s city-based innovation portfolio, thinking about how we can gather insights and have impact at the urban scale.
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