That is what Kristin Qvenild Nesset had in mind when the city of Trondheim started out on a mission to engage residents in the sustainable development goals of the United Nations.
Kristin leads a project to develop an app for citizens to track their actual climate related emissions.
“We used digital traces and patterns that people leave as they go about their everyday lives,” she says. “With that information, residents become wiser about how they can reduce their carbon footprint. By working closely together with local businesses and services, the app calculates the carbon footprint based on what types of groceries you shop for, the services you use and how you get to work every day – to mention a few.”
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Using existing data in new ways
The data used in the app comes from different systems. Banks, local stores and public transportation services are brimming with useful data. With the user’s consent, their data is shared with the app to help enlighten them about their personal climate impact. In other words, the app uses data that already exists and makes use of it to benefit the citizens of Trondheim.
The app primarily provides two different things, Kristin explains.
“Citizens can see suggestions on how to reduce their carbon footprint. Simultaneously, the municipality gets a more accurate picture of the effect citizens’ lifestyles have on the environment. Up until now, it has not been possible to measure that in a good way,” she says.
“Developing and launching this app is a great opportunity for Trondheim to nudge and hopefully motivate people to make better and more sustainable choices.”
Real-time information for accurate results
While the use of the app is highly recommended, doing so is voluntary. Users can also define what data to share, with more data giving better results.
When consent is given, the app automatically collects information on the citizen from various registries.
Kim Remvik-Larsen, the Head of Business Concepts Data & Insights at TietoEVRY, says he and his team have focused on user-friendly solutions when joining as a partner to develop the app. Key areas were selected for improvements when entering the partnership. They helped with developing a framework for collecting the data from different organizations and businesses.
“A risk was that people would find the app difficult to use and be put off before they even started their journey,” Kim says. “The application now automatically collects information available from different sources: registers from where they live, whether they own a car and so on.”
Another area selected for development was the ability to adjust the app content due to your specific life situation.
“If you are, for example, a parent with two small children using diapers, your climate footprint should be compared to other people in a similar situation. Then you could see if your carbon footprint is higher than the average,” Kim explains.
The possibly uncomfortable truth revealed
As a key improvement, Kim and his team made the report related to their carbon footprint easier for the citizens to understand.
“In a former version of the app, the citizens didn’t get direct feedback on their behavior,” Kim says. “In the current version, they receive a map showing different areas where their spending is concentrated. This report is empirical, based on their real-time spending.”
This way, the information the citizen receives is not affected by reporting biases. It might not be what they want to see, but it will be correct.
“The whole system is awesome, and the same principle has unlimited potential for other use cases,” Kim says.
He adds that a development version of the app could in the future suggest different hacks for Trondheim residents to reduce their climate-related emissions.
“The citizen could receive a suggestion of what to buy next time he visits a grocery store based on the groceries he bought last week.”
A digital representation of something physical, from an individual or machine to an entire city or supply chain. Designed well, digital twins help in understanding the whole or part of a system. For the citizens of Trondheim, the app is creating a digital twin of themselves – an avatar based on their actual lifestyle patterns and spending. By creating this avatar, the app can provide each citizen with their own personal dashboard, while helping the city to make more informed decisions that benefit the population.
You can read more about digital twin and the advantages of data here.