Scoping Out the Data Cargo Data Collaboration

by | Mar 24, 2021 | Collaborative Cities | 0 comments

We’ve recently mentioned that we’re looking in detail at how data collaborations work in the context of the eCargo bike environmental sensor prototyping project, and now that both projects are underway we’re taking some time to outline what sort of outcomes we hope to get from each one.

We want to share how we’re approaching this work and explore the value of designing for collaboration intentionally rather than being reactive. We’re also keen to reflect on the ODI’s approach to the design of data collaborations, and the toolset and techniques they might bring to bear.

The Project

The Data Cargo project involves mounting a range of environmental sensors onto eCargo bikes and using a real-time data processing infrastructure to generate interesting data products from this. Because these vehicles are generally used by small businesses (our trial area is in Plymouth, home to a thriving social enterprise scene), this isn’t exactly like making an internal set of analytics for a large logistics organisation (probably a good thing) but is something much more collaborative and subtle, especially around privacy – and ultimately we want to explore how something like a local green delivery cloud might share the data of individual couriers, or the businesses that use them, for the best outcomes.

But it’s not just about efficiency: as more and more organisations use eCargo bikes for delivery we want to focus on the rider experience. And so we’re keen to use sensor configurations to better understand how environmental, road, traffic and other factors have an impact on those people actually making the deliveries. Recent years have seen a huge increase in bike-based deliveries and we believe that there is a real opportunity to improve the conditions for those.

An early sensor prototype.

The Ecosystem

Understanding how this might work requires understanding the ecosystem, and this means mapping the main stakeholders and value exchanges; the ODI has a tool specifically for this. A data ecosystem consists of data infrastructure (data assets, technologies, standards, contributing organisations and their policies) and the people, communities and organisations that benefit from the value it creates.

Our ecosystem map is still very much a work in progress but we have already identified a number of actors that have very different, and non-obvious, needs: for example our collaborator Bikespace CIC, who service eCargo bikes and manage a local delivery scheme, will access the bike’s data and will therefore need to be trusted by a number of other actors; the city council, who will use the data to make decisions around planning or transport infrastructure; and further out, civic coders who might use open data released by the delivery cloud ecosystem to create new forms of value in the shape of apps or data products that mash up this delivery data with other open data sets.

Examining trust

The ODI has rightly stressed the importance of trust as a key quality in designing the best possible, mutual outcomes. People will only share data with those that they trust; and understanding and designing for this takes work: that’s why we’re talking to data users and observing their existing data sharing activities as well as exploring future data sharing activities to anticipate possible scenarios.

A lot of people don’t think very much about the data they create, so this combination of talking to people, observation and testing future scenarios is important if we want to surface possible issues and opportunities and plan for good growth in data sharing. We know that we have an opportunity now – while the project is still relatively small – to lay the foundations for a resilient data ecosystem.

Next steps

There’s a lot of work still to be done on this project but we feel like we’re off to a great start. We’re lucky to have some engaged users who are on board with helping to test things out, but we are always interested in gathering views from a wider group. If you currently use a cargo bike, are interested in the data, provide any kind of oversight or regulation, or create digital services with this kind of data then please feel free to get in touch with us.



  1. New routes for Data Collaborations | TDP - […] a peer learning programme for data collaborations supported by the ODI and Microsoft. We’ve blogged here a little about…

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