Behavior Change Case Study: Remix

By Kate O'Brien

Kate O'Brien is a consultant and writer for Meeting of the Minds. A collaborative consultant focused on facilitation, coaching, and capacity building, Kate supports an array of change agents and their transformative work in communities across the United States.

More people than ever live in cities. City leaders today are challenged to find efficient mobility options for residents, while promoting high quality of life and while minimizing carbon footprint. How can cities proactively manage the entry of new mobility (for example, shared scooters and bikes) while maintaining balance in the existing transportation system and the built environment that supports it? Is it possible to allow users across all modes  to travel and co-exist seamlessly?

Seeing this need to maintain balance across rapidly changing mobility ecosystems, the co-founders of Remix assembled a team of software developers and transportation experts to create a technology platform for cities to answer these kinds of questions. The Remix team brings this multimodal platform to its clients, primarily local governments, to help them gather all relevant data in one place, and then view, analyze, and shape their entire transportation system at once.

Remix supports communities with planning and analysis across three realms:

  • Public Transit: Planning public transit from vision through implementation by sketching out ideas quickly, examining how proposed changes impact the transit network, and facilitating collaboration with peers — all in one place.
  • Streets: Envisioning, planning, and designing streets for the multimodal city by viewing streets as public spaces, and designing them to prioritize people and safety.
  • New Mobility: Managing scooters and bikes, shaping policy, and proactively responding to the rapid expansion of new mobility options.

Tiffany Chu is one of Remix’s co-founders. She says the path her team might take with a city customer  to work in one or more of these realms can vary widely. She says this depends heavily on context, “but we’ve come to see that cities have three levers to pull in order to affect change in the built environment and its systems.” According to Tiffany, these domains are:

  1. Policy – writing laws to put guardrails in place that prioritize public benefit
  2. Design – influencing physical design of the city and its infrastructure
  3. Data – using data to inform and guide policy development

“Usually when we first engage with a team, they’re zeroed in on the one lever they’re most comfortable with,” says Tiffany. “Part of our job when we first sit down with a city is figuring out how to help them bring all of these levers together ,” she says, because “a city needs to work with all three to actually bring about sustainable change.”

The Remix team brings a multidisciplinary approach to their change management work, which helps them complement municipal government clients, whose stakeholders tend to be siloed into separate departments. “We’re fairly unique in the software industry, because our team is blended,” Tiffany explains. One half of their team is comprised of transportation practitioners and policy experts, and the other half is made up of software developers and designers. “We bring to transportation planning the culture of co-creation and fast iteration that is typically found in the software industry,” she says, “so, we go into a room having both those muscles to flex.” Tiffany says this duality helps her team relate to many different departments inside a local government, tailoring their message depending on the audience and their level of comfort with change.

In terms of determining scope and strategy with a new city, Tiffany says: “We often come with an approach to look at every possible angle to help a community be on the leading edge” of managing the prospect of new technology coming into their community. Using their software to look at and understand existing conditions, Remix helps cities anticipate new challenges before they happen. In short, Tiffany says, “when the future comes, you’ll be ready.”

Remix originally came at this work from a grassroots, civic tech background. “Our birth story was ‘we built a prototype for citizens to suggest better transit routes to their local agency,” Tiffany says. “That was our opening of the door. We believe that if you believe public t transit is the backbone of a city, then you care about maximizing that public service in terms of equity and sustainability. We are practical and mission-driven at the same time.”

However, Tiffany is quick to point out two factors that influence her team’s point of entry with a city, even more so than a community talking about transportation explicitly: time and leadership. When her team starts engaging with a new city, Tiffany says, “we tell them that cities planning their transportation systems need to have a sense of urgency about the future.”

Communities with a broad, multimodal vision for their transportation future seem most receptive to what Remix has to offer. “If a new mayor comes into office issuing a decree or mandate of some kind, such as New York City’s goal to improve bus speeds by 25% by 2020, it often means we can accelerate our work,” Tiffany explains. Communication of such a vision can come in the form of an outward-facing announcement that outlines this broad strategic vision, and helps various departments and actors in the local government see themselves in the work ahead.

Understanding the need to balance planning and policy also helps Tiffany and her team. “We work hard to start where cities are. No one does well by looking at urban mobility in a vacuum,” Tiffany says. Her team spends ample time ensuring that whatever built environment modifications are contemplated during visioning will work in concert with everything else that’s going on in reality. “So often we hear cities say ‘We’ve already invested so much of the public’s money in this transit system for so many years. We have to get it right—we can’t fail. How can you help us?’. That’s a lot of pressure, but looking at the system from multiple angles all at once can really help the city make good on its commitment to making the most of its resources.”

Much of what Tiffany describes of the Remix approach is informed by the discipline of user centered or service design. Tiffany offers this example: “People who plan transit must be transit users so they can be in the head and heart space of the transit user. But this mindset is very rare for city government. The most effective organizations—whether corporation, city government, or nonprofit—are those who are user-facing, who truly put users at the forefront of everything they do. ”

Tiffany cites the work, vision, and values of Code for America, for which she and her co-founders were fellows when they co-founded Remix, as having helped many cities move forward with user design principles guiding their work with measurable success. Code for America’s model bore strong influence on Remix core business vision. “We bring the user centered approach to local governments in our work, absolutely. Especially when we work with innovation teams embedded within a city government, we ask them to think about ‘what does the customer journey look and feel like?’ and move forward from there.”  

 

Behavior Change Analysis

As a civic tech company, Remix uses the powerful tools it developed to help municipal teams change their cities for the better.

The Remix team influences local government teams by making it EASY to plan proactively for the evolution of their streets and transportation systems. As the Remix approach is user centered, a client can be expertly guided through a facilitated view and analysis of their city’s transportation system and built environment. Change for the public good is assumed by DEFAULT, with Remix encouraging its clients to better understand what’s happening on the ground in their community, and to then rapidly beta-test management of different mobility solutions.

Everyone on the Remix team visits cities and agencies to learn first-hand about their customers’ challenges and pain points. The firm’s platform is also informed by a practical mix of disciplines—software development, design,urban planning—that enables its creators to convey to clients a sense of SALIENCE. Once engaged with a client, Remix uses its software to manipulate existing conditions, and with just a few clicks, generate a customized, interactive visual display of how that client’s city could be.

The Remix team makes their offering TIMELY by bringing to its clients a sense of urgency in the work of planning municipal transportation systems. With a co-creative approach to their clients, the Remix team provides an impetus and an opportunity for municipalities to consider proactively planning for new transportation modes as they arrive on the scene, or, more optimally, before they do.

The Remix team itself is a MESSENGER that is responsive—to the context in which a client sits, and to that client’s needs in terms of where it is in its change journey. The team can modulate certain aspects of its message depending on what will resonate most, but brings to its clients a powerful suggestion that there’s an opportunity and a responsibility for a city to maintain its COMMITMENTS to the public by being proactive about planning for its transportation future and stewarding municipal systems, services, and resources as responsibly as possible.

 

Conclusion

With its user centered approach to understanding, analyzing, and testing solutions to cities’ mobility challenges, Remix has helped communities plan their streets and manage mobility so it all works together. To date, over 300 cities have engaged with Remix, and have gained the capacity to play a more proactive role in shaping their transportation future. Learn more about Remix by visiting their website, and stay up to date on the leading edge of mobility management by checking out the Remix blog.


The theoretical basis for the Behavior Change Blog Series is informed by two mnemonic frameworks shown in detail below. The MINDSPACE framework is a list of the elements that inform cognitive biases and human behaviors, while the EAST framework is a list of directives that are derived from MINDSPACE and help inform strategies for influencing behavior change in humans. These two frameworks were established by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), a social enterprise based in the United Kingdom.

 

MINDSPACE Framework EAST Framework
Messenger – We are heavily influenced by who communicates information to us. Make it Easy – Harness the power of defaults, reduce the ‘hassle factor’, simplify messages.
Incentives – Our response to incentives is shaped by predictable mental shortcuts such as reference points, aversion to losses, and overweighting of small probabilities. Make it Attractive – Draw people toward preferred behaviors, design rewards and sanctions to maximize effect.
Norms – We are strongly influenced by what others do. Make it Social – Show people the norm, use the power of networks to encourage and support, encourage people to make a commitment.
Defaults – We “go with the flow” of pre-set options. Make it Timely – Prompt people when they are most likely to be receptive, consider immediate costs and benefits, help people plan their response.
Salience – Our attention is drawn to what is novel and also to what seems relevant to us.
Priming – We are often influenced by subconscious cues.
Affect – Our emotional associations can powerfully shape our actions.
Commitments – We seek to be consistent with our public promises, and to reciprocate acts.
Ego – We act in ways that make us feel better about ourselves.

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