Data innovations for sustainable mobility: Harnessing the power of collaborations

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Traveler using navigation app on smartphone. Photo: onephoto/Adobe Stock
Photo: onephoto/Adobe Stock

Transport interventions have widespread effects beyond the movement of goods and people, yet high-quality data to measure those impacts is limited. Even though 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are generated each day (due to 3.6 billion smartphone users, satellite imagery, sensors, and e-gov), this information is often unstructured and underutilized—including in the transport sector. Collaboration opportunities between data providers, policymakers, and researchers to scale up data initiatives are often missed. This is due to, for example, limited data sharing guidelines, lack of clarity on how to scale up data pilots, and complexity of multi-disciplinary collaboration.

To explore potential solutions, Transforming Transportation included a session to promote and showcase data innovations within and between organizations to support decision-making across the transport sector, and to stimulate discussion on how the innovations could be scaled to support more effective transport policies and projects. The session was hosted by the ieConnect for Impact program, an award-winning collaboration between the Development Impact Evaluation (DIME) and Transport teams that delivers impact evaluations in transport. The technical session was attended by over 370 participants. Speakers provided examples of innovative and collaborative transport data work, shared ideas on how different initiatives can be scaled, and discussed the sort of collaborations needed. Below are some key takeaways from the discussion.


Promoting interdisciplinary and cross-agency data collection and collaboration

DevLab at Duke University shared its experience on ways to foster interdisciplinary collaborations. They discussed considering upfront the logistics of interdisciplinary data collection, research, and publication; and facilitating matchmaking between research networks. In addition to working across disciplines, the panel pointed to the importance of collaborating across institutions. The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), discussed their collaboration to update the rural and urban mobility observatory for Latin America, which generated 23 mobility indicators and data tools for different countries to promote universal accessibility, efficiency and quality of services, and safety.


Guidelines for data sharing

A core element for data collaborations is the establishment and use of data sharing guidelines. The panel pointed to the difficulties in sharing data across agencies given technical and legal data sharing requirements within agencies. The establishment of data intermediaries within agencies to connect data providers with data users should be considered.

EIB developed shared the technical note they developed to serve as a starting point for municipalities seeking practical information on data sharing. The note recommends a roadmap for urban mobility data acquisition and provides cases where data from the private sector is being used for transport planning. For example, in Sweden, data from the private sector is being used to inform travelers on average traffic speed.


Setting a foundation for the successful scaling of data innovations: Pilot testing

Given the high cost of transport investments, it is important to use pilots, experiments and simulations to identify effective investments. One example, discussed by EBRD, is the use of city-wide digital twins, which provide a digital model of the city’s buildings, transportation systems, and infrastructure, fed by data transmitted by local sensors. This approach can help municipalities target investments by trialing pilots in model form first, enabling policymakers to identify where the best impact from that investment can be found, reducing financial costs of incorrectly targeted investments.  An exciting area is the use of city-wide digital twins to test carbon-emission reduction investments to improve energy efficiency across cities. Cross-organizational collaboration could help to bring together the data necessary for developing these digital twins for more cities.

The ieConnect team shared its experience producing analytics to inform the design of interventions and prioritization of investments, generating knowledge on the impact of transport interventions through the establishment of data systems and rigorous evaluation.

While data pilots in transport are important, the ieConnect team discussed the need to ensure that these pilots can be scaled to provide government agencies with the data needed to ensure effective transport systems over time. Involving the government from the ouset of each pilot is one of the lessons the team shared if we want to ensure buy-in and continuity of the project post-pilot. The pilot should also have a very clear policy bottom-line and application. Data systems are only good if they are used, hence the importance of considering the policy questions that can be answered at the beginning of the pilot and working to ensure both usability and usefulness Identifying or aligning funding beyond the pilot stage will also be important. Pilots do create demand for financing system at scale and can be incorporated in operations and their components. Perhaps most importantly, minding the capacity of government counterparts and focusing on developing the needed skills will be critical to enable agencies to adopt and scale up.



In summary, the speakers offered the following suggestions to help ensure effective and efficient utilization of transport data to support better mobility in developing countries: facilitating data matchmaking between networks and establishment of data intermediaries; considering upfront the logistics of collaborative data collection, research, and publication; proactive development of data sharing guidelines; and working together to conduct simulations and pilots to ensure effective targeting of transport resources as well as to identifying early how data pilots can be scaled up.


The authors appreciate the TT2022 High-Level Technical Session Moderator, Aidan Coville (DIME, World Bank), and speakers: Ozhan Yilmaz (European Investment Bank), John Seed (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development), Sveta Milusheva (DIME, World Bank), Kate Vyborny (DevLab, Duke University), Julieta Abad (Inter-American Development Bank), and Catalina Vanoli (CAF -development bank of Latin America).

The ieConnect program is funded with contributions from the UK government.


Aidan Coville

Senior Economist, Development Impact Evaluation (DIME) Department, World Bank

Alice Mortlock

Operations Officer, Development Impact Evaluation

Arianna Legovini

Director, Development Impact Evaluation, World Bank

Nancy Vandycke

Program Manager, Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All) and Lead Economist, World Bank

Sveta Milusheva

Senior Economist, Development Impact Evaluation

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