Citizens living in rural areas of Flanders are confronted on a daily basis with mobility problems which can lead to mobility poverty. The Flemish design promotion agency and partners initiated a project to formulate answers to this systemic mobility problem through service design.

Main problems that were identified included: 1) lack of public transport that allows for independent travels; 2) car ownership is a requirement to ensure mobility, but a challenge for sustainable development; 3) bicycles are not a suitable alternative to go to work, to school or for grocery shopping.

Specific gender-related issues were identified: women and men face different challenges which are related with their gender roles. For instance, as women are more engaged in care than men, they depend more on a second car in the household.

Vulnerable groups most affected: single parents, migrants and elderly.

In order to find mobility solutions, the double-diamond process was tailored involving a large and varied stakeholder group throughout the project – users, experts, the social as well as commercial sector, and policy-makers. Besides thorough immersion, all stages featured interactions with end-users or special interest stakeholders. Concept design sessions were organised with end-users, stakeholders, and local policy-makers.

The consecutive co-design workshops were based on clear policy directions, followed a gender-sensitive and holistic approach, and enabled users to generate solutions for the abstract problems:

  • The mobility vision from the perspective of different policy domains, enriched by potential solutions. This included a mobility concept with new system hierarchies, considering socio-spatial problems.
  • The Village hub: a translation of the policy into a service concept; a multi-functional and multi-modal point of access into the mobility system. The unique synergy between mobility, social and commercial services proactively supports users and the policies defined. It responds to the needs of both women and men from all ages and socio-economic backgrounds.

Envisioned as mock-up, the output (policy vision, village hub concept) needed to be tangible before being brought to mobility experts, social and commercial stakeholders and policy-makers. Therefore, local implementation was prototyped through user and system scenarios. A business model was also developed. The Village hub concept was designed and visualised.

The policy and hub concept were successfully validated with policy-makers and mobility experts, and some participating organisations followed up the concept with grass-roots hub solutions. The project inspires confidence and encourages solidarity and self-help. It tends to benefit more mothers, elderly, (female) migrants and disadvantaged people because services are restored in the villages. They will now be less dependent on a car to get access to services.

The impact of the vision and policies on rural mobility were quoted to be providing a backbone for future thinking about mobility in rural areas. Plus, dynamics were set in motion at political level. Finally, alongside greater promotion for design thinking to solve systemic and societal problems, the project shows how service design can trigger new ways of developing policy instruments as well as public services.

This project was selected as finalist for the Service Design Network award 2016. More information about the award:

The Village hub concept was implemented in a first village, Beveren-aan-de-Ijzer, in 2017 and is a success. Various other village hubs are being developed.