Implementing Innovation in the SmartSociety Project – Insights into the Lessons Learnt from the SmartShare Mobility App

by Lucia Pannese and David Wortley

Introduction and Background

The SmartSociety project funded by the European Union ( investigates the socio-technical ecosystem towards which we are moving, and in which interaction between humans is more and more mediated by machines. To do so, several very complex methodologies and technologies were studied and developed and several use cases needed to be addressed to apply theories and research to practical applications. Among those, SmartSociety seeks to use technological innovation to address a growing and serious societal and environmental problem caused by citizens individually using their cars for journeys rather than sharing their vehicles or using public transport. The habit and convenience of using motor vehicles only occupied by the driver, even for short journeys, causes pollution, is wasteful of precious fossil fuel resources, demands substantial public investment in infrastructure and contributes to lifestyle related medical conditions linked to lack of physical activity.

The SmartShare project, part of the EU funded SmartSociety initiative, involved the innovative combination of gamification and mobile devices to encourage drivers to share their journeys with other passengers traveling on the same route, thereby reducing pollution and traffic congestion, making journeys smoother and quicker and providing social networking between drivers and passengers. The potential benefits of the SmartShare initiative are undeniable for all stakeholders involved in making journeys (except perhaps for providers of public transport whose revenue could be impacted by reduced passenger numbers).

Car sharing, per se, is not a new idea. There have been many such initiatives around the world, enabled by the capabilities of the internet to match demand and supply. The sustainability of such initiatives is likely to be influenced by specific local conditions such as the availability of public transport and the level of congestion/pollution on particular routes.

SmartShare’s innovative approach sought to leverage the latest mobile and social media technologies in combination with a gamification strategy based on the human psychology and mechanics of games.

What is Innovation?

Innovation has been defined as “The adoption of a new practice by a community” (Denning and Dunham).

According to the Business Dictionary :- Innovation is The process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay.”

The Business Dictionary goes on :- “To be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need. Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination and initiative in deriving greater or different values from resources, and includes all processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into useful products. In business, innovation often results when ideas are applied by the company in order to further satisfy the needs and expectations of the customers.”

In a social context, innovation helps create new methods for alliance creation, joint venturing, flexible work hours, and creation of buyers’ purchasing power. “

Innovations are divided into two broad categories:
Evolutionary innovations (continuous or dynamic evolutionary innovation) that are brought about by many incremental advances in technology or processes and revolutionary innovations (also called discontinuous innovations) which are often disruptive and new.”

“Innovation is synonymous with risk-taking and organizations that create revolutionary products or technologies take on the greatest risk because they create new markets.”

“Imitators take less risk because they will start with an innovator’s product and take a more effective approach. Examples are IBM with its PC against Apple Computer, Compaq with its cheaper PC’s against IBM, and Dell with its still-cheaper clones against Compaq.”

“Read more:

According to the University of Cambridge Technical Report No. 760 (, “Radical innovation occurs when crossing knowledge boundaries with interdisciplinary teams

Innovation and SmartShare

In assessing the characteristics of SmartShare against the various definitions of innovation, it can be argued that SmartShare, which combines different existing and established technologies and applications in a new way, has the following features :-

  • helps create new methods for alliance creation, joint venturing
  • often disruptive and new
  • is synonymous with risk-taking
  • take on the greatest risk because they create new markets
  • crossing knowledge boundaries with interdisciplinary teams

In seeking to encourage car sharing by applying this type of innovative approach, SmartShare also seeks to satisfy the following innovation criteria :-

  • creates value for which customers will pay
  • must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need
  • further satisfy the needs and expectations of the customers.

This analysis of SmartShare and the characteristics of innovation gives an indication of some of the challenges experienced in the development of SmartShare and the degree to which it succeeded.

SmartShare Successes

The YouTube video with interviews to Italian policy makers below gives a clear indication of the positive support given to the stakeholders and promoters of the project and the degree to which SmartShare has succeeded in creating new alliances and joint ventures. The variety and diversity of stakeholders involved in or affected by SmartShare is a strong indication that the scheme was new and disruptive (because it required users to adopt new behaviours), involved an element of risk and attempted to create new markets.

Bringing innovations like SmartShare to policy makers has helped to close a gap between the research environment (which is always perceived up there in the clouds with no connection to “real life”) and concrete daily issues and problems.

SmartShare has created curiosity, a lot of enthusiasm, mobility managers listened and still want to participate in the scheme, see imaginary srl as an organisation bringing new solutions to them while understanding their problems.

SmartShare, from imaginary’s perspective has helped to build the company’s reputation as pragmatic innovators with both feet on the ground, able to bring new, feasible tools to support a smart, shared society !

SmartShare Challenges

The challenges experienced in implementing an innovative approach like SmartShare are essentially related to the following aspects of innovation :-

  • creates value or for which customers will pay
  • must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need
  • further satisfy the needs and expectations of the customers.

There are many stakeholders who are potential beneficiaries of a scheme like SmartShare but for the scheme to widely adopted and sustainable, it must be sufficiently able to satisfy the needs and expectations of the customers. The customers in this instance (or at least the users who need to be engaged to make the scheme work) are the car drivers and passengers who have to be willing and sufficiently motivated to change behaviours in a situation where the convenience and flexibility of being able to choose time and destination without reference to other humans can be a difficult barrier to overcome.

In addition, the experience of SmartShare also involved some very complex concepts such as:

  • Collaboration between Humans and Machines
  • Singles and collectives
  • Diversity issues
  • Ethical issues, privacy and security
  • Use of gamification to support user motivation

Innovations like SmartShare need to be communicated to and adopted by a critical mass of users and in this context:

  • This needs to be planned within local policies supported by both community leaders and citizens
  • There needs to be a synergistic and collaborative approach across municipalities
  • Mobility projects rely on volunteers acting out of enthusiasm and civic sense and because they want to contribute to a smarter society but they do not have resources (time + money)
  • Although the local press were involved, it was not done in a structured and co-ordinated way and consequently lost momentum
  • Innovations like SmartShare need to involve local shops and businesses in order to fully implement gamification mechanics e.g. through the exchange of badges/points for discounts and special offers but required synergic actions, plans, communication and resources that were not available or insufficient.
  • The challenge of developing new competencies requires motivating people to change perspectives, introduce new practices and adopt novel shared business models

Summary and Conclusions

SmartShare is an innovative, multi-disciplinary, collaborative concept seeking to address an important societal issue through the use of disruptive technologies and gamification to create a new ecosystem of win-win relationships.

The project gained substantial support for its implementation but the complexity of issues and the fundamental challenge of changing established and “convenient” behaviours, together with the lack of stakeholder resources has made it difficult to fully implement on the scale necessary for sustainable success.

As the technologies involved in developing the Smart Society mature and become increasingly consumerised and affordable it is conceivable that the growing societal issues of congestion and pollution will overcome some of the challenges experienced in SmartShare.

About P. Andreadis

Pre-Doctoral Research Assistant in AI and Social Computation @ University of Edinburgh.

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