Cities, Active Mobility, Technology, Community Engagement
Ferrara, Italy

Success Story

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The CLIMB Ferrara project encourages active home-to-school mobility through a mix of behavioural change, internet of things and gamification. Local communities can use the lessons learned to create a civic movement as it aims to change the attitude of children, their families and their community to embrace environmentally sustainable solutions by creating eco-friendly mobility habits as a fun and social experience.

Why is this important?

In Italy, approximately 1,3 million children aged 6 to 10 years old get to school by car, which constitutes roughly 50% of commutes for this age group, the rest going on foot and only a minority choosing to bike or use public transport.

In the Municipality of Ferrara, together with two smaller municipalities Voghiera and Masi Torello, the statistics for home-to-school transport by car are even higher. According to a recent online survey on mobility in Ferrara, a staggering 70% of journeys from home to work/school are made by private car, and in 50% of these cases, the school is not on the home-work route of parents. These statistics also coincide with a previous survey that highlighted the need to increase the number of low-emissions vehicles in the public fleet, such as busses and council vehicles, and to encourage multimodal systems and active transport modes, such as cycling and walking.

This high proportion of journeys to school by car is interesting in the context of the high levels of bicycle ownership in the Ferrara area: about 90% of families have at least one bicycle compared with 56% at a national level. In fact, it is estimated that there are 122,000 bicycles in Ferrara, about two per family and for this reason, it is often referred to as the ‘City of Bicycles’. This may, in part, be due to the relatively flat territory of the municipality and the province. Cycle use has been maintained over time thanks to investment and promotion of cycling by the local administration, as evidenced by the development of the cycle route network that grew from 68.8 km in 2003 to 121 km in 2010, the establishment of a bicycle office in 1996, including cycle planning as a mainstream mode of transport through the Biciplan in the Urban Traffic Plan of 1998; and support for cycling mobility is also one of the objectives of the town’s most recent Urban Mobility Plan, adopted in 2009.

Taken together, these statistics expose a contradiction in Ferrara; on the one hand, it is the ‘City of Bicycles’ yet, on the other hand, its families are opting for the car for ‘home-to-school’ mobility. This is the entry point for the CLIMB Ferrara project, as it seeks to overcome the challenges associated with the use of cars in the daily routine by making things simpler, safer and faster in an already strong culture of active mobility. Both citizens and the municipality itself have voiced their concerns about the high number of cars in front of schools, causing congestion and putting children’s safety at risk. In addition, there are negative social and emotional impacts on the so-called ‘backseat generation’. This is where children increasingly observe the world around them from the backseat of a car, or, increasingly, through the screen of their mobile devices.

This rise in the use of mobile devices also creates additional challenges, even when applied to active mobility contexts. For instance, growing restrictions are being placed on children’s independent mobility, especially in urban areas, primarily due to parental concerns about safety perception of the outdoor space as a dangerous environment for children. These concerns are one of the main reasons why parents give a smartphone device to their children, allowing them to track them using location-based services. However, the use of such location-tracking tools has been found to replace direct interactions between parents and children, reducing the opportunities to maintain and display trust, thus undermining the reasons for adopting this technology in the first place. Further to the point, constant tracking has been found to create anxiety and conflicts due to the child feeling constantly under surveillance, hence resisting restrictions on their mobility.

The experiment 

Active and sustainable mobility for children in urban environments is a fundamental building block underpinning children’s physical, social, cognitive and emotional development, and it helps them develop a relationship with their city. The CLIMB Ferrara project (CLIMB being short for Children’s Independent Mobility) aims to promote increased active mobility, with a focus on home-to-school travel for children, by incorporating behavioural change engagements coupled with Internet of Things and gamification.

Led by the Bruno Kessler Foundation (the main EIT partner delivering on this project), the CLIMB Ferrara project helped scale-out the idea from Trento to Ferrara by using an open innovation approach working directly with challenge owners. The project is centred around two technological initiatives that leverage the ‘walking bus’ practice (known as ‘pedibus’ in Italian, a caravan of children who get to school by walking in groups accompanied by at least two adults). The two technologies are called ‘Walking Bus 2.0’ and the ‘Kids Go Green’ game; the former is an app based on the use of smart sensors and Internet of Things to support the management of the pedibus, while the latter is a game that motivates children to reach the school through active mobility by matching kilometres travelled to virtual trips on a world map. There is also associated multimedia educational content which is integrated into the classroom by the teachers.

Under the slogan ‘The Walking School Bus of the 21st century’, the ‘Walking Bus 2.0’ technology is essentially a smartphone app, a proximity tag and an online dashboard that simplifies the daily walking bus routine for children and their guardians, helping volunteer ‘drivers’ and making the trip to school safe and fun for everyone. By offering elementary children (aged 6-11) and their parents a safe alternative to taking the car to school, it is a viable example of how to improve both the physical and mental well-being of children while not compromising on safety. Importantly, the walking bus also makes life simpler for the parents by providing a time-saving alternative to driving their children to school. It gives working parents time back in the morning and the afternoon, which, scaled up to an entire region (based on average wage calculations) creates significant monetary benefits for society as a whole, in addition to the environmental and health benefits.

The app automates the daily registration of children joining the walking bus in the morning, which was previously done using pen and paper. This had caused many administrative headaches for the guardians, especially when dealing with large groups of children. By automating the registration process, achieved through a combination of Bluetooth-enabled, low-energy beacon devices carried by the children in their backpacks, parent volunteers can focus their attention on actually walking the children to school.

In order to detect the proximity of the child to the volunteer, the beacon devices transmit unique 128-bit identifiers, each ID being associated to a specific child, with the app securely pulling this mapping from a cloud-based database. This proximity detection automatically moves the child from the list of all registered children to a compact list of ‘ready to board’ for the walking bus trip. Volunteers are then able to quickly verify the displayed information against the children present by simply matching the photos of the children displayed on the phone through the app. The beacon devices are designed to last an entire school year on a coin-sized battery and contain no display or buttons.

An important aspect of the CLIMB Ferrara project is that it not only deals with technological innovation for automation and safety in terms of active child mobility, it also introduces gamification as a means to stimulate behavioural change and integrates it into the wider aspects of children’s education and learning.

This is where the ‘Kids Go Green’ game becomes relevant, as it involves the entire school community (i.e. children, teachers and families) in an educational journey based on gamification, which is subsequently brought right into classrooms and integrated into teaching methods. The kilometres travelled by the children on foot (or on a bike or the school bus, for that matter) allow the group to advance in a virtual educational journey that, step by step, leads to the discovery of new environments, conveying the value of sustainable kilometres in a collective manner. This can be brought directly into the classroom because the teachers, with the help of a web app, are able to plan thematic virtual journeys by identifying the stops with which they associate multimedia and educational content.

Once out on the walk, when each intermediate stop is reached, the multimedia contents are unlocked, thus creating the opportunity to address a new topic. The milestones reached and the interesting content keep the children motivated to advance along the journey. In doing so, the Kids Go Green’ game can be tailored to suit the specific needs and wishes of the teachers and children, leaving room for creativity, personalisation and sharing. The designated walking paths can thus be created by teachers based on the educational needs and interests of the group of children. It is also possible to draw on a shared catalogue that allows teachers to select and customise paths and multimedia material already used by other schools.

“With Kids Go Green, we start the day in a completely different way: with a joyful activity, with the desire to accomplish something together, with the attitude of sharing something important among the members of the class. This activity brings us all together. It also permeates our educational activities. Through the game, we are actually travelling throughout Europe, learning at each stop along the way, and sharing the experience with kids in other classes in our school,” says Cristina Venturi, elementary school teacher in Ferrara. 

From a project management perspective, the CLIMB Ferrara project set out three primary activities: technical due diligence, pilot operation and subsequent analysis of long-term sustainability.

In the first phase, the technical due diligence, the team analysed the Ferrara context, identifying target schools and defining the pilot activities. Specifically, the project focused on:

  • Analysing the Ferrara context, policies and needs for home- school sustainable mobility;
  • Identifying target schools and school children and teachers to be involved in the pilot, as well as other relevant local stakeholders;
  • Defining and planning pilot activities to be performed, both from an organisational perspective (activities needed to set-up walking buses in schools, to engage end-users, to ensure proper handling of data privacy, etc.) and from a technological perspective (activities needed to customise, deploy and run Walking Bus 2.0 and Kids Go Green solutions in Ferrara);
  • Preparing communication and information material for end-users involved in the pilot (teachers, parents, children) as well as dissemination material targeting a broader audience (i.e., all schools in Ferrara and citizens).

Municipality officials from the Mobility Office of the Municipality of Ferrara, the Innovation Office of the Municipality of Ferrara and Centro IDEA (Educational Programme for Environmental Sustainability Office) were involved to identify characteristics of the Ferrara environment that could affect the uptake of participation in the project and to plan pilot activities together.

In the second phase, the pilot stage, the team were tasked with running both the Walking Bus 2.0 and Kids Go green in at least 5 schools in Ferrara. Activities performed included:

  • Customisation, testing and deployment of CLIMB-Ferrara ICT solutions (Walking Bus 2.0 mobile App and smart tags, Kids Go Green game Web App and game management Web Console);
  • Information events and training activities with end-users (walking bus volunteers, teachers and other school members);
  • Customer service and technical assistance during pilot operation;
  • The organisation of a CLIMB Ferrara event with all pilot participants and local stakeholders.

Both ‘Walking Bus 2.0’ and ‘Kids Go Green’ were adapted to the local context, specifically addressing privacy and other operational issues, and activities such as workshops were held to engage the end-users and involve them in the planning phase for the pilot studies. In total, one school participated with the ‘Walking Bus 2.0’ with 48 children and 11 teachers, while four schools and 8 classes adopted ‘Kids Go Green’ for a total of 166 children. In addition to the pre-launch workshops with teachers for both ‘Walking Bus 2.0’ and ‘Kids Go Green’, follow up workshops were held and questionnaires distributed to the families of all participants. The results of the study show clear reductions in the use of cars during the experimental period.

In the third phase, analysis of long-term sustainability, the project team was tasked with analysing strategies that can be employed after the end of the project; to launch CLIMB-Ferrara project, targeting all interested schools in Ferrara, and to support its long-term adoption and operation.

The idea of the ‘Walking Bus 2.0’ was to offer participating schools and cities the opportunity to have a Smart Management and Easy-to-Use solution, which included a Mobile App, a system of smart tags (one for each child) and a website. This solution ensured improved safety for students and drivers and real-time data collection. For ‘Kids Go Green’, the idea was to offer an innovative educational tool for schools: a collective game with a dedicated web console for design and management. It could be also used in connection with the ‘Walking Bus 2.0’ initiative or with other community games/initiatives.  


The CLIMB Ferrara project has been a demonstrated success in terms of participation, engagement and user experience.

The project involved the target number of participants and was met with enthusiasm by participants at the schools, including students and teachers. This was achieved through participation in the variety of activities supported by the project including the EIT Climate-KIC ‘Climathon Young’ event (4 classes from 3 schools), the pilot studies of ‘Walking Bus 2.0’ and ‘Kids Go Green’ (200 children, 20 teachers, from 4 schools), teacher workshops and the CLIMB Ferrara Final event (200 children from 4 schools). Overall, more than 200 children were involved, and they tracked more than 9,700 sustainable kilometres in their home to school travel during the experimental period.

The project was also a success in terms of behaviour change and awareness of sustainability. Overall, a reduction of 64% in home-school trips by car was observed,  with measurable benefits in terms of air quality improvement, congestion and time savings. From a social perspective, the project empowered children as agents of change by putting them at the centre of their community, underlining the important aspect of summoning citizen engagement through active mobility. In addition, the technological innovations shortened the social distances between Italians and ‘new’ Italians, acting as an enabler to integrate people into the social fabric of the community; creating a common narrative around the city, washing out differences between children regardless of their background and native language. As such, the project teaches people, young and old, to take care of their community and city, essentially becoming a sort of civic engagement education.

“I think this is a great project, which should become a reference for a new school approach. [..] The added value of this project is that it brings together the local administration, the school and the families, each with its specific competencies, towards a common objective, that is, to be citizens today and citizens of the future,” says Paola Pasqualin, director of the Trento 6 (district) primary and comprehensive school network. 

The project also provided opportunities for outreach and further scaling:

  • CLIMB is now part of “Programma Triennale (2020-2022) di Educazione alla Sostenibilità – Regione Emilia Romagna”: the three-year Programme of Regione Emilia Romagna for Education for Sustainability in schools;
  • Several local authorities in Emilia Romagna are interested in adopting CLIMB solutions in their schools and in some cases (e.g., Ferrara, Unione Faenna, Collecchio) the contracts are being formalised;
  • A first validation of the ‘Kids Go Green’ business model is on-going: for the school year 2019-2020, it found private sponsors and local authorities to cover the costs for 30 ‘Kids Go Green’ games in primary schools in the Trento Province.
  • ‘Kids Go Green’ will be scaled up to more schools in Ferrara and surrounding communities through the EIT Climate-KIC supported Landscape Metropolis project in the next school year. Continued work focusing on the design, development and operation of long-running sustainability campaigns targeting citizens and students within the Ferrara province. 

“CLIMB-Ferrara, with its demonstrated results in terms of environmental sustainability, education and engagement of the younger generations, fully embraces the mission of Fondazione Bruno Kessler: to integrate scientific research of excellence and advanced information technologies and put them at the service of the community for a real impact towards more sustainable cities. The EIT support was fundamental to explore business models that will lead to the economic sustainability of the project in the long term,” says Annapaola Marconi, lead researcher for the project at the Bruno Kessler Foundation.

EIT Climate-KIC’s role 

CLIMB Ferrara is one of many strategic experiments that we are undertaking in cities. Our engagements build on strong relationships established through programmes such as the Deep Demonstrations and more than 7 years of work with innovation in cities. Together with our partners, we are currently working on a place-based, city-wide, residentially-led experiment to demonstrate how to transform cities into sustainable, climate-resilient environments, by catalysing change at a district scale.

Combined, the projects are part of EIT Climate-KIC’s larger, multi-city Deep Demonstration of Healthy, Clean Cities. Our involvement will enable the sharing of outcomes with other stakeholders across Europe, specifically in Malmo, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Gothenburg, Trondheim, Vejle, Aarhus, Stavanger, Birmingham, Valencia, Castellon, Budapest, as well as the cities involved in our Healthy, Clean Cities Deep Demonstration (see below for an overview of cities involved as challenge owners).

Deep Demonstrations: Healthy, Clean Cities

Deep Demonstrations introduce a carefully designed methodology to support and guide a systems innovation process to effective outcomes. The methodology works across four iterative and non-linear components. These include designing, developing and deploying innovation with challenge owners so that multiple drivers of change are addressed simultaneously.

The methodology we are using enables cities to connect and manage a whole constellation of projects in ways that enable those initiatives to learn from one another and yield learnings about how to achieve transformation. We know that one of the biggest obstacles to transformation is a problem of emphatical belief – seeing is believing. It is very hard to make large scale commitments of capital and regulatory change behind acts of imagination.

Decision-makers need options – the experiential learning that innovation can provide through demonstration through engagement in local places, in specific contexts, with ordinary people and with unusual agents of change. Our systems innovation approach works on the principle of learning by doing -hence the idea of Deep Demonstrations – and in doing so involving the whole community as agents of change. Deep Demonstrations are designed to be real-world showcases of cities, regions, countries and businesses – highlighting that rapid decarbonisation and resilience is possible and brings multiple benefits.

– Read more about Deep Demonstrations here.