Two cartoon characters running holding an arrow sign with Helsinki-logo

What do climate change mitigation and daily physical activity have in common?

Our Climate Watch monitoring platform brought up surprising possibilities for collaboration. One such opportunity takes its first public steps today. We expect to discover many more of them in the future.

Today we are launching a data-driven monitoring and management service platform for one of Helsinki’s key strategy programs: The Physical Activity Programme.

One year ago, we at Kausal team helped the City of Helsinki create and launch the Climate Watch monitoring platform, which allows anyone to follow the progress of Helsinki’s climate goals based on close-to-real-time data and a high level of transparency. My team and I have been enthusiastic about the development of the Helsinki Climate Watch for two reasons: firstly, it showed the city’s commitment to set ambitious climate goals backed by a data-driven understanding of how to reach them. Secondly, more transparency of the work done by the city for climate has encouraged an agile mind-set where both successes and failures mean lessons learned.

Helsinki can now share best practices with other cities and Kausal is excited to support them. We are happy to partner with other organizations wanting to push the boundary and leverage latest technology to ensure their strategy succeeds.

In addition to the climate goals, Helsinki has other important goals. Lack of mobility is an acknowledged health risk. Physical exercise is often not enough to compensate for the disadvantages of an otherwise immobile lifestyle. The city took up the challenge of increasing the daily activity and mobility of its citizens. This involves creating opportunities for movement through services for the senior population or in places like schools. The idea is to design an urban environment where it is easy to choose for everyday opportunities to move more.

When Helsinki approached us to use our Watch platform to monitor also their mobility action plan, I got enthusiastic but had questions. Is a platform we designed for climate action plans suitable for a completely different topic? Could striving for carbon neutrality and promoting mobility have anything in common?

I am now confident to say that the answer to both questions is yes. We took the challenge! After a great collaboration with Minna Paajanen, Elisa Kaaja and the rest of their incredibly driven and passionate team behind The Physical Activity Programme, the new monitor service is being launched today.

Expanding data-driven decision making capabilities

The basic idea behind Climate Watch has proved to be quite universally applicable. This goes beyond climate. For any other strategy plan a city might have, it simply makes sense to have a data-driven approach. With our platform, we describe the city-level activities as individual actions with their associated tasks, and indicators that can be used to monitor progress close-to-real time. This is what truly can be called data-driven decision making.

We applied the same mindset to The Physical Activity Programme. Using the Kausal platform, Minna’s team worked on structured data collection from different sources, looked for experts from the city organization, defined actions and indicators, and identified areas where more effort is needed, creating a framework where the civil servants working for this program can have autonomy in reporting and making progress transparent. Not to mention that the platform also clarifies responsibilities within the city organization, enabling collaboration.

Our job was to support Minna’s team in every step, adjusting the platform and working agilely to fit their needs. Basically, everything is now under a user-friendly interface that can be easily learned. Taking up a new software platform can be daunting, especially in the public sector. But because of our extensive experience working for a city ourselves, we understand our clients. Every department is different. We offer full support in training and customizing the platform according to what the organization needs.

Helsinki Physical Activity Watch

Get moving for the climate

Through this project, Helsinki had a chance to discover strong links between mobility and climate work, strengthening its strategy. Promoting cycling and walking both improves people’s level of fitness and reduces the need to drive. Thus, the Helsinki Climate and Physical Activity Watches have common actions such as the construction of a bike lane network and also common indicators such as Length of the Constructed High-quality Bicycle Highways or Modal Share of Walking and Cycling. In this way, the city experts (called “contact persons”) working with different actions can see the significance of their own work towards two different goals: climate and health.

Before a city decides to invest in an action, it benefits from a thorough assessment of the benefits of that potential action: What is the impact? How does it connect with other actions? Who are the beneficiaries and how will the action add value? While there is no such tool yet to provide a data-driven assessment of benefits before investing in an action, at Kausal, we are in the progress of developing a scenario tool to meet this need. The tool can be used to generate predictions and assess the potential impact of different kinds of actions. This is particularly useful when an action plan is up for revision and we need to assess which new actions would be effective and which not.

Health actions with bonus climate benefits

The health effects of exercise, such as a reduction in the risk of heart disease, are also being assessed more extensively in Finland. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare and the Finnish Environment Institute are currently working on this analysis, and the national results will soon be available during a seminar presentation next week. This will allow us to connect and show what impact on health have actions such as those connected to urban transportation (part of the Climate Watch). The fact that we can prove that some climate actions have this double impact will only reinforce their added value. That is why it is important to look at them together.

This idea of connecting actions from different domains and showing their intertwined effects could be developed further. For example, someone’s choice of changing and improving their nutrition and lifestyle can be because of either health and climate reasons, but usually the effects are beneficial for both. It would also be interesting to develop assessment methods for the health effects of a climate-friendly diet.

Let’s look at another example: biodiversity. How forests are utilized is a critical issue in Finland, with major climate consequences. But the conversation around forests is not only connected to climate and biodiversity: their recreational value is now recognized as an important health promoter. Spending time in nature increases well-being.

So things are more interconnected than you might think at first. What will be the next watch after the climate and mobility watches? And how will it benefit the city’s strategy? What other innovative ideas other cities might have?

Is your city organization considering taking up a new challenge?

I’d be happy to discuss this with you. Feel free to contact me or book a demo.

Chief science officer and Co-founder at @kausaltech. Open science and environmental health enthusiast.