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Belfast pilots digital currencies to ‘nudge’ citizen behaviour

Belfast City Council is exploring the use of digital currencies to boost the city economy, meet environmental goals and help citizens become healthier.

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Belfast City Council is exploring the use of digital currencies to boost the city economy, meet environmental goals and help citizens become healthier.

 

This week, Belfast City Council and tech company Colu announced a partnership to roll out Belfast Coin, which claims to be the UK’s first city-wide digital currency designed specifically to "encourage positive everyday activities". It will be deployed to boost the city’s economy and help meet environmental goals.

 

Belfast Coin, which will be launched later this year, will operate as a rewards platform, encouraging the Belfast public towards “impactful behaviours” to improve the city.

 

Residents will accumulate Belfast Coins in return for activities such as shopping at local businesses, volunteering, civic activity and more.

 

Belfast Coin is understood to be the UK’s first city-wide digital currency designed specifically to "encourage positive everyday activities".

 

By motivating Belfast residents to make a positive difference, the Council hopes Belfast Coin will strengthen citizens’ connection to the city they live in.

 

The currency will be accepted as payment at local businesses across the city, including shops, cafes, restaurants and more. Residents just need to download the app and connect a payment card.

 

 

Resilient cities

 

Belfast Coin is being introduced as part of the city’s participation in 100 Resilient Cities, pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation (100RC). The organisation aims to help cities around the world become more resilient to growing physical, social and economic challenges, although last month the Rockefeller Foundation said it was ending funding for the 100 Resilient Cities programme.

 

A call went out to members of 100RC’s global network in January 2019 to work with Colu in establishing a city-wide currency. Belfast was one of six cities invited to participate in a workshop at Colu’s Tel Aviv office, and is now pursuing the next step of implementing a city-wide currency.

 

Belfast Lord Mayor Councillor, Deirdre Hargey, said: “Being selected to be part of the city currency challenge means an important opportunity for Belfast.

 

“Belfast Coin will be introduced later this year and it’s our hope that it will initially give an economic boost to local businesses, as well as helping the Council achieve other long-term goals, including environmental.

"This challenge gives us the opportunity to explore how a city currency can bring residents, businesses and city partners together to support inclusive growth."

"This challenge gives us the opportunity to explore how a city currency can bring residents, businesses and city partners together to support inclusive growth – a key priority within our Belfast Agenda. It’s also really exciting to be working alongside other global cities to learn from each other about urban problem-solving and sharing best practice.”

 

 

Lina Liakou, managing director for Europe & the Middle East at 100 Resilient Cities, added: “As Belfast looks to the future, a chief concern will be maximising important assets like its high quality of life, while reducing a range of challenges including the social and economic disparities which exist between residents.

 

"The Belfast Coin is an innovative example of how the city, throughout its resilience process to date, has partnered with its public, private, and individual stakeholders to catalyse inclusive economic growth and build a strong future for the entire urban community.”

 

Colu’s mobile payment app currently operates in communities in four cities in the UK and Israel. More than 200,000 people use it for over 300,000 monthly transactions. In Tel Aviv, Colu has been adopted by around a quarter of the city’s population, the company says.

"The Belfast Coin is an innovative example of how the city, throughout its resilience process to date, has partnered with its public, private, and individual stakeholders to catalyse inclusive economic growth and build a strong future for the entire urban community."

Amos Meiri, Colu’s CEO and co-founder, said: “Belfast Coin will make a tremendous contribution to the city’s development - economically, socially, environmentally and beyond. Just as importantly though, Belfast Coin will bring all the different elements of the city closer to each other, by empowering residents, businesses, NGOs, community groups and educational institutions to work together towards the same goals.

 

“Belfast is demonstrating that it is a forward-thinking, exciting and ambitious city.”

 

Belfast City Council and Colu are now working to sign up a range of partners for Belfast Coin, including large employers and higher educational institutions.

 

Parks and open spaces

 

In another initiative, Belfast is also piloting a blockchain-based community currency to encourage the use of its parks and open spaces and improve citizens’ health.

 

Citizens will be able to earn CivicDollars through an app by being more active, visiting parks and open spaces, litter-picking or volunteering in the community. ​

 

CivicDollars can be exchanged for a range of different rewards aimed at helping citizens improve their lifestyles, such as a free swim or gym pass, a voucher for the bus, train or bike hire or a discount from local shops.

 

Citizens can also choose to donate their CivicDollars to a local community group. The community groups can accumulate CivicDollars and use the currency to hire council facilities for meetings and functions or towards a threshold level for funding. ​

 

 

Nudging

 

Stephen McPeake, founder and CEO of CivicDollars, said: "We aim to provide the necessary ‘nudge’ to enable behaviour change and make it ‘stick’ to reduce the amount of heart disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and social isolation in our communities.”

 

The pilot has been backed by the Amazing Spaces, Smart Places SBRI (Small Business Research Initiative), which provides funding to explore the use of innovative digital technology and data-driven solutions to help manage parks and open spaces.

"We aim to provide the necessary ‘nudge’ to enable behaviour change and make it ‘stick."

McPeake said: “CivicDollars is a social cryptocurrency platform that we have developed to help improve the health of citizens by utilising decision-changing incentives. The SBRI funding will help us to further develop CivicDollars to better help the wider Belfast community by increasing their physical activity levels and increasing footfall in parks and open spaces, while also reducing barriers that are preventing physical activity.”

 

The pilot project is being run on Belfast’s Connswater Community Greenway, a 9km linear greenway in East Belfast. Through the use of geo-fencing technology, users will be rewarded with CivicDollars for every 30 minutes they spend in the park.

 

Impact

 

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast recently published their evaluation of the impact of the £40 million Greenway on physical activity and the health of the local population. The PARC study concluded that the Connswater Community Greenway had already created a safer, cleaner, greener public space since it was completed in 2017.

 

The researchers said that if two per cent of residents become more active, the Greenway will “in essence pay for itself due to reductions in the incidence of chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease”.

"We need to think of new ways to encourage people to be more active and to use the excellent parks and green spaces that we have in Belfast."

Dr Ruth Hunter, a researcher from Queen’s University Belfast, commented: “We need to think of new ways to encourage people to be more active and to use the excellent parks and green spaces that we have in Belfast. CivicDollars provides a novel opportunity to earn rewards while improving our health. We know that a more active society leads to reduced chronic illnesses and results in cost-savings to the NHS.”

 

Business

 

Corporations are also being encouraged to get involved by accepting CivicDollars from community groups in exchange for time and expertise as part of their corporate social responsibility strategy.

 

For example, they could accept CivicDollars in return for building a community website, training leaders or holding community workshops. The businesses can then issue their CivicDollars to employees as a reward for taking the bus to work, cycling to work, signing up to the Couch to 5k challenge, etc.

 

The CivicDollars pilot in Belfast will begin on June 1.

 

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