Patrick Shih, an assistant professor of informatics at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Cyber-Human Systems program to develop and evaluate a shared mobility system to improve healthcare access to underserved communities in urban and rural settings.
The proposal, “Shared Mobility Systems to Address Transportation Barriers of Underserved Urban and Rural Communities,” is a collaboration with the University of Michigan. It will focus on studying the needs of underserved populations in western Detroit and south-central Indiana, developing and implementing a shared mobility system for healthcare transportation, and evaluating the feasibility and impact of the system through a four-month pilot program.
“Marginalized and underserved populations are typically neglected and understudied in both urban and rural settings,” Shih said. “I've learned a lot from talking to our community partners through the help of IU's Center for Rural Engagement, and I'm trying to systematically uncover and analyze the barriers that prevent rural populations from gaining adequate transportation access so they could fulfill their basic needs. The practical outcome of this work is that we will create a sustainable community ride-sharing network that connects volunteers and rural area populations to satisfy the transportation gap in rural area.”
The project came about following an invitation from Shih to UM Professor Tiffany Veinot to speak at an Informatics Colloquium at Luddy in 2018, and their work—Veinot focuses on urban populations while Shih’s looks at rural populations—dovetailed well. The effort will leverage the use of the timebanking model—a system in which participants provide a service in return for “time credits,” which can then be used to receive services of their choice in return sometime in the future—to create a shared mobility system that can function without a monetary cost.
“We're currently in discussion with healthcare provider networks throughout Indiana to establish an ‘appointment no-show’ metric to objectively measure and identify areas where transportation access is the most lacking,” Shih said. “Then we will engage the community stakeholders to co-design and prototype a shared mobility timebanking-based platform that, in addition to the commonly available app interfaces, provides an alternative interactive voice response (IVR)-based interface to support underserved populations with limited technology capabilities and Internet access.
“I have always been passionate about ways we can improve the lives of marginalized and underserved populations. I'm very excited that we're able to push forward with this work and make meaningful changes to the community.”
The grant runs through 2022, but Shih hopes the system will prove to be sustainable beyond the grant period.
“Creating innovative ways to make a positive impact in underserved communities is one of the goals of the Luddy School, and Patrick’s research is a perfect example of informatics making a real impact,” said Kay Connelly, the associate dean for research at the Luddy School. “Our faculty are focused on using technology to improve lives, and this grant will certainly allow Patrick and his collaborators to use outside-the-box thinking to improve communities.”