Overview of current research on COVID-19 and mobility
03. November 2020 I Paulina Fried I Urban Mobility Futures, UvA
Background and approach
Formal and informal public health orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic aim to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. Due to those orders, we observe a transformation of our globalised world on a broad scale. With an ever-increasing speed of introducing new policy decisions and health measures on national or local scales, mobility patterns have been dramatically disrupted in the past months. How did mobility scholars and academia broadly approach these phenomena? And what issues have been studied the most regarding COVID-19 and its impacts on human mobility?
These questions guided this scoping review, carried out from 9 September to 9 October 2020. I collected the most relevant and up-to-date academic and non-academic references on changing mobilities. The approach of collecting and organizing recent publications through a scoping review supports the aim to rapidly map key concepts which underpin a research area as well as their main sources. Thereby, I followed Arksey and O’Malley’s (2005) scheme with five stages, intending to collect the most relevant and current studies but also public guidelines, grey literature, blog posts, and other publications. The online platform Airtable supported this ambition by providing a clear and well-structured platform with the possibility to invite other people to contribute to the existing tables.
With the research question “What mobility impacts of COVID-19 related measures are studied?” I explored databanks, online journals, online magazines, white papers, working papers and other sources of relevance upon potential studies to the purpose.
By 9 October 2020, I identified 86 publications as well as 29 non-scientific projects or action plans as relevant and collected in a database on COVID-19 and mobility. Based on these, I created 16 themes (figure 1) based on variables that were found and defined in the 86 publications. These can be adjusted, and new ones can be added at any time when new contributions are added by others.
Discussion and way forward
Given the fast-paced nature of scholarship on the subject, it has been particularly difficult to establish links between the different fields of study and to assess their potential impact. This remains an important step for future research. Nevertheless, the findings tentatively suggest that there are several innovations from cities and local actors such as pop-up active transport in the US or the UK as well as new approaches from academia and research such as the “Responsible Transport” concept emerging around the globe (Budd and Ison, 2020). These need to be critically analysed and discussed to use their opportunities in the best possible way and shape the future towards a more sustainable and equal mobile society. Above all, there is an urgent need to identify, communicate, and mitigate potential threats - apart from the health risk of contracting COVID-19 - to prevent worse, far-reaching and lasting side effects of the pandemic such as increasing socio-economic inequalities, isolation, polarization, gender disparities, or economic insecurities. Academia can make a beneficial support to this aim by organizing joint databases like this and sharing publications with each other but also policymakers and society.
Figure 1: 16 themes and variables (own illustration)
Instruction for using the database
03. November 2020 I Paulina Fried I Urban Mobility Futures, UvA
With the following data collection of studies on COVID-19 and impacts on human mobility and visualisation in Airtable, researchers can orientate themselves in the research areas and get a quick and well-structured picture of current interests in science and public debates. Research collaboration and continuous updating of the data can support efficient and relevant research efforts that focus on the most urgent and underrepresented issues.
To collect the most relevant and current studies on COVID-19 and its impacts on human mobility, and to give an overview of existing research areas as well as potential gaps, I conducted a scoping study from September 9 to October 9, 2020. The results are presented via the platform Airtable. The created workspace “COVID-19 and Mobility” at the moment of writing consists of one publicly available base with three tables (“Studies & Research”, “Themes & Variables”, and “Other Sources & Projects”). The first table “Studies & Research” (fig. 2) presents a collection of 86 academic and non-academic publications. All publications are specified by their title, author(s), the continent they cover, scope/sample they use, study design, methods, main result/outcome, study period, publication date, type of publication, and link to the source. The table contains variables that resulted from my study and assessment of priority issues. These are additionally listed in the second table, “Themes & Variables” (fig. 3), and are grouped in themes. I defined 16 themes that the studies deal with: Active Mobility, Air Traffic, COVID-19, Data & Digitalization, Future Prospects, Human Health, Individual Behaviour, Limitations & Restrictions, Mobility Flows, Mobility Measures & Models, Physical Mobility Infrastructure, Policies, Social and Economic Aspects, Society, Urban Structure, and Work & Commuting. The reason for assigning a specific study to a thematic field is based on my own assessment of the main focus of the publication, often attributed to their title or abstract. With the invitation for other researchers to upload publications to the base, the themes and their variables can be adjusted, or new ones added at any time. The last table “Other Sources & Projects” (fig. 4) contains a collection of mobility actions or other relevant databases classified by eleven different focus areas. This collection has a focus on practice-oriented, small-scale activities and their opportunities for cities and their citizens.
How to use the database
To give an example of how to work with the data: If you are a researcher interested in studies published on the topic of “pop-up active transport infrastructure”, you can simply use the search function in the “Studies & Research” table to look for this term (fig. 5). Then you will see that two studies within the theme of “Active Mobility” and one study within the theme of “Urban Structure” have dealt with the topic. If nothing can be found, have a glance at the table “Themes & Variables” (fig. 4), perhaps a group of variables with slightly different wording already exists. For a better overview, the table “Research & Publications” is grouped by the themes; however, it is possible to make your own views of the data in a grid or other form (left side of the view) and delete them again. Like this, a subdivision of the studies into, for example, continents of research focus (fig. 6), is possible and can be modified according to the interest of the user. After you’ve been searching for the relevant studies dealing with “pop-up active transport infrastructure” (i.e., three publications), you can get more familiar with their particular research focus by scanning their titles, methods, variables, and main outcomes and see if they might help you with your project. Don’t forget to check the table “Other Sources & Projects” for further information, too. In this case, a very useful database to track immediate community actions is available on Pedbike.