With our thinking hats on, ForwardMotion and our partners have done some original research into active travel and behaviour change initiatives more broadly. Below, we’ve pulled together the most interesting insights from our research that are relevant to initiatives like ForwardMotion and to businesses who work with or support these initiatives.
Five ways to encourage a change in travel behaviour
The following recommendations have been adapted from research conducted by the University of Bath for ForwardMotion in 2018. For more information on how we can help you or your organisation change people’s travel behaviour, please use the contact form to get in touch.
1. Encourage a range of options for short travel journeys
Three-quarters of our car journeys are under 2 miles, and most commuter cars only contain the driver. By targeting those individuals who only commute a short distance, we can better persuade people to commute using a different mode of transport.
But rather than getting people to stop using their cars, we should try to encourage people to be more flexible in their choice of transport, especially for short journeys. Giving people a wider range of travel options depending on the distance, weather conditions and time constraints, is more beneficial. At ForwardMotion, we use personal travel plans to help people change their travel habits.
2. Target travel interventions at a time of change
Travel choices are often strongly habitual. This means that the ways in which people travel are often repeated on autopilot. So, when people act without thinking, it’s hard to engage them with the idea to change their default travel mode.
But when there’s a break in routine, like when someone starts a new job, this provides a window of opportunity to establish a change in behaviour. By reaching people at a crossroad, we are given the green light to encourage them to turn a corner and form a new travel habit.
3. Tap into emotional and social drivers
Much of our everyday behaviour has causes that we are unable or reluctant to acknowledge. For example, someone who has just bought an expensive car may not want to admit their true reasons for the purchase, even to themselves.
Similarly, we are heavily influenced by what we think other people do, as well as what we think are other people’s opinions about what we should do. We also associate different modes of transport with certain identities. Owning a car, for example, is often seen as a symbol of independence. Yet, we are often unaware of these influences and associations.
Structured interviews and group discussions can help bring these sorts of unconscious motivations to the surface. Such insight can be used to help more people change to more sustainable and active modes of travel.
4. Encourage more reflection when choosing transport
Jumping in the car, or even just reaching for the keys, is often automatic behaviour. Driving is more familiar to many of us, and as soon as alternative modes of transport appear more difficult, we are likely to fall back on the car.
When it comes to choosing transport, we usually focus on one goal, such as speed. But our decision will be heavily influenced by what we each think and feel about different types of transport. Two commuters who want to get to work as quickly as possible via the same route may well still choose different types of transport.
ForwardMotion runs trial periods for people to test out different transport options, encouraging them to reflect more on their choice of transport. More deliberation can lead people to reassess their travel goals and try out different ways to achieve them.
5. Identify different audience groups for targeted campaigns
Councils hold a lot of useful information about the local population. Using this information, we can split the population into different groups. For example, we can break these groups down by how willing or able they are to change their transport choices.
By segmenting groups in this way, it’s often easier to identify the reasons why people make certain travel choices. This information can be used to develop more effective travel campaigns that are tailored towards changing the behaviour of specific groups.
How to get businesses involved in your behaviour change initiative
In 2018, we conducted qualitative and quantitative research with contacts from a range of organisations across south Essex. The following five recommendations have been adapted from the research findings and are intended to help similar initiatives improve the way they engage with businesses.
1. Make the business case
Any initiative will have to persuade businesses of the value they can bring if they hope to have successful partnerships with them. This can be as simple as altering the language used when talking to businesses. By using words that are familiar to the private sector – such as efficiency, staff retention and profits – initiatives can more easily persuade businesses to use their product or services.
We know that active travel benefits the environment and boosts the wellbeing of employees. But this also has direct, positive consequences for the whole business. For example, more people walking or cycling to work leads to a healthier workforce, which can improve productivity and reduce absenteeism.
2. Get buy-in from the top
Senior managers have a lot of influence when it comes to innovation and change in their businesses. Our research found that a significant number of professionals in south Essex believe that an initiative’s success will largely depend on the involvement of management.
But HR teams can also play a big role in driving initiatives forward. This is because HR professionals are responsible for hiring and contacting new personnel. And, as noted in our University of Bath research, people are most open to changing a behaviour when there’s a break in their routine, such as starting a new job.
3. Show your support
Getting employees on board can help jump start an initiative, but that’s not the end of the road. Businesses are always conscious of initiatives that may take up too much of their employees’ time. So, initiatives that can offer the necessary levels of support to businesses and their staff stand a better chance of success.
Any initiative must be a joint effort between those involved. Therefore, initiatives need to clearly demonstrate the support and resources that they can offer to businesses. For example, by crafting communications materials that match the tone of voice of individual businesses, initiatives save them time – something never in large supply at any organisation!
4. Choose carrot over stick
Our research found that when it comes to council- or government-run initiatives, rewards are a much better incentive to get businesses involved. What counts as a reward – and what is proportional to the ask involved – will vary. Getting a return on investment is an important consideration for initiatives.
In our efforts to persuade businesses to participate in our initiative, we found that a reward of healthy food has been an effective incentive. It also helps to further promote a healthy lifestyle among businesses, by linking active travel with healthy eating.
5. Maintain the relationship
For those initiatives that secure a business partnership to help with roll-out, this may seem like the end of the journey. But it is worth reserving some energy for further engagement. Our research found that the majority of initiatives regretted not staying in contact with their partners, with many focusing more of their attention on securing new business.
However, initiatives that continue engaging with their partners can keep the momentum going and build better, more long-term relationships. This approach can bring additional benefits further down the line, with unforeseen opportunities providing the potential for new partnerships in the future.
For example, initiatives can draw up a calendar of upcoming events and suggest activities that businesses can engage with. Giving partners a clear plan of action will boost their confidence in the initiative.
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