This week’s project feature focuses on the Manchester Ad Collective (M.Ad Collective); a research project into novel ways of encouraging sustainable transport use inspired by branding practices and social movements.
The group all drew inspiration from the call to action from a recent PTRC webinar; encouraging new transport professionals to find innovative approaches to bring about behaviour change and tackle the wider challenge of decarbonising transport.
From this starting point, the group started looking at where other parts of the transport sector were succeeding in changing behaviours, most notably the car industry;
“I noticed a huge gap in how sustainable transport is promoted in comparison to car advertisement”, said Tafta Nugraha, an assistant consultant at Momentum Transport Consultancy and PhD graduate at the University of Southampton.
“As a result of the huge gap in advertising efforts, it could be quite difficult to get broader backing for sustainable transport projects because cars are still seen as more aspirational”, he added.
Dong Zhao, a PhD candidate at the University of Technology Sydney had observed a similar pattern;
“Many travellers are unaware of the benefit of travelling by sustainable modes and continue to choose travel by private cars. Our project is aimed at figuring out ways to tackle the stigmas surrounding these choices and test new ways of articulating these benefits.”
The group have chosen Manchester as their pilot site for understanding the push and pull factors influencing travel behaviours. Sarah Kumeta, Senior Innovation Officer at Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) explains the choice of site;
“There is an increasing choice when it comes to public transport options, and this is expected to grow as new forms of transport become available. In Manchester, it can sometimes be a challenge to make people move away from a dependence on private car use and recognise the benefits of public transport; both to the individual and wider society.”
Sarah added that the recent COVID-19 pandemic had offered a snapshot into how beneficial travel choices could happen;
“We have recognised the shift in people changing the way that they travel, with increased numbers of people walking and cycling in Manchester. If we could get more people to recognise that sustainable travel can contribute to a healthier lifestyle, we may be better able to combat the effects of COVID-19 and future disruptive events.”
“We believe that the solution for sustainable future transport is already here in the form of public transport. Especially in places with good tram and bus networks like Manchester. There is a good proportion of the population who can use public transport but does not choose to and we want to see how we can change that.”
Sarah, Dong and Tafta partnered with Steven Russell, an Innovation Manager at Stagecoach Bus to promote the idea of “Ad Collectives” as a model for future travel behaviour change initiatives.
The novel ‘Ad Collective’ concept intends to bring together insights from diverse and sometimes competing groups; including transport operators, policy makers, local authorities and members of the public. These insights focus on the collective’s motivations and drivers, aiming to empathise with their travel choices. Based on this feedback, the collective then develops a common set of messages personalised to each group’s needs aimed at encouraging modal shift. The collective then becomes a creative movement to spread this messaging to a wider audience.
Tafta expanded upon this concept some more;
“We want to present the evidence of sustainable transport’s health benefits from increased physical activity and the environmental benefits for the community and package these into a campaign to change the public’s perceptions on these transport modes. These benefits can also be packaged to a wider array of stakeholders to get their support for the campaign.”
FTVG is funding the M.Ad Collective to test this concept in Manchester, recruiting participants for a sample group and working with a marketing agency to refine the messaging.
“We’re aiming to recruit participants who don’t use public transport and have negative preconceptions as it is only by talking to these people that we can learn what messaging may encourage genuine change”, said Steven, adding;
“We’re also getting the support of some creative professionals to tutor us in advertising techniques to help us test out different marketing approaches.”
The group hope that the “Ad Collective” model can be replicated elsewhere should their Manchester pilot prove successful, as well as building an evidence base to help others develop effective behaviour change initiatives. Dong hopes it can contribute to refining travel cost models from the perspectives of both health and environmental aspects for understating the drivers behind mode shift;
“On the one hand, I want us to develop effective campaign strategies that encourage people to use sustainable modes for themselves; on the other I want us to understand the underlying cost functions that one day could also feature in ‘selling’ the quantitative benefits of sustainable travel to bigger audiences”
Sarah added that she wanted the project to provide the tools for more effective behaviour change initiatives;
“If we can get a range of stakeholders to come together to address some of these ‘softer’ measures in an aligned approach, I feel there is a real potential to shift behaviour change”, she said.
Featuring contributions from Edinburgh, Sydney, Southampton and Manchester, the group benefitted from a wide network of contacts all sharing similar interests. For Dong, it enabled her to expand upon her academic research by engaging with the professional sector;
“This is an excellent chance to meet like-minded people and to expand my view on transport management and control. I am hoping to extend my knowledge and research experiences through working with professionals.”
Sarah welcomed the chance to expand her skillset and get some project management experience;
“I am excited to have the opportunity to meet other like-minded people and also work on a project which isn’t necessarily ‘part of the day job.’ Having the freedom to develop a project from start to finish has been a great opportunity and I really look forward to the weekly meetings with the team. I’m picking up lots of new skills, such as research practices, stakeholder engagement and even marketing skills. It a great opportunity to be involved with!”
Tafta agreed that the project offered him the chance to try something different;
“It’s been a brilliant opportunity to meet and work with other young professionals and to do something a little bit different than what I do daily. I am already having so much fun with my team and my project!”
Steven reflected on the outcomes from the original Transport Visions Group and how it offered connections that lasted beyond the project.
“For me, It’s a chance to meet some other young professionals, seeing the original cohort still connected and supporting each other 20 years on was inspiring and I’m looking forward to following my teammates’ careers and saying hello every now and then to talk future transport.”
The findings from the M.Ad Collective will be published on www.ftvg.co.uk once the initiative concludes this summer.