Over the next few weeks, FTVG will be featuring a series of project profiles for each of teams taking part in this year’s initiative. Our first project project feature looks at at ways to improve engagement with rural communities through the development of a Rural Mobility Toolkit. The team is made up of Ellie Hodges, Carla Strimbei, Abby Harris and Katie Lamb from WSP; and Agnese Polonara from Systra.
After hearing about the FTVG competition Laura Brooks, who successfully won the FTVG competition last year, the group from WSP decided to apply for funding. They formed a team with Agnese from Systra who took an interest in the project after seeing their post on FTVG’s LinkedIn page.
Speaking about her involvement, Agnese comments;
“I am taking part in this project because I have some experience in engaging with rural communities and I am aware of the importance that themes such as sustainability, climate change and economic growth have for them. Transport can play a big part in supporting the objectives of rural communities, and I believe that the toolkit we are developing will help other professionals like us creating fruitful conversations with rural communities.”
Collectively through their experience in transport planning, the team have seen disparities between public transport available in urban areas compared to rural counterparts. Ellie believes;
“It was important to focus on rural mobility. More specifically, we wanted to explore the obstacles and holdbacks for rural dwellers when it comes to behaviour change and uptake of different mobility solutions”
Through their work the team have seen how statutory engagement can often fail to reach a broad section of the local population, especially rural communities, and the way schemes are communicated can lead to residents being disinterested and feeling their opinions cannot influence schemes. Carla added;
“We would also like to understand what engagement techniques and communication strategies can effectively involve rural communities in transport decision making.”
After successfully receiving funding from FTVG, the team first sought to conduct a literature review to examine the work done to date in the rural mobility and public transportation fields, with a focus on engagement practices. Abby outlines this step further;
“We looked at a number of documents including ‘The Future of Rural Mobility Toolkit for Midlands Connect’, ‘The 30-minute rural community paper by WSP and Foot Anstey’ and the ‘Smart Villages and Rural Mobility paper by the European Network for Rural Development’, among others. We recognise the importance of reviewing a wide range of documents by various types of authors in order to gain a rounded perspective of the current situation.”
The next step for the team has been to create a survey to engage with transport professionals and local authorities.
“The survey explores experience of engagement and perception of current engagement practices.” said Ellie “We hope to gain a range of industry opinion before arranging in person focus groups to hear from rural residents. These workshops will allow us to have an in-depth conversation with local residents regarding their needs”
An online toolkit will be developed once all the findings have been collated. The goal is for it to be available for use by professionals, local authorities, and local residents in rural areas. This toolkit will be split into two parts: resources for professionals and LAs, and resources for residents and communities.
“The toolkit will provide materials to encourage and enable rural communities to actively participate in developing tailored rural mobility solutions that suit their daily needs and wider values.”
The team hope to gain a better understanding of challenges and opportunities of rural transport and to explore innovative engagement techniques. As well as providing a platform to enable better communication between transport professionals and rural residents, the team are looking forward to developing their professional skills and networks. Carla hopes that the eventual application of the toolkit will be very broad;
“We hope to build connections through networking with transport professionals across different companies. Furthermore, we hope to be able to share our findings with colleagues and apply our knowledge to rural transport projects going forward”
The team’s survey on rural engagement practices runs until 28th October.
A link to complete it is available here.