Category Archives: Behavioural Change

behavioural change

Enter the Paralympics …

Is there room for a “living legacy” (in transport after the Olympics) ?

We knew that the final Sunday of the Olympics was a quiet morning for sport, when politics returned to Sunday morning TV and the Prime Minister was interviewed by Mishal Hussein. The key question was all about legacy. What will the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics be ? We all felt the euphoria and pride in our country. There was a sense of togetherness and a common experience to unite us all. There were certainly some heroes.

GATOG_horse_on_escalatorIt’s been a long time since I worked on the transport planning for the London Olympics on their Travel Demand Management project. Yes, THAT project that was made famous by Boris’ annoying messages at tube stations that encouraged us all to think about our Games travel plan.

GATOG_weighlifters_on_tubeThose announcements might be the most newsworthy, but I think it was the series of posters that went around the London tube stations  and were put into Metro that to me summed up the whole campaign and used sporting characters to encourage us to think about how we travel at Games time and what we could do to play our small part in helping to put on the greatest show on Earth.

So, as the nation’s attention turns to legacy, what legacy might there be from the Travel Demand Management project ? One of the terms that I was really keen on when helping design the project was the creation of a “living legacy” i.e. not only a legacy in hard transport infrastructure (such as those extra carriages on the DLR) but also a legacy in when and how we think about using that transport system.

These numbers are probably a little old now, but when we were planning the project:

– nationally only 1% of people had heard of Transport Direct (a national multi-modal journey planner),

– When there are problems on the line, 87% of people still arrive at National Rail stations not knowing about disruptions on the rail network (and start to form the queue waiting for the disrupted rail network.) [See Passenger Focus study.]

– The numbers were a little better in London, where 1 in 5 commonly used TfL’s travel tools, rising to 2 in 5 when they’d heard that there was known disruption. (This provides some comfort for the vision that I’ll outline below, where people check before they travel and exacerbate any disruptions on the line.)

These figures confirm what we all know, that transport is an habitual behaviour. We generally just do it. We don’t really want to waste time thinking about it, or planning our travel. Why would we want to plan a commuting journey that many of us do every day of our lives ? Why would we want to waste important “brain space”, that could be thinking about more noble, more salacious or more addictive stuff [delete as applicable, depending on how you think your brain works.]

How could we make an intelligent dynamic transport system, where the human elements which the transport planners call the “demand” for the transport system can be influenced to match the available “capacity” on the network and perhaps could those elements be switched dynamically in real-time, to account for unexpected peaks in demand or break-downs in performance ?

For an event like the Olympics, we can put support staff & services on high alert (perhaps even give them “blue light” status), we can temporarily increase our readiness to be able to respond to the inevitable incidents. We can employ thousands of friendly volunteers on a temporary basis, to help show the way, to provide directions, to keep crowded platforms safe or to even to help with loading disabled travellers. But, we can’t make that “business as usual”. At some point, we need to relax back to a steady operational state. Hence, don’t forget how many additional measures were put in place for the Games; which we won’t be able to keep up for Londoners. Hence, the effective available capacity of the transport system and the good-will of its users is naturally reduced in the ‘steady-state’ situation.

In a sense, the Olympics is actually the easy part. But, the Paralympics concern me … …

The TDM project coined 4 R’s: Reduce, Retime, Re-mode, Re-route, in order to build up the available network capacity when and where it was needed for the Games. The Civil Service then took these on-board in Operation Step Change in the run-up to the Games, encouraging people to think about the options available to them when they travel. People do/did work from home more and this generally builds up a buffer in the transport system. In these circumstances, the biggest R within the equation is the R for Reduce. Hence, a lot of the success of the system comes down to the work done in advance, on reducing the “background demand”. Many people took the decision to get out of town and leave London to its Olympics and they’d have their summer holiday. They might even have rented out their driveway as well.

But, when TeamGB does so well at the Games, the weather is pretty good; then actually what happens (although employers wouldn’t like to admit it, in advance) is that we naturally get a conversion of the “base load” on the transport system to what is really Games-traffic. People do watch the Olympics at work. Commuters do become “spectating spectators”. They do go and line the streets at lunch-time or after work. And, their own travel patterns are naturally altered.

In week 1 of the Paralympics, following the Bank Holiday weekend, we might also expect a natural reduction in background demand. But, in week 2, we are certainly back to the daily grind; having extracted every ounce of flexibility of our bosses. Hence, for the Paralympics and actually for the “living legacy” that I crave, we need to rely much more on the other R’s in the equation: the Re-mode, the Re-time and the Re-route and the step before each of those which is “stop and think about it”. For that living legacy, it doesn’t make sense to encourage a long-term Reduction in demand, when we are trying to bolster the economy of London. (This isn’t to say that virtual tele-working aren’t vitally important; but as the long-term trend for these increases, we hope that the economic drive will increase the need for transport even more.)

Hence, over the Paralympics, we actually get to test what we really need to test for the long-term “living legacy” in transport behaviour. Hence, the spot-light really is on.

So what do I mean by that “living legacy”. I’d like to use the Paralympics as an opportunity to kick-start a new or additional habitual travel behaviour, where commuters as part of their routine, check for disruption before they set out and on route, each and every time; and are prepared to influence their travel patterns in light of the travel information that they receive, because they trust it. Then, at that point, we can think about Re-timing, Re-routing, Re-moding i.e. commuters can think about their alternatives whilst they’ve still got time to influence their travel pattern. Perhaps, this involves calling the family and saying “sorry, transport is messed up. I’m going to take the opportunity to finish this project off; so that I can take a long week-end later this week”. Perhaps, it involves walking in the opposite direction out of the office in order to travel via a different route or even on a different mode of transport.

London is doing well with their 40% of people who know where to turn once they’ve heard that there is disruption with the transport system. However, what we want to increase now is the percentage of people, who convert it into a habit to look at travel tools, before or as they set out and turn planning into an habitual behaviour. Then, we’ve “closed the loop” and it is the first step towards that intelligent dynamic transport system that I talked about.

So, now really is the time to check out your Games plan for the Paralympics (and encourage your friends to). The Olympics were a one-off special and they are unlikely to return to London in my life-time. However, the Paralympics are more like “life as normal in London”. However, they are still a huge sporting event. They are the SECOND LARGEST EVENT in the world and they follow on immediately after the euphoria of the world’s largest event hosted in the same city. So, there is NO ROOM for complacency, no room at all and we shrug the Paralympics off at our peril. They are in September and life will go on in September. September isn’t a natural extension to our summer holidays.

Operation “Step Change” was an opportunity to prepare for something as large as the Olympics. The Paralympics are an opportunity to prepare for our lives.

So, here is my plea … … Please plan for the Paralympics. Please prepare your travel plan. Please use it as an opportunity to explore alternative routes to your place of work / your school / your trip from a night out. But don’t just plan for the Paras, plan for your life after the Paras too. Please use the Games as an opportunity embed some traveller information into your daily life. Set up some travel alerts from email or SMS, set up a widget on your desktop, set up a Live Tile on your mobile phone, … not just for the Paralympics, set up these measures for your life.

Do get it touch, if you need any recommendations on good travel tools to embed into your travel patterns.


House of Lords attacks nudging ???

Baroness Neuberger, chair of the House of Lords Science and Technology Sub-Committee,  was on the Radio 4 today programme. yesterday.  Her thesis seemed to be that nudging techniques alone are not sufficient to tackle some of the huge challenges that our country faces, such as climate change or obesity. 

Well that was the headline anyway … Firstly, the report didn’t actually attack nudging, only that it shouldn’t be applied in isolation and secondly the media reports seem to miss the fact that the select committee’s report was based on two case studies. One of those case studies was all about encouraging a significant reduction in car use, if we are to have any chance of meeting agreed carbon reduction targets. However, I’ve not seen any significant press coverage on this point.

The Baroness’ select committee report, apparently, at least attacks civil servants for their interpretation of the steer that they are getting from their political masters, or possibly the policies themselves.  On one hand, the Government are stating a preference for the consideration of behaviour science techniques (which the scrutiny committee applauded);  but at the same time, they are also taking away the financial freedoms for Government Departments to be able to do anything else anyway. The select committee argues that the nudge alone is not enough.

On the Today programme, the Times columnist, Philip Collins, argued that there is an ideology behind nudging: “There’s a feeling that it’s better if things are done in a voluntary way, rather than through regulation and the state.”  But, both agreed that nudging was only part of the solution. Philip trotted out defaults the classic examples of auto-enrolment on pensions, organ donation and “save more tomorrow schemes”. 

The truth behind the headlines, as ever, is more balanced. For instance, one of the key recommendations from the select committee report  is that the Government should appoint an independent Chief Social Scientist to provide them with robust and independent scientific advice and to advise and shape the development of such policies. If the Sub-Committee really felt that these policies had no part to play then what would be the point of such an advisor. The BBC was just trying to make a headline, along with previous ones such as “Nudge or Fudge ?”.

That isn’t to say that nudges are the ultimate panacea. Of course, many times we will need to consider the environment (such as regulation) within which  nudges will sit. If you’ve read Thaler’s book, you’ll know that the first “[i]N” in Nudge stands for incentives – he never saw “pure social science” standing alone. However, what is important with the behaviour science approach is to design the overall package of measures together so that they can be mutually re-enforcing. We all know what if we hear nine pieces of advice that we don’t like, but just one that we do like; then we’re much more likely to take comfort in the tenth piece of information as it sits nicely with our current world view and gives us an excuse not to have to change.

Baroness Neuberger also challenged whether there was any catalogued evidence that nudging works, at a societal level.  She felt the case had only been proven at an individual level.  She argued that you may get a marginal difference in individual behaviour; but the Government are not doing the evaluations correctly when applied to a population.  With organ donation, she argued that actually the thing that would make the difference was training of the staff.  (It is that classic problem that in the real world, you can never set up an “experiment” such that you can only change one thing at a time – not at a realistic level, for a topic that matters quite so much – and hence you can never be quite sure which of the interventions that you made that be be credited with causing the difference.)

Of course, there is a massive “Catch 22” situation in this argument. Unless we undertake the interventions then we’ve got no chance of being able to gather the appropriate evidence. Also, it is a brave project manager, who cancels something essential for his own project in favour funding the evidential framework in order to assess whether the intervention worked in practice and support future projects. (The solution, by the way, is for the programme manager to set the context and mandate the use of the appropriate evidential frameworks and to give the project manager freedom to set financial priorities within his project.  It also takes the right culture for the project manager and the programme manager to be prepared to willingly cut entire projects – even their own – because there aren’t sufficient funds to do “everything necessary” and it is better to do everything necessary on a smaller number of projects than it is to do a large number of parts of projects.  Unfortunately, such cuts don’t necessarily make the best PR when communicating this approach.)

Completely missing from the headlines was the fact that one of the two case studies that the Select Committee looked at was: reducing the reliance of the British public on the car.

One of their specific recommendations from the Select Committee was that the Government should:

    (a)  establish and publish targets for a reduction in carbon emissions as a result of a reduction in car use;

    (b) publish an estimate of the percentage reduction in emissions which will be achieved through  reducing car use and  the timescale for its achievement; and

    (c) set out details of the steps they will take if this percentage reduction is not achieved by this time.

You can listen again to Tuesday’s Radio 4 Today Programme (at 07:50) at: bbc.

You can see a slightly longer video report by the Baroness on the site.

You can also download the reports there at:

  • Report: Behavour Change
  • Report: Behaviour Change (PDF)
  • Inquiry: Behaviour Change
  • Science and Technology Sub-Committee I

  • So what is wrong with volleyball ?

    Were you successful in the ticket ballot for the London 2012 Olympics ? First time around or in the second chance round that started yesterday at 6am ?

    As I write this, the remaining tickets are for a handful of sports including: volleyball,  football, women’s boxing, women’s weightlifting and wrestling. This got me wondering on the subject of my last blog post which was all about how humans make decisions, not in an absolute way but instead they apply heuristics (or short-cuts) based upon relativity.

    The London Games provide a great example of this. Take a sport like volleyball – a pretty exciting sport. A team game that is great to watch. Why did it fare so badly in the popularity stakes ? One answer is relativity. There is another sister sport:  beach volleyball which is basically very similar and where the sessions are priced very similarly.  For both category E tickets are priced at about £20 to £65 and category A tickets span the £100 mark.

    The differences are that for virtually no cost, you can get a “super-improved option” in which volleyball gets “souped up”.  Add a bit of glamour, add an iconic venue in Horseguards parade, add a bit of sex-appeal .. and the beach volleyball tickets go like hot cakes. What is weird though is the volleyball tickets actually fare much worse, just because they got “bench-marked” against their sexier cousin. If they’d been compared to other similar sports like basketball or handball, then perhaps the tickets would have sold more quickly; however the comparison is harder to make so the simple human brain sticks with the easy comparison. What could be easier to compare than the addition of “beach” on the front of the name of the sport ? Luckily, for athletics, there weren’t options for  “beach decathlons”, “beach marathons” or “beach discus”.

    There is, of course, an element of “herd mentality” in here too.  Beach volleyball tickets were selling like hot-cakes; therefore they sell even faster. Perhaps there is something to do with a (logical) view that their re-sale value will be higher; but mostly likely it is human instinct for humans to join to herd and go for the tickets that their peers are buying to.

    There we go … …. Behavioural science, even in the selection of Olympic tickets.

    Another excellent video from Rory Sutherland

    This video is a cracking watch … Rory, described as a thinking man’s Boris Johnson, discusses “interventions for the good” and transport decision-making gets a special mention.

    Rory describes that the problem is that most train journeys start with a car journey.  Hence,  he describes modal shift as an “asymmetric decision” because the vast majority of time, you take the decision on whether to get the train when you’re already in a car. There is all sorts of extra anxiety such as “When is my train ?”, “Is it running on time ?”,  “Will I get a parking space ?”, “Will the car be safe ?”, “Have I got change to buy a parking ticket ?”.  Hence, it is much easier to stick with the status quo and stay in that warm comfy car.

    Hence, the technological solution – the journey planner – can help lift the decision-making into a fair playing field. Journey planners, such as Transport Direct, allow the would-be traveller to make the decision on how to travel before they set out.  The best course of action might still be the car, but at least the options are more likely to be considered fairly.

    Quick link (whilst I sort out the embed feature).

    When is a quote not a quote ?

    The theme of this post is on “sound-bite culture” and whether it is a good or a bad thing. I believe that social media (and possibly Twitter itself) are going to radically shake up the traditional  transport industry, just as it has done for many other industries. The problem is I’m not 100% sure when yet.  Every idea has its time and I’m just not sure whether it is the time for Twitter, in the pretty conservative transport industry.

    Undoubtedly, it can really help for your idea to be “sticky” so that it catches on, and hence it helps if you are able to articulate it quickly and succinctly. Thus, there are a lot of benefits to a sound-bite culture and some would argue that it is an absolute necessity.  I’ve previously blogged about memes and their importance in behavioural change.

    Today’s post was penned on AV referendum day (or super-Thursday as it has been coined) has largely been cribbed from the Independent with my own slant added. Two related stories caught my attention, because they cast doubt on whether social media is 100% a good thing and how we need to exercise caution when quoting others. The two articles were:

    The conspiracy theorist in me then got wondering whether the two articles were connected … …

    1) “AV is a dirty little compromise” – This is a true quote from Nick Clegg, one which he probably regrets, but he did say it. The No campaign have certainly capitalised on it.  My first key point is  about quoting other people.  Even if the quote might be perfectly accurate, it doesn’t mean that it is set within the right context. In this case, it is important to both look at the context of within which Clegg actually made this statement and the wider context at the time. I think this is a general danger for quotations and dealing with the media, who both like to boil a subject down to its essence and also turn it into something newsworthy. After all, they have to “sell copy”. (Equally, we have to sell our ideas in behavioural change campaigns.)

    In this case, the wider context was mid the live US-style television debates for the last election, which resulted the coining of the phenomenum Cleggmania. The Liberal Democrats were being courted by both Labour and Conservatives alike, but at the time, still during the election, Clegg was rightly sticking to his guns on what his party stood for.

    The full quote is:

    AV is a baby step in the right direction – only because nothing can be worse than the status quo.  If we want to change British politics once and for all, we have got to have a quite simple system in which everyone’s votes count. We think AV-plus is a feasible way to proceed.

    The Labour Party assumes that changes to the electoral system are like crumbs for the Liberal Democrats from the Labour table. I am not going to settle for a miserable little compromise thrashed out by the Labour Party.”

    I think you’ll agree that the full quote puts quite a different context onto what Clegg actually said, especially when it is viewed in the context of the time and the on-going electoral hustings. For instance, who at that time, would have predicted a Conservative / Liberal Democrat Coalition ?

    We’ll have to wait for the votes to be counted to see whether the Yes or No campaigns won the argument with the public.

    2) The second piece was  by Natalie Haynes in Viewspaper and had the headline:  “Credit where credit is not due?”.  There were three or four social media angles to the death of Osama Bin Laden that Natalie could have taken. Firstly, the news was apparently first broken on Twitter.  Secondly, we watched the viral effect of news headlines in which the typo: “Obama Bin Laden” was spread around the world even in traditional news media.  However, Natalie’s article focussed on the apparent quotation from Martin Luther King, which spread like wild fire on the Twitter-o-sphere: “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.”

    For those people concerned about the glorification of another person’s death, the quotation seemed to capture the moment and was tweeted around the world. The only problem was that Martin Luther King never actually said it, instead it was traced to an English teacher working in Japan. I’m not sure that quoting the previously unknown Jessica Dovey has quite the same cache, but nevertheless the captured the mood of a significant proportion of the Western population.

    The second key point is that things that are catchy might not necessarily be fully accurate, but perhaps they are “good enough” for their purpose?

    Out of interest, King’s actual quote was (although there will be a real irony, if I get this wrong, especially as I have just copied it from the internet):

    Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.”

    Dovey’s quote got added in to King’s words, then for reasons of space in Twitter’s 140-character limit, her quote became King’s. Except he never said it. Twitter is just an exaggerated case of how our stories get truncated and simplified, if they are to spread.

    Above I mentioned the possibility of a conspiracy theory – perhaps, the editor of the Independent was seeking to re-enforce the meme that “memes are flawed” in that edition of the paper, because he felt that the largest AV meme was currently not pro-AV and hence was detrimental to his message. He might have wanted to change the media landscape.

    However, if there is a choice, I nearly always plump for the cock-up theory over and above the conspiracy nature. It’s just inherent in our human nature. We make mistakes. We are flawed.

    Mind the Gap – Between the harsh world of economics and the social world that I’d like to live in

    Professors Uri Gneezy (from the University of California in San Diego) and Aldo Rustichini (from the University of Minnesota) got the opportunity to establish a series of experiments to explore the transition from social norms to market norms and back again. They wrote their results up in a paper called “A Fine is a Price” in the Jounal of Legal Studies in 2000.

    They had been invited in to study a day care centre in Israel to discover whether the introduction of a fine for parents arriving late to pick up little Jonny would act as a useful deterrent. They concluded that the fine wasn’t a very effective deterrent and worse than that it has long-term negative effects. Before the introduction of the fine; there was a social contract in place and hence there were effective social norms about it being unacceptable to keep the carers waiting and in standing out so far from the other crowd of timekeeping parents. In this case (in Israel), the guilt from keeping people waiting, made parents think twice before doing it again. Persistent offenders found the peer pressure from the other Mums (and Fathers) unacceptable. However, after the introduction of the fining system, the nursery inadvertently replaced the social norms and the social contract with market norms and a market contract. Now that the parents were paying for their tardiness, they could now make a judgement as to whether the impact of them having to leave on time outweighed the fines that they knew would be imposed. The number of cases of parents arriving late increased, not decreased, after the introduction of the fine. (Perhaps, they set the value wrong; but I’ve got no information on that.)

    However, the story then took an interesting turn for the worse. Recognising the error of their ways, the nursery then decided to remove the fine. They figured that they would then be back to the social contract. Right ? – Wrong ! Once the fine was removed, the behaviour of the parents did not reverse. In fact, when the fine was removed there was a further slight increase in the number of late pick-ups by parents. After all, both of the social restorative effect and the market force had been removed.

    The moral of the story is that once a social norm collides with a market norm, the social norm goes away for a long time. In other words, social relationships are not easy to re-establish.

    My next post applies this behavioural economics to the implementation of road pricing in the UK and cautions transport policy makers to “mind the gap”.

    Will London grind to a halt on the 4th January 2011 ?

    On the 4th Jan 2011, London will turn off the Western Extension Zone (WEZ) of the London Congestion Charging Zone. Will London grind to a halt ?

    It was mostly a political decision and an electoral campaign pledge but Boris has consulted widely and the result was that the central congestion charging zone should stay, but the western extension zone should go. London joins an elite band of cities who have actually implemented road pricing and then decided to turn it off. In the rest of the country, many cities have struggled to even get on the band wagon: Manchester, Edinburgh and Cambridge all had negative referenda and voted against road pricing (or, in Manchester’s case, against a £1.6bn investment in the transport infrastructure of the City). However, London is now prepared to jump off the band wagon, or at least within one foot anyway. So what happens when you jump off the wagon ?

    On hearing a talk from TfL about the forthcoming changes to the zone, I was reminded of some great behavioural science about a nursery in Israel which decided to fine parents who turned up late to pick up their children. What’s interesting in that case is what happened when they decided to take the fine away.

    Professor Dan Ariely describes it really eloquently in his book: “Predictably Irrational”. We live in one of two worlds. One world is characterised by social exchanges, the other is characterised by monetary transactions. Unfortunately, these two worlds cannot co-exist. Imagine that you’ve been invited around to your first Christmas meal with your new girlfriend and her family. Her mum cooks up a sumptuous feast and there is everything there that makes the meal special: sausages in blankets, your favourite stuffing, both turkey and ham interlaced together … You get the idea. But, imagine the sound of the “scratching of the record”, as you get up and stretch and proclaim what an amazing dinner that was. However, instead of offering to wash the dishes, instead you break open your wallet and offer to pay for your share of the meal. This approach just doesn’t sit well within the social world. It jars and it grates and it destroys any social relationships. The world of social exchanges, where people amicably take it in turns, return favours and think of each other; and the world of monetary exchanges where we expect hard-nosed contractual arrangements just cannot co-exist. And, the policy-maker who tries to combines these two worlds in his policies does so at his peril.

    Unwittingly, the nursery in Israel broke the social norms by introducing the fining system in the first place, and then when it didn’t work for them, they ended up with the perception of a fine that just happened to be set at zero. Social relationships are not that easy to re-establish. As Professor Ariely puts it “once the bloom is off the rose, or once the social norm is trumped by a market norm, it will rarely return.” The owners of the Israeli nursery found that they then had a double whammy working against them and the parents became even more tardy at picking up their children. After all, there was now no social contract and the economic contract had also been taken away.

    So the question is: Will London’s road system grind to a halt on 4th January 2011 ?