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Public Transport that breathes

Updated: May 19, 2022

At PEARL, in addition to doing the research and our teaching, dissemination and community participation activities, we also consider how the research outcomes can be put in action. This means thinking about the processes involved in implementation. One of these is the way in which implementers need to create a team to do this.

Earlier this year we completed a workshop, funded by the British High Commission in Cyprus, about how a city government might start to develop a new approach to reducing carbon emissions by encouraging the use of active travel and public transport rather than the high levels of private car use in the country. The workshop participants included city and national Government officials, consultants, academics, students and members of 'civil society'. Superficially this issue is one of responding to climate change by reducing carbon emissions; fundamentally though, it is about having to change the behaviour of individuals in a way that they might not really like. So it comes down to how people choose to act in the context of their immediate environment - absolutely a topic of interest to PEARL. The workshop was about how to set about creating a team to create an environment in which people would make such a change.

The key to encouraging such a shift in individual behaviour is to enable people to feel good about the change. In a case where people feel good about their present behaviour this means that it is necessary to help them see a better behaviour - and in this case, this means some education about how to see the link between their behaviour and climate change effects: turning the key to start their car worsens the effects of climate change. Yet to enable them to 'not turn the key', will require a fundamental shift in their attitude to active travel and, in particular, public transport. This means making the public transport system and the infrastructure for active travel a lot better.

Working with Dr Xenia Karekla (an ex-member of our group), the workshop introduced a number of processes: Create an overarching Vision that can survive differences in political opinion; create a Strategy that sets up the actions and processes that will attain that vision, define the actual Actions that will be necessary to achieve this, and set up a Plan for their achievement. Of course this requires the necessary technical and procedural knowledge and skills, but it also needs some other core skills in the team and the workshop brought these to the attention of the participants. In the workshop we showed a structure for achieving this process in a creative way.

We start by Realising the world as it currently is - an honest appraisal of how things are so that we know what we need to change and what might be able to stay as it is. We then need to Envision this realisation so that we can figure out how to make the transformation. That envisioning leads to Composing the new world - putting things together to create the new world, testing and adapting as necessary. Once the composition has been created, we need to Implement it, testing and adjusting it with involvement from the people in an iterative process so that it will work well in reality. Then we need to Evaluate it for its ability to achieve the Vision. This is not the end though: how can we spread the success to other parts of the city, or indeed to other cities? We need to Translate this outcome to see what might work somewhere else and what would need to be adapted in order to work well somewhere else. Translation involves working out what parts of our solution are generic and could work in other places and what are particular to 'this' environment and would need to be adapted - and of course how that adaption could be achieved. Finally we need to Transform the ideas and approach of the project so that the world will change and this requires a whole process of explaining, participation and inspiration to others using this success to inform them about how they can also make the world a better place. To do all this it is necessary to involve the people in active participation in the process and this means that we need to reconsider what we mean by 'team' in the context of developing a strategy and plan of action.

The workshop covered the creation of a team, that includes both the technical and participatory expertise required for the project, but also, crucially, a set of team-making skills for each member of the team. The team needs to be able to look at the existing world with new eyes, to see honestly what is wrong and doesn't work in relation to the Vision, as well as what is being helpful. This requires what we called an 'Anarchist" in the team: a person who is there to question the current situation and whatever proposals are being generated by the team. Then the whole concept of catalysing new ideas from old ones, so that new innovative and feasible ideas can be created - so we need a 'Catalyst' in the team. Then we need people to compose the actual actions that will transform the system - a 'Composer'. Then we need to know how to put the new strategy into action: what will be required to achieve this - a new law or change in regulation? or a new interpretation of existing ones? - and to have a robust way of knowing whether or not the actions and strategy are achieving the Vision - so we need a 'Bureaucrat' who knows how things are actually done, what is legally possible, how to change laws if that is necessary, and how to evaluate performance. The team also needs an 'Inspirer' who will create the opportunities for asking the difficult questions, inspire the team to be creative, inspire the public to participate in the process, and also help to communicate all of this to the wider population so that society as a whole engages in the process. All of this is about turning ideas into ways of enabling people to interact better with their immediate environment in a way that will help to save both the species and the planet.

Perhaps most intriguing of all though is what the team has to do in order to generate this kind of outcome. We showed how this could be defined by a set of four processes that the team needs to achieve, and how each team member needs to take responsibility for ensuring that these are achieved. The four processes are: Understand - where the team arrives at a real understanding of the challenge from the perspective of all people involved in it, including both users and non-users of existing systems to obtain a truly rounded understanding of what is happening now; Explode - where the team works to challenge all the present assumptions about the challenge and its role and performance in current society, and brings in new ideas, from different projects, different ways of thinking, different processes, different cultures, and so on, for consideration in the development of possible solutions; Create - where the understanding and explosion of ideas created thus far are brought together to create a new proposition for solving the challenge; Activate - where the created ideas are brought together and come to fruition so that we can know how well they are working for people and planet.

Image describing the team structure as described in the text
Team structure: who you need, what they do and their outcomes

Putting all this together we can illustrate the team and its approach to resolving a challenge:

The workshop used this approach to generate an approach to achieving a change in the public transport system and a move towards active travel by resetting how a decision-maker would approach the challenge. Their outcome is explained in the 'infovideo' below to show how this might work in the case of designing a bus service. This describes how a decision-maker could involve people, use innovative techniques (like 'pre-mortem analysis' - where you imagine the project has been implemented, but has failed, and work out why and how it failed so that you can avoid these mistakes in the real project) - but always with the active involvement of the people in the community to ensure that the project would be appropriate and successful:

'Public Transport That Breathes' - an infovideo from the Workshop in Cyprus

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