Using behavioural science to boost sustainable travel

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A Knowledge Exchange project combining academic expertise in behavioural science with industry innovation is aiming to develop new approaches to sustainable travel.

Abstract illustration of future travel

The initiative sees psychologists from Goldsmiths working with Hitachi Europe Ltd.’s European Research and Development Centre, as part of a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). Hitachi is a leading global technology company, with business units including sustainable transport and energy systems. 

The project will use behavioural change methods developed at Goldsmiths to gain a greater understanding of why people travel and what influences their travel decisions. This insight will help deliver new ways of supporting Smart Mobility and promote sustainable travel across the world.

Smart Mobility is a connected approach to transport which uses technology and advances in transport systems to help make users’ journeys as smooth as possible however they are travelling – whether by rail, bus or electric vehicle.

The KTP lead for Goldsmiths is Professor Jonathan Freeman, with the work being delivered by the i2 media research spin-out he leads. This will focus on using i2 media research’s toolkit of methodologies, to develop, deliver and evaluate effective behaviour change initiatives in relation to travel.

The toolkit includes experimental behavioural research approaches, tested with different types of consumer, and Randomised Control Trials to evaluate innovative behaviour change interventions. 

Previous projects which have used i2 media research methods include the digital television switchover and a partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company examining audiences of the future. 

Professor Freeman, who is the Academic Lead for Knowledge Exchange at Goldsmiths, said: “Hitachi has a genuine, longstanding commitment to sustainability, from their long-term investments in renewable energy and green mobility systems to their principal partner sponsorship of COP26, and a determined focus on Net Zero. This aligns perfectly with Goldsmiths’ priorities.” 

The Company Supervisor at Hitachi Europe is Andrew Broadbent who is Head of the Mobility System Laboratory in the firm’s European Research and Development Centre. Andrew said: “The decision to partner with Goldsmiths was an easy one based on the experience Jonathan has of deploying the i2 media research toolkit to accelerate digital transformation in different sectors.”

“Success for Hitachi from the KTP will be an improved understanding of why people behave as they do and translating that understanding into new systems and platforms to enable sustainable and digitally optimised Smart Mobility across the world. I expect that the behaviour change expertise we will internalise in my team at the Hitachi European R&D Centre will then be applicable across multiple parts of our business units globally.” 

As with all KTPs, the core activity involves the employment of a “KTP Associate”. For the project this is Emma Maier who will be based with Hitachi Europe. Emma said: "Behavioural science offers huge potential to support more sustainable transport choices. It is exciting to be working with committed partners at Hitachi to share Goldsmiths' expertise and embed new solutions." 

KTPs are backed by Innovate UK which is part of the funding body UK Research and Investment.

The project is planned in three phases. The first involves the development of a detailed picture of different types of people summarised in a consumer/passenger segmentation. 

The second involves the development of a taxonomy of different behaviour change interventions, and a gauge of our segments’ likely responses to different interventions. This will enable the project to conduct large scale trials and evaluations of the most promising and impactful behaviour change interventions in the project’s third phase. 

  • To discuss any aspect of this KTP project through a meeting with the Academic Supervisor, Associate, or Company Supervisor, please contact Goldsmiths’ KTP Manager, Tom Steer (