Hello again - it’s been a while so let's refresh your memory!

It’s been a while. So put the kettle on, turn off the coverage of party conference season and spend a bit of quality time updating yourself on the So-Mo approach to road safety!

It might have been a while since we last posted, but in the background the So-Mo team have been developing a behavioural intervention, designed to reduce high levels of adult pedestrian casualties on Liverpool’s roads. Without going into too much detail, the last few months have involved:

  • generating 100 unique potential solutions

  • selecting the most promising ideas - using our knowledge of behavioural insights and considering psychological presidents to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of each solution

  • agreeing with our client which intervention they would like to take forward

  • selecting trial sites and developing site-specific personas drawn from detailed data analysis

  • pulling together a panel of critical friends to ensure the best chance of success

  • scoping the official process that will allow us to deploy a temporary departure from standard; we want to adapt existing traffic hardware for the purpose of testing our intervention

So yes, we’ve been busy and in my next blog I’ll reveal more about the solution that went into development. But before we do, it may be helpful to share the core elements of our approach and some things we learnt along the way.

FIRST OF ALL - START BY ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS - at the point of commissioning a service or a product most of our clients know the outcome they want to achieve but it’s unlikely that they would be able to pinpoint the key area of focus for our work. That’s not a criticism - it’s pretty usual. A key part of our approach is to determine early on, which part of the problem we need to focus on in order to create maximum impact.

Whilst this quote is commonly attributed to Einstein there is no substantive evidence that he actually made this remark. The words were credited to an unnamed professor at Yale University and the hour was split into 40 vs. 20 minutes. However the point being made has always resonated with the team at So-Mo.

Whilst this quote is commonly attributed to Einstein there is no substantive evidence that he actually made this remark. The words were credited to an unnamed professor at Yale University and the hour was split into 40 vs. 20 minutes. However the point being made has always resonated with the team at So-Mo.

YOU ARE PROBABLY NOT THE FIRST PERSON TO TRY TO SOLVE ANY GIVEN CHALLENGE - So why do so many intervention designers, when faced with a challenge act as if they are the first people to attempt to solve that particular problem? How many meetings have you sat in where people start with the question, “so what should we do about this?” If you start by asking this question you potentially ignore huge amounts of pre-existing insight, evidence and ideas, including the opportunity to learn from failure. We were certainly not the first people to ask, “how might we reduce adult pedestrian casualties on the road?” So there was lots of existing research, available data and a wealth of subject matter experts to speak to; the police, licensing officers, academics, civic society leaders, drug and alcohol experts all of whom had something interesting to say and who brought a unique perspective on the challenge.

IMMERSE YOURSELF IN CONTEXT - Secondary research will help you to identify some interesting themes but it will also pose as many questions as it answers. Once we have isolated our themes of enquiry we move onto primary research, which is a fancy name for getting out there and seeing first-hand what is actually going on. We ask people affected by the problem questions about their beliefs, we observe their behaviours (behavioural mapping) and examine the impact of the environment on their choices and actions (choice architecture). This is all valuable activity that will give us insight into the route cause of a particular problem and an indication of where our focus should be directed .

WARNING - DON’T JUMP INTO ‘SOLUTION SPACE’ TOO EARLY - Suspend all temptation to formulate solutions too early in the process. Confirmation bias is the psychological term used to describe our reluctance to be influenced by evidence that conflicts with our beliefs. In this situation we become heightened to evidence that reinforces our preferred solution, whilst at the same time we undervalue or dismiss evidence that contradicts our particular view or preference. One thing I say to clients who come armed with a ready made solution is, “yes that’s a great idea but how, at this early stage, can we be sure it is the best possible solution to our problem?” Now I’ve raised this, see how many times you catch yourself jumping straight into solution space as soon as a problem is presented.

lateral thinking is a way of approaching problems which uses an indirect and creative approach, typically through viewing the problem in a new and unusual light.

lateral thinking is a way of approaching problems which uses an indirect and creative approach, typically through viewing the problem in a new and unusual light.

TAKE LATERAL LEAPS AND LOOK FOR PATTERNS - After thorough research, look for patterns in the data, be open to lateral leaps, challenge accepted wisdoms and be bold enough to approach problems from different angles.

AN INSIGHT IS LESS OF A REVELATION AND MORE OF A REALISATION - Insights reframe a problem, clarifying the elements that we can do something about. Each insight can be used as a springboard for generating ideas for solutions. In the early stages we always go for quantity of ideas over quality. We always guarantee our clients that we will come up with 100 unique potential solutions. With 100 ideas as your starting point, you’re much more likely to stumble upon an innovative solution.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO LOOK FOR SOLUTIONS IN UNLIKELY PLACES AND BE PREPARED TO EMBRACE WILD IDEAS - Messy intractable problems are seldom solved through a process of simple deduction and logical thinking. If that were the case we probably would have solved them by now.

PEOPLE ARE IRRATIONAL - WE ARE BUILT THAT WAY - Never design solutions on the basis that that people are rational beings who always weigh up the relative costs and benefits of a particular choice or action and then act accordingly. As a rule, people don’t make purely rational choices and are highly influenced by their environment, social norms and operate under an array of cognitive biases. We need to design solutions that respond to how people actually are (with all their idiosyncrasies and flaws) rather than how we expect them/ want them to behave. Think more Captain Kirk less Spock. Economists have learnt this lesson the hard way!

How the engineer thinks people proceed to their destination vs how people people who are drunk proceeded to their destination :)

How the engineer thinks people proceed to their destination vs how people people who are drunk proceeded to their destination :)

RESEARCH SHOWS THAT GREAT TEAMS ARE MORE LIKELY TO FIND INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS THAN ONE GIFTED INDIVIDUAL - In this project we have been very fortunate to work with Road Safety Analysis who have been invaluable on many counts but particularly in their ability to pull together a variety of data sources in highly creative ways . Dr Holly Hope Smith our Behavioural Scientist from Manchester University continues to deepened and challenge our assumptions about human behaviour. The team from the Invisible Wind Factory bring creativity and prototyping skills and our colleagues from the local authority bring a unique bank of knowledge and experience to the table .

Still interested?

In my next blog I will be sharing some information on the solution we are ultimately looking to develop and test…..

Nicola Wass