Using the wisdom of crowds to bring down speeds

Using the wisdom of crowds to bring down speeds

When campaigning for 20mph speed limits, we often hear responses along the lines of 'I think it's a great idea in theory, but I don't think people will comply with it unless it's enforced'. But there are ways of using the carrot rather than just the stick to get people to GO 20, as Nicola Wass from So-mo explains.

Liverpool's 20mph campaign is held up nationally as an example of how to create a public shift in attitude towards speed. And, whilst we know that that changing entrenched behaviour is no easy task, there are some lessons from behavioural science that can help you make a big difference to your campaign.

But first... ask yourself why, when everyone around you suddenly looks up at the sky do you do the same? When you go abroad to a place you've never been before do you end up settling on the restaurant with people sitting outside, the one everyone else has chosen?

If this sounds familiar, then you have experienced something called Social Proof. Put simply, 'the wisdom of the crowd'. Social Proof centres on the idea that people's behaviour is largely shaped by the behaviour of others around them, especially people they perceive to be trustworthy and credible. In moments of uncertainty people look to what other people are doing as a short-cut to making a good decision.

Taking this back to 20mph, if people perceive that their neighbours are positive about the introduction of 20mph on their street, tit is far more likely that they will also adopt a positive stance. If they see other drivers in the vicinity adhering to the new speed limits they are more likely to follow suite and do the same.

Four things we want to share

At So-mo we use our knowledge of behavioural insight to design behaviour change campaigns. Here are our four top tips to delivering a successful campaign based on what has worked in Liverpool.

  1. Consider who delivers the message. The public are far more responsive to messages from people they perceive to be similar to them. Conversely, they are far less responsive to traditional public sector messaging.
  2. Make public support as visible as possible. If you read press articles or see our social media coverage of 20mph in Liverpool it is unlikely you will see stories, films and images of our local politicians or council leaders. Instead you will see Liverpool people, out there doing a whole range of activities in support of 20mph. Part of our job is to find, co-design and then scale local activity, ensuring these community-based stories get good coverage in the media.
  3. Use teachable moments. Sometimes when people engage with our campaign they have a really powerful response to what they experience. At this moment they are really open to receiving messages. This often happens when we deliver "kids court", a joint initiative with Merseyside Police. We make use of these opportunities to help people adopt risk-reducing behaviours. Watch "Kids Court" on The One Show here.
  4. Help people feel good not bad about themselves. At the end of the day we want to people see themselves in a positive light. So, even when we stop speeding drivers as we do when we deliver roadside education, we want them to see themselves as having been through an experience, which has changed them for the better. We then encourage them to share this with others, creating a ripple effect.

Our goal?

Desirable behaviour that is self-enforced, based on a shared understanding of what is socially acceptable.

Is it working?

Liverpool's population is 467,000. So far 280,200 people have had their formal chance to object to proposed installation of signage. In just under three years only one person has ever raised an objection – saving the local authority thousands of pounds in officer time. This is different picture to what is happening in most other areas where, sometime tens and even hundreds of objections have been raised.

In terms of speed reduction – Liverpool are not releasing data until over 50% of the road network has been signed. This a campaign based on changing social norms and for that to really work you need the whole of the city's residential streets to be 20.

We know we are not quite there yet, but I think we are on the right road.

So-mo are a community engagement and social innovation company based in Liverpool but working across the UK. We deliver training and mentoring to local authorities who are looking to deliver successful 20mph campaigns. Everyone on the course is provided with a toolkit full of implementable campaign activities. To find out more, contact Nicola Wass on 0151 675 5030, or read our blog here.

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Comments 2

Guest - mikey on Tuesday, 14 July 2015 18:21

I note that this item is not the only part of your website which shows cyclists. Is it fair to deduce that BRAKE favours cycling, and, if so, what is its message to all other road users, which include commercial and domestic drivers and motorcyclists, as well as we pedestrians, who are often obliged to cross the roads?

I tried to review but the window "stuck"!

Regarding a proposed 20 mph speed limit, may we presume that physical measures will be urged on government and, if so, what design features you will put forward to prevent damage and loss of control afflicting vehicles of all kinds?

For the record, I do not oppose this idea. The prevailing 30 mph limit puts some vehicles in a no man's land between 1st and 2nd gear. Also, some villagers in my own area set up vigilante speed groups and have been known to put up unofficial, and dangerously confusing, signs of their own. I am all for conviction of offenders in low speed limited areas, except where bullying by large vehicles has occurred. But being a long time countryside driver, I feel I understand the limitations of lanes and double bends.

I note that this item is not the only part of your website which shows cyclists. Is it fair to deduce that BRAKE favours cycling, and, if so, what is its message to all other road users, which include commercial and domestic drivers and motorcyclists, as well as we pedestrians, who are often obliged to cross the roads? I tried to review but the window "stuck"! Regarding a proposed 20 mph speed limit, may we presume that physical measures will be urged on government and, if so, what design features you will put forward to prevent damage and loss of control afflicting vehicles of all kinds? For the record, I do not oppose this idea. The prevailing 30 mph limit puts some vehicles in a no man's land between 1st and 2nd gear. Also, some villagers in my own area set up vigilante speed groups and have been known to put up unofficial, and dangerously confusing, signs of their own. I am all for conviction of offenders in low speed limited areas, except where bullying by large vehicles has occurred. But being a long time countryside driver, I feel I understand the limitations of lanes and double bends.
Guest - Brake staff on Friday, 17 July 2015 11:38

Hi Mikey,

Brake's goal is to make roads safer for all types of road users, from pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, to motorcyclists, professional and domestic drivers. We want to promote a road culture where everyone respects and looks out for each other - hence the theme of last year's Road Safety Week (see http://www.roadsafetyweek.org.uk/action-pack/14-content/518-look-out-for-each-other).

However, we do also want to see more people walking and cycling instead of driving - it's good for the environment, good for your health, and makes roads less congested, more safe and more enjoyable overall. This is the focus of our theme for Road Safety Week 2015 (see http://www.roadsafetyweek.org.uk/content/569-rsw15theme).

On 20mph speed limits, we envisage the vast majority being signs-only, without the need to spend money on physical traffic calming. That's why educational campaigns like the one showcased in this post from So-mo are so important.

Hi Mikey, Brake's goal is to make roads safer for all types of road users, from pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, to motorcyclists, professional and domestic drivers. We want to promote a road culture where everyone respects and looks out for each other - hence the theme of last year's Road Safety Week (see http://www.roadsafetyweek.org.uk/action-pack/14-content/518-look-out-for-each-other). However, we do also want to see more people walking and cycling instead of driving - it's good for the environment, good for your health, and makes roads less congested, more safe and more enjoyable overall. This is the focus of our theme for Road Safety Week 2015 (see http://www.roadsafetyweek.org.uk/content/569-rsw15theme). On 20mph speed limits, we envisage the vast majority being signs-only, without the need to spend money on physical traffic calming. That's why educational campaigns like the one showcased in this post from So-mo are so important.
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