Defra is commissioning research into ‘public understanding of sustainable transport’ in order to contribute to the developing evidence base on sustainable consumption and production and the pursuit of policies which contribute to one planet living.
The overarching requirement is to provide evidence about how far the public appreciates that its transport and travel choices influence climate change; to identify the level of current awareness about the range of behaviours available to individuals to reduce their personal transport-related carbon emissions; and the acceptability of these alternative behavioural choices to the public. Other objectives include identifying any misconceptions and confusions in the way the public conceptualises the transport and climate change links, and to identify who they would most readily turn to for information about making effective climate-beneficial consumer choices.
As the requirements involve uncovering detailed information about the complexity of the attitudes people hold, and the possibility to explore with people various scenarios which could enable them to reduce their transport-related ‘carbon footprints’, the research will take a qualitative approach, using discussion formats with different numbers of participants (some groups of around 35 people, some with around 5, and also some individual interviews). In total around 100 participants will be drawn from locations across the UK in such a way as to reflect the make-up of British society.
The research will use innovative methods, notably ‘mini juries’ to debate discussion topics they are informed about in advance; a ‘political party’ game in which individuals identify other participants with similar views and work with them to construct their ideal media strategy to motivate carbon-reducing choices; and ‘mobility biography’ which adds a historical dimension to the study, seeking the origins of current attitudes and behaviour important for transport and the environment to an individual’s personal social and economic situation and key events in their past lives.
The discussions will focus around five possible behaviours which could reduce the carbon emissions from transport, including walking, cycling and using public transport more, and adopting lower-carbon vehicles and fuels. Air transport is an important issue, but covered in a related, separate project.
The outputs of the different research techniques will be brought together to construct a ‘typologies’ or characterisations of groups in society which have adopted similar attitudes toward the importance of transport activities to climate change and the options available to reduce climate change emissions. The typologies will assist Defra and other responsible agencies in targeting information and activities intended to reduce emissions at those specific groups, in order to make the more effective.