At the Active Living and Environment Conference last week Claire Pascoe, Lead Advisor Urban Mobility NZTA, suggested that we might need to apply some different thinking to address our urban transport challenges. 

Claire applied Heifetz et al’s ‘theory of change" model to transport, suggesting that as we seek to transform our urban mobility systems we face an adaptive challenge rather than a technical problem.

According to Heififetz et al “the single biggest failure of leadership is to treat adaptive challenges like technical problems.”

Is this what’s tripping us up?



I’ve been reflecting on Claire’s talk and considering some examples for our urban mobility system.

These could include:

Widen roads to provide more capacity

Change the transport system and culture to encourage a behaviour change away from solo car driving towards more space-efficient modes

Implement variable congestion charging to reduce peak-time traffic

Work with businesses to introduce glide time and flexible working as well as travel plans to increase the uptake of active and shared transport (eg: Sydney Travel Choices)

Install barriers to reduce severity of crashes

Social marketing campaign to encourage safer driving behaviour

(eg: young men)


As a travel demand management (TDM) practitioner, I also think that Heifetz’s model provides a good explanation of what we do; TDM is the practice of addressing adaptive challenges and this practice requires a different skillset to technical problems.

Assuming we can change our thinking, we have two major challenges ahead of us: redirecting funding and effects towards ‘soft’ measures and delivering the bad news to politicians that some of the best urban transport projects won’t have a ribbon-cutting or turf-turning ceremony.



Louise Baker is Sector Leader Smart Mobility & Advisory at WSP.

The views expressed are the opinions of subject matter experts and do not necessarily reflect those of WSP.

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