A systematic approach to analysing complex transport challenges

Analysis means identifying and describing the specific problem(s) being faced and getting an understanding of the underlying cause and effect relationships.

Avoiding Mistakes

In the article: How can you avoid transport policy mistakes? I discussed the key mistakes that transport professionals experience when solving complex challenges:

  • Problem-Solution Thinking  
  • Forgetting key stakeholder perspectives
  • Ill-defined problem statement

Rational Approach

There are numerous analysis methodologies, including rationality, incrementalism and evidence based. The rational approach involves formulating the problem which leads you to ask a number of questions:

  • what is going on?
  • why did the issue arise?
  • who is affected by the issue?
  • how much time and money is appropriate to spend on solving the problems?
  • what are the alternative solution options?
  • when is it appropriate to take action?

To be able to assess potential solutions requires decision criteria to be established, considering practicality, acceptability, relevance and cost, along with other aspects.

Drivers of Transport Issues

Transport is primarily a derived demand – a result of the movement of people and goods for economic and social purposes to satisfy a need.

It is therefore important to understand the drivers of demand as this impacts future transport trends.

Many factors affect transport including economic, social and demographic trends, legal and political issues.

Defining Problems

Careful definition and scoping of transport challenges is critical to success.

A well defined problem statement has the following elements – the undesired situation, the future desired situation, the gap and in getting from one to the other, what is the downside.

To illustrate, traffic congestion is an undesired situation and more reliable traffic flow is a desired situation, however as there are often competing interests by different actors, the downside means not everyone wins.

See article: How can we tame the wicked traffic congestion problem?

The Analyst’s Toolkit 

There are many tools available to analyse transport challenges, to suggest a few:

  • economic analysis, such as using benefit-cost analysis
  • social analysis, such as using multi-criteria analysis
  • environmental impact analysis

My suggested tools are tried and tested approaches.

PESTEL Analysis is a simple and widely used strategic tool to analyse macro factors, considering current and emerging Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal challenges.

This is a very useful tool that is readily understood and can assist in stakeholder and community workshops to move from the controversial present to a considered future.

The second tool is SWOT Analysis. Again a simple and well used approach, but very powerful. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

SWOT has a different focus to PESTEL Analysis, as its focus is the tactical level, so the two tools complement each other and should be used together. Again a useful tool to engage stakeholders.

Key Concepts

  • carefully define and scope transport challenges
  • consider all key stakeholder interests in your particular challenge
  • avoid problem-solution thinking
  • use a rational approach to solving transport challenges
  • utilise tools such as PESTEL and SWOT to analyse challenges.

PS. You may be interested in TFI Online Courses, in particular Addressing Transport Challenges, and also check out the Mobility Trends mini-course – both help address transport challenges.

1 thought on “A systematic approach to analysing complex transport challenges”

  1. Hi Phil, This work is sound but there are some gaps. When one does short cuts because the consultation is to long, inconvenient or complex, one ends up leaving out key stakeholders. Better to chunk the analysis and arrive at components with full consultation, including feedback, devolving functions to subject groups. Those chunks would become more tractable and also robust. For example, driver licensing includes people who can barely see but insist on driving because of personal security. This function must consider how and when barely sighted people lose their license. Example two is that we know there is a safety limit on the spacing between vehicles, and it is a simple technical problem for cars to measure and respond to this limit, yet there is no proposal to regulate this requirement. There should be a to-do list for each of the chunks that can be evaluated.


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