Role of strategy in solving everyday transport challenges

Let us start with defining strategy. What is strategy? A strategy is a longer term direction to achieve a particular goal. 

For example, the vision for road safety is ‘No person should be killed or seriously injured on Australia’s roads’ and the strategy to achieve that includes ‘adopting the safe system approach – safe roads, safe speeds, safe vehicles and safe people’.

What is the difference between a strategy and a plan? A strategy describes the desired outcome, the strategic view, while a plan provides specific actions that will lead to that outcome. When talking about the shorter term, we usually refer to actions or tactics. 

Continuing the road safety example, under each of the four safe system components there will be specific actions over the shorter term

Too often as transport professionals we fall into the trap of problem-solution thinking – jumping to solutions without adequately considering and thinking through what the issues, challenges or problems that are being addressed.

The context of the challenges you wish to address are critical. So, jumping to a solution based on past experience or a previous successful application somewhere else may not be the most appropriate, or cost-effective, or practical. Or then again, it just might.

In every situation there are policy considerations, and the specific context, that must be taken into consideration.

There are practical limits or constraints in terms of budget, politics, and community opinion, plus what is feasible for stakeholders involved, and their current capacity and capability to help deliver the desired results.

Challenges

Any successful solution to a transport challenge must consider cause and effect. Do you really understand the base causes of the issues or problems you are trying to address? If you don’t, then you may end up just treating symptoms and the problem will just rise up again, because the cause hasn’t been addressed.

In the analysis phase you will drill down and deconstruct the challenges from a strategic and tactical perspective. More on that in a later article. But before jumping into that analysis, it is important to establish a ‘results focus’.

Results Focus

We can define a results focus as having an ambition to improve and establishing an agreed approach and accountability, with a focus on achieving results for transport users and the community. This strategic orientation will provide a focus and drive a series of progressive actions, which must be monitored using an agreed performance framework and reported on.

You need a clear vision of the ultimate results to keep on track. At the highest level there are the transport system objectives that have a direct relationship and contribution to community goals, in terms of economy, society and the environment – referred to as the triple bottom line.

Your focus needs to show how your proposed solution contributes to those strategic goals. I call this a line-of-sight – it helps decision makers understand the strategic contribution.

Logic Mapping

A very useful tool to help this address transport challenges is logic mapping, which follows a hierarchy of outcomes or objectives approach. This is similar in concept to Logical Framework Analysis (LogFrame) that is preferred by international aid agencies. A ‘Logic Map’ consists of five stages: context – inputs – outputs – outcomes – impact, with a process to convert inputs to outputs.

In the Strategy stage, the first and latter stages of a logic map are developed, that is ‘context’ or operating environment and the ‘outcome’ and impact’, or results stages.

Key Stakeholders

To be able to deliver any proposed solution to address transport challenges, requires you to build support from key stakeholders. Note that it is not practical or feasible to try and deal with every potential stakeholder or treat them all equally. Ignoring stakeholders altogether usually results in failure or partial success at best.

You first need to identify who are the key stakeholders. There are two tests I suggest you use to identify ‘key’ stakeholders as those:

  1. with a very high level of interest in your proposal, including those who you will rely on to contribute to the results, or those affected by what you propose; and/or
  2. that can have significant influence on the success (real or perceived) of your proposal.

There will always be winners and losers. By understanding the spectrum of interest vs influence you will be in a position to align deliverables and minimise any potential threats.

Key Concepts

  • beware of problem-solution thinking
  • understand the specific context of challenges to be addressed
  • establish an ambition to improve – a results focus
  • identify how the proposal contributes to strategic outcomes
  • logic mapping can help show the process from challenges to results
  • identify and engage key stakeholders, align deliverables and minimise threats.

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.

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