Engaging Ethnographic insights

One of the core pillars of the AHA methodology is the use of ethnographic insights to bring new knowledge about the future needs, possible actions and experience of people who will be using future transport technologies and services to designing future MaaS.

This section outlines how these insights are produced, from the design of the ethnographic research to the production of ethnographic insight materials for use in workshops and other dissemination contexts.

Why people?

People are at the centre of our agenda for the future. We have a responsibility to design for future lives, not just for future technologies and future cities. This focus helps us to understand people beyond being simply citizens (a cities focus) or technology users (a technology industry focus) to instead understand ourselves as People, with our everyday lives, our routines, jobs, social relationships with others, dogs, cats and everything else that makes up the complexities of real life. Many people live in cities and use transport, but neither cities nor transport define our lives.

Transport policy researchers agree that very little is known about how people will engage with a feel about MaaS. It is an absolute priority to address this gap in knowledge so that we can design new possibilities that will suit future people and future lives.

Why Ethnography?

Ethnographic research produces new and necessary knowledge about how people will live in cities and with transport in the future, because it goes under the surface to investigate what life is really like and what is important to people.

Without an ethnographic underpinning, and the testing of future MaaS technologies (prototypes, WOz experiments) through ethnographic methods we risk producing technological solutions for problems that do not exist while ignoring the needs and hopes of the real people whose knowledge and experience can help us to imagine more realistic MaaS scenarios.

The approach outlined here provides insights into: how people experience existing transport systems; how they already combine different modes of transport and the ways they improvise to get the most out of this; the contingent circumstances that impact on and shape their travel strategies; what makes these uses meaningful to them (eg punctuality, sustainability, comfort and more); what they trust and why; what their needs are; and their imagined and hoped for future mobility systems.

The AHA project enabled us to match this with the latest knowledge and research about emerging transport technologies including vehicles, devices, apps, and platforms (from Volvo Cars) and with realistic urban planning scenarios and possibilities (from our Cities partners).

How does ethnography work?

Ethnographic research approaches the problem or question from two directions: first it responds directly to a set of existing questions and provides new knowledge and insights in relation to these; second, it encounters new knowledge that it would have been impossible to anticipate when designing the original research brief, this is followed through the research process and used to produce additional insights. Often the second set of insights produce equally or more relevant knowledge towards answering the research questions than the first. Therefore it is important that ethnographic research and analysis is not seen as a simple question and answer research strategy, and that it is undertaken with the input of experts in the design and interpret ethnographic research and findings.

What’s new in our work?

Because MaaS is emerging but not yet ubiquitous in our lives our research is not simply about the present, but about futures.

A non-predictive approach to futures

Predictive methodologies regarding human behavior are inevitably flawed because they do not account for the unknown elements and contingencies that will drive what people will actually do and experience in future scenarios. Our approach accounts for this uncertainty, while seeking to learn how, where and why people make particular decisions relating to transport (where meaning and benefits lie for them), and what is at the core of their aspirations. We use this to understand what we expect people will do in future scenarios.

Future readiness

We need to consider what people’s future lives with MaaS could be like beyond simply their use of transport and life if cities, because we need to account for wider  transformations towards what is now being called the 4th Industrial revolution. This refers to a context where AI, automation and automated decision making are expected to become increasingly prevalent in society and in our individual lives, and to impact not only across transport systems but in every aspect of our dealings with other people, organisations and institutions. Future people will not just be living with a future MaaS system but with many other shifts.