Decision-making through Covid-19 uncertainty requires bold leadership and an understanding that there are many possible versions of the future, says Peter Wright, associate director, Transportation at AECOM
"Does it look clearer with lens one or lens two?” It’s a common question posed at the opticians, but it chimes with the challenges faced by transport planners as we emerge from lockdown and map the future of infrastructure networks.
Pre-lockdown, we could leave the house and go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted, with whoever we wanted, but circumstances – and mobility – have changed.
So, what lenses should we look through to plan for possible futures? In these uncertain times, scenario planning and logic mapping are powerful tools that balance desired economic, social and environmental priorities while emphasising unwanted or unintended outcomes.
Never in my time as a transport planner did I think I would see graphs showing the daily movements of people by different modes of transport on prime time national TV.
But that is exactly what happened during the pandemic as the Prime Minister referred to these figures regularly as part of the daily briefings.
As a transport planner, I enjoy analysing patterns of movement and changes in behaviour.
However, the clarity of figures provided by the Department for Transport – 90-95% reduction in use of rail and underground, 80% or more reduction in bus patronage and a 75% drop in motor vehicles usage – were startling and showed us all just how fundamentally life as we know it has changed.
Now, as the world transitions from lockdown, there is an opportunity to look at the choices and behavioural responses to prepare for what comes next.
Decision-making and planning through the coronavirus uncertainty requires bold leadership and an understanding that there are many possible versions of the future.
Scenario planning and logic mapping can help shape decision-making – informing policy decisions and strengthening leadership at the same time.
Logic mapping has been used for some time in programme planning and transport evaluation.
It is a “systematic and visual way of presenting the key steps required in order to turn a set of resources or inputs into activities that are designed to lead to a specific set of changes or outcomes”.
It is not rigid or prescribed, but an iterative and flexible way of communicating choices and impacts – intended and otherwise – to achieve a series of objectives.
As society and businesses increase levels of activity, transport commentators and advisors have spoken of the chance to return to a ‘new normal’ where the ‘good behaviours’ of lockdown are maintained.
However, to capitalise on the momentum offered by changes in working patterns and more local travel horizons, we need to plan for scenarios where the economic recovery is viewed through environmental and social lenses.
While there are obvious advantages if trajectories are aligned between businesses and operators, as well as national and local government, logic mapping helps ensure that any desired objectives are viewed alongside any unintended or unwanted consequences.