In moving to Long Island this past summer, traffic (and trying to avoid being stuck in it) became an integral part of my life. in Baltimore, I had been blessed with a commute that could be measured in feet, not miles, and walking to work was an option, that in hindsight, I should have taken advantage of more often. Now as I get up each morning, I offer a short prayer that the Long Island Expressway is accident free so that my ride to and from work is without incident.
Prior to this, I probably would have passed on watching Jonas Eliasson’s Ted Talk on How to Solve Traffice Jams. I have very little interest or skills in urban planning and this topic seemed a little further afield than the types of Ted Talks that tend to peak my interest. I clicked play, however, because I had just been caught behind the residue of several accidents coupled with congestion that had made my commute close to unbearable that morning.
Eliasson’s analysis of the traffic congestion in and around Helsinki revolved around the use of a congestion charge that was levied on cars that were using a series of bridges to enter Helsinki (sounds suspiciously like how to get into Manhattan). These bridges were the bottlenecks that then led to backups in other areas around Helsinki. Eliasson’s analysis of the situation showed that the congestion charge pulled enough cars off the road to have a serious impact on traffic congestion because of being a nonlinear phenomenon. In other words, once the traffic was reduced past a certain threshold, it appeared to be dramatically less.
Eliasson’s comments about the experiment with traffic Helsinki brought two realizations to mind. The first was that the traffic congestion charge was equivalent to the classic nudge. It wasn’t a significant amount, but it was just enough to get enough people to change their behavior over a period of time that it impacted the traffic patterns around Helsinki. Subtle, but perceptible guidance to change another’s behavior can be more effective than getting up on your hobby horse and yelling at everyone to change.
The second realization is that you do not have to get everyone to change in order to create change. Despite our desire to view the world as having linear relationships (e.g. as x increase so does y), not everything does. We actually can impact change by just engaging with a critical mass of teachers, students, or other stakeholders to change the perception of things on the ground.
Too often, we fall into the trap of insisting on change as a mandate and pushing people towards it. I’ve frequently discovered, particularly with my two preschool aged daughters, that this strategy just doesn’t work. It creates resistance and resentment. As I contemplate the changes that I would like to be putting in place at my school, I’m reflecting on how best to “nudge” and how to target that nudging to have the most impact.