Bartle, C. , Avineri, E. and Chatterjee, K.
Information-sharing, community-building and trust: A case study amongst commuter cyclists.
43rd Universities Transport Study Group Conference, Milton Keynes, UK, 5th-7th January, 2011.
Research into the use and behavioural effects of travel information has concentrated on top-down information from transport providers, but little is known about the role of informal information, shared through word-of-mouth, in everyday travel behaviour. Through our social interactions about travel we may exert not only an informational influence on one another (building our knowledge of other people‟s experiences into our active travel choices), but also a more subtle normative influence: conveying information about norms of behaviour within a particular social milieu.
Drawing on theories of normative and informational social influence and self-categorisation, this paper explores some of the social processes occurring when a small group of commuter cyclists interacted with one another through a specially designed, map-based website over six weeks, sharing their routes and other cycling-related information. A mixed-method approach was adopted, comprising observation of website interactions, participant questionnaires and in-depth interviews. Although the main narrative on the website and in participants‟ subsequent reflections concerned the practical use of the information posted, a key finding was the role which the case-study system also played in building, or reinforcing a sense of “community” (group identification). Different, but overlapping aspects of this concept were detected: belonging to a community of cyclists generally, an emerging community of cyclists within the project, or a work-based community in which participants identified with one another as fellow workers rather than “cyclists”. Community-building was found to be associated with high levels of trust amongst group members. Thus it was found that the process of sharing information could perform not only a functional role in diffusing practical travel information, but also a social one whereby perceived in-group membership reinforced positive views of cycling as a commuter mode. Both roles were thought to offer particular encouragement to those who were new to cycling or new to a particular workplace, suggesting that web-based information-sharing might be developed as a useful tool within contexts such as workplace travel plans.
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