What are challenges?

Challenges are a mechanism to engage your users in a friendly competition with their peers to see who can take the fewest SOV commutes, most bike trips, etc.  Pair challenges with incentives and you’ve got a terrific engagement opportunity and one that has a particularly strong impact on mode-shift.  What sets challenges apart from other types of engagement opportunities is the unique aspect of competition it possesses. This can increase the effectiveness of TDM programming by leveraging the human desire to compete.  

Why use challenges?

Much like incentives, challenges are a great way to boost engagement and encourage mode-shift among your users.  As a combination, challenges and incentives may be THE most effective carrot approach to TDM.  

Let’s use the same example we had in Incentives – what? why? how?, where we tried to encourage our users to take transit more and, as a result, drive alone less.  It’s still just as important to make transit as attractive and easy as driving alone, and using incentives to offer transit subsidies is a great way to do this. Inertia is a strong force, however; it is particularly so in human behavior. Drastic measures are sometimes necessary to get your users to TRY transit for the first time.  This is where challenges come in.  Challenge your employees to beat each other in competition to take the most transit trips, let them form teams and compete against their peers, pit different organizational departments against each other with cool prizes, like an ice cream truck or catered meal.  Users’ natural instincts to win will be activated AND if you use the team approach, you’ve added social pressure to convince them to try something new.

Get someone to try transit through a challenge, and they may realize how much they like not dealing with traffic, or having 30 extra minutes in the morning to read a book. These positive experiences will lead to users engaging with the incentives in place to make using transit convenient and cheap.

How do I decide what challenges will work for my organization?

If you’ve read through this website, you’re tired of hearing it, but this is another instance where conducting a user survey prior to launch can be greatly beneficial. To get the most out of any challenge, you must first understand your audience and what type of challenge they would find most engaging.  

A great example from one of our clients: Google, at their Mountain View campus, wanted to increase biking as a transportation mode. To do this, they conducted a survey to assess what percentage of their employee population would be receptive to a bike-to-work challenge.  Through that survey, they were able to segment their employees into four types of cyclists: (1) strong & fearless, (2) enthused & confident, (3) interested but concerned, and (4) no way no how.  What this did for Google was to identify where they should focus their efforts during the challenge.  When time and money are at a premium, this is critical information; it helped Google succeed in getting more of their users biking.  By focusing their programming on groups 2 and 3, they hit 60% of their audience and avoided spending time and money on users that were already biking (group 1) and users that would never consider biking (group 4).

Another great example of how challenges can catalyze behavior change is the Clear the Air Challenge, conducted annually by the state of Utah.  Utah saw an opportunity to bring its constituents together to work towards the solution to a shared problem – the quality of Utah’s air.  Through this platform, not only do they annually track performance amongst individuals and organizations and reward outstanding performers, they also track the impact that all of those participants have made on Utah’s air quality year after year.  By creating a shared cause, Utah has done a terrific job of motivating users to join and contribute.

How to get started with challenges

If you think challenges are for you, check out our how-to for a step-by-step guide to setting up a challenge, as well as pairing an incentive with said challenge.