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.  The thing that sets challenges apart from other types of engagement opportunities is the competition aspect which can increase the effectiveness of TDM programming by leveraging human tendency towards competition.  

Why use challenges?

Much like incentives, challenges are also 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 as we did in Incentives – what? why? how? Where we are trying to encourage our users to take transit more and as a result drive alone less.  It’s still just as important to make transit just as attractive and easy as driving alone and using incentives to offer transit subsidies as incentives is a great way to do this.  But inertia is a strong force, particularly in human behavior, so drastic measures are sometimes necessary to get your users to TRY transit for the first time.  That is where challenges come in.  Challenge your employees to beat each other to take the most transit trips, let them form teams and compete against each other with 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 a team approach, you’ve added social pressure to convince people to try something new.

Get someone to try transit through a challenge and they might realize how much they like not having to deal with traffic, or having 30 minutes in the morning to read a book.  These positive experiences will then lead to users engaging with those 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 entire packet, you’re tired of hearing this but this is another instance where conducting a user survey prior to launch can be of use.  To get the most out of any challenge, you must first understand your audience and what types of challenges 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 different 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, and really helped Google succeed in getting more of their users biking.  By focusing their programming on groups 2 and 3 they were hitting 60% of their audience and avoiding 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, they not only 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.