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In Theory and In Practice

May 13, 2019

Movement Strategies launched its Research and Development initiative: Think Better, In Practice and In Theory on April 30th.

Movement Strategies has been engaged in innovative practice for over a decade. By innovative, I mean that new approaches had to be applied or new insights found to meet project objectives. These projects involved addressing non-emergency and emergency scenarios – representing a motivation to enhance pedestrian safety and pedestrian experience across the various sectors in which Movement Strategies has been active. In doing so, Movement Strategies has engaged in data collection, data analysis, model application and model development to address the projects faced. This combination of activities produces insights that would not have been captured by traditional approaches to generate or communicate results – leading to innovative modes of generating and communicating results. Such innovation has therefore prompted Movement Strategies consultants to informally engage in research practices to support the objective of successfully delivering projects. For instance, the development of the inhouse SENSE pedestrian movement model and its application to large-scale crowd movement.

Traditionally, research and practice ask subtly different questions. Practical projects ask what happens and when it happens – enabling outcomes to be quantified for third parties. In addition to these questions, research asks how things happen and why they happen – sometimes with no immediate third party at hand other than a perceived gap in our understanding. Innovative practice has required Movement Strategies to frequently ask all of these questions – and develop tools and practices to answer them. Movement Strategies has therefore (deliberately) blurred the lines between research and practice – rejecting the idea that these are necessarily independent, and instead informally adopting research methods to meet the objectives of novel practice. Where project questions become sufficiently complex (e.g. where problems involve the interaction of multiple domains such as safety and security), or where both direct and indirect outcomes are a consideration (e.g. the unintended consequences of a procedural change or a design change), then traditional practice would not have been sufficient and instead a hybrid of research and practice required – problem solving enhanced by research curiosity.

On the 30th April Movement Strategies launched its R&D effort – a more formal attempt to ensure that our practice is informed by such research questions and that our historic practice, and the results generated, is exploited to help produce actionable research. The launch had approximately 60 attendees from a range of research organisations, regulators, practitioners and technology developers. The launch opened with brief presentations from Simon Ancliffe and Dr Steve Gwynne, and then continued with several hours of open and extremely fruitful discussions. In this vein, the R&D effort has two overlapping strands: using our practice to develop research and using collaborative research efforts to ensure our practice reflects current understanding.  

Movement Strategies launch their Research and Development initiative: Think Better

For instance, Movement Strategies staff are currently developing a template to structure their archive of data and pedestrian survey data (a significant number of terabytes). This development is to aid the interrogation of this data by Movement Strategies consultants and also to enable research questions to more effectively be posed of it. As an example, Movement Strategies has recently worked with Wembley Stadium on various projects that included surveying visitor movement in and around the stadium at various events. This generated an array of data-sets to satisfy the project requirements. Subsequent to this, Lund University staff and students examined a sub-set of the data, generated to explore the relationships between event type (e.g. football, rugby, concert), population density and movement rates. An example of practice influencing our research output in collaboration with other organisations.

In contrast, we also engage in dedicated research activities to inform our practice. For instance, we

1. Are currently developing a modelling framework for wildfire evacuations (in conjunction with Lund University, Imperial College and the National Research Council Canada);

2. Have been examining the challenges of consistently conducting evacuation drills and establishing potential alternative approaches (with Northumbria University, National Research Council Canada, Ulster University, Leeds University, etc.);

3. Recently conducted observations and published the results relating to bathroom dwell times in public facilities (see R&D).

This does beg the question: why would Movement Strategies do this? Firstly, to ensure peace of mind – that the decisions taken and analysis conducted have a sound theoretical basis. Secondly, to ensure that we understand the evolving nature of the challenges faced and the rapidly changing technological and theoretical tools available to address them. Thirdly, to ensure that the repository of data and understanding by Movement Strategies is effectively employed by the research community. This enhances our theoretical understanding (see points 1 and 2!) and, of course, publicly aligns Movement Strategies with that research effort.

These benefits should arrive in the short-term and long-term. Our short-term practice should improve as we adopt more credible and current practices based on increased understanding. With such understanding, we aim to continue informing the development of guidance (e.g. following our contribution to the new edition of the Green Guide and our ongoing contribution to the development of community evacuation guidance in response to wildfires in Canada). This should help enhance practice more generally.

Similarly, in the short-term we hope to publish research efforts and engage in collaborative research projects with willing research-active organisations. To enhance long-term understanding, we are engaged in the co-supervision of students, developing and delivering lecture courses at universities internally (e.g. Glasgow Caledonian, University of Maryland, Lund University, Waterloo University), and hosting four MSc students within the company as part of the Consumer Data Research Centre programme in 2019. This is to help ensure that the next generation of practitioners better understand the developing theory and practice with which they will engage.

Returning to why Movement Strategies might do this – to ensure that we continue to do the right things, and we do these things right. Asking the right questions, selecting the right tools and reporting relevant and authoritative findings. Practice alone does not make perfect. You have to also maintain curiosity and collaborative generosity to ensure you are current and connected to people with new insights and different views. We are attempting to do just that.

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