Shifting norms and narratives on mobility in India

Private cars are a major and growing source of climate and air pollution in Indian cities. Traditional campaigns focusing on policy level change are thwarted by strong public aspiration towards vehicle ownership. How could Greenpeace India get urban residents from behind the wheel and onto the seat of a bicycle?

Tags : Defining Moments, COVID | Country : India

The challenge

Encouraging cleaner forms of transportation cannot be solved solely by fixing city infrastructure. People need to want to cycle, walk, or take, the bus rather than drive. Cars in India are a status symbol and during Covid lockdowns, people felt safer traveling in private vehicles. Many of the newly installed cycle lanes in cities were rarely used.

The aims

Understand what people want from their city and what they themselves are prepared to do to have cleaner air

Use the defining moment of the pandemic to shift mindsets to weaken the car’s image as a status symbol

Encourage people to feel they are part of the same story to build a sustainable city, whatever their economic background

The Solution

Mindworks’ insights

Top-down legal and infrastructure changes need to be complemented by a shift in public mindsets around mobility that not only results in systemic change but also sustains it.

Public dialogue and creative engagements anchored around defining moments, such as Covid lockdowns, help shift narratives, social norms, beliefs, and mindsets. These can be designed to foster a sense of pride in the city and a desire to be part of a community that is changing the story for the better.

Greenpeace India conducted interviews, conversations, and focus group discussions to understand what changes were happening to people’s lives, why they made certain choices, and what changes they wanted to happen.

This data was then used to create stories aimed at making people feel they were part of the change or inspiring them to become part of the change.

Stories that shift social norms and get people thinking:

“If others are changing, then why not me?“

The impacts

Research showed that car ownership was not only about social status. For example, some women chose to drive because they felt unsafe on the road and cycles were difficult to ride wearing saris. People who could not afford a private vehicle felt invisible for the contribution they made towards sustainable transport.

The future

Greenpeace India is now using this mindset shift approach to mobility as part of its climate campaign. Ideas for future engagements informed by this approach include:

Sponsoring cycles for low-income mothers taking children to school

Retrofitting gears to bicycles of low-income residents

Getting people talking about flexible working and work from home to reduce traffic