There is no dedicated time for inspiration.
It started with a casual conversation between two colleagues: a comparison of how much time we spend stuck in traffic daily. We were fed up with Dhaka’s traffic. We were fed up complaining about it. And so, we decided to find a solution for it.
We quickly brainstormed, and identified the core reasons contributing to traffic congestion: an increasing number of private cars, lack of adherence to traffic laws and low penalisation for traffic law-breakers. While these problems seemed to require policy level interventions, we looked inward: stimulating change on an organisational level.
We decided to conduct a quick test within BRAC, to find if any solutions could prove feasible for adoption.
Our starting hypothesis was that if organisations encouraged car-sharing among employees, the pressure of vehicles on the streets would reduce. The challenge was articulating it into something feasible for testing.
Setting a timeline for three months, we decided to test two models: one focused on commercialising private car-sharing for employees, and the other on selling one-way tickets for daily staff buses usage.
The first two weeks we interviewed and took feedback from relevant stakeholders: the interested test users (from BRAC’s head office); and BRAC’s transport and ICT departments.
Social Innovation Lab’s expertise lies in ideating and rapidly prototyping ideas. Our modus operandi is to test a concept’s effectiveness, and hand it over to a concerned programme for mainstreaming. And so we began to prototype!
Private car-sharing: overwhelming, but misleading, response
We first internally circulated a survey to gauge interest in Shohochor, where we received over 200 responses in three days! Of the respondents, 46% were office transport users and the rest almost equally divided into private cars and public transport users.
71% of private car users were willing to share their transport, prerequisites being similar office in-out timings, nearby residential locations and cost sharing. We thus decided to start the test phase with private car users and then build up on that.
However, three weeks into prototyping, we realised that the private car users were not finding the opportunity incentivising enough. Despite connecting people individually and putting up daily posts in our internal Facebook page, people were not motivated to respond. We reached about 70 people on average the day of the posts in January, but only a few actually responded to the offers.
We understood the cues and reiterated quickly, focusing on the staff bus
In the meantime, we had reached a consensus with the transport department regarding the staff bus model.
Normally, employees can avail staff buses for travelling to and from office on a monthly subscription basis. However, many users miss commuting, due to out-of-Dhaka field visits or for personal reasons, which results in a surplus of empty seats on buses regularly.
We offered the transport department the option to put the surplus seats for sale, and also to the bus users to sell their seats on days they were not travelling. People interested to buy tickets had to check our online database, to find if they could travel on a certain route for a certain day, and then pay via bKash to confirm.
Our entire model of communication with the transport department and interested users was done manually. Online databases were maintained and updated daily (and live) to reflect available seats on every staff bus route.
The response we received was organic.
After we sent out an email about the prototype, queries started pouring in. So, we circulated a ‘How to buy and sell seats’ manual. We also set up posters breaking down the steps for using the Shohochor service, along with an FAQ section. The option that proved most useful however was putting up a phone number where people could call to ask for details. As soon as we put up contact numbers, the number of queries boomed!
We learnt that while people are ethical, incentivising negative behaviour can lead otherwise
We issued e-tickets to the users purchasing bus seats, as a digital token to show the bus drivers from their phones when onboarding buses. However, we found that they were not showing their e-tickets. When the reason was analysed, most users responded that the drivers did not ask. The drivers, for their part, said they did not feel comfortable or empowered enough to ask passengers for tickets. As a result, some people started availing the service without purchasing tickets.
We are still working on a solution to fix the issue without causing discomfort to any involved parties.
After our prototype run, we decided to collate our learnings. Users, for example, suggested using physical tokens that can be submitted in buses (to ensure fairness of usage). Transport department on the other hand wanted a longer testing period to validate the results better.
When we shared our prototype learning and core findings with the concerned parties for future scale up, it was decided that the transport department will implement Shohochor for three further months to develop proof of concept. ICT department will support by assessing investment budget for employee dashboard integration, and we, as SIL, would provide any required support to make it more user-friendly.
So, did we fail or succeed?
We tested an idea to look for viable solution to a problem we were passionate about. Shohochor, as the name suggests, was designed for making the daily commute of our colleagues more comfortable (and companionable). The prototype itself generated a lot of buzz, but in the past few weeks, while we have been developing things in the backend, the hype quietened down. As our brainchild realised, we still hope the best for Shohochor’s future.
Let’s see where the road takes us!
Riffat Ashrafee is deputy manager, and Shafqat Aurin is interaction designer of BRAC’s social innovation lab.