Learning from abroad: An interdisciplinary exploration of knowledge transfer in the transport domain

Published: 20 August 2020

Let’s face it – moving away from car-dependency towards a “sustainable transport” future is hard. Questions surface, like, what defines sustainable transport? What would that look like in my city? How does it affect my habits, my job, house, family? If policymakers and transport planners themselves cannot even imagine what a city with sustainable transport looks like, or feels like, how are they to know the pathway to take?

One short-cut to deal with this hardship is reaching out and traveling to cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen – cities that have already made those tough decisions and demonstrate success – in hopes of learning nuggets of advice.

Research shows these events happen all the time – conferences, study tours, official visits. People are drawn to understand the tricks of the trade and secrets from the best. But then they go home and what happens? What happens to that knowledge? Do they share it? Do they use it? Does it benefit wider circles?

This paper ambitiously combines thinking from business management and policy science to better understand how decision makers and transport professionals learn and transfer knowledge about sustainable transport policies – through the common practice of study tours.

We use a survey with US transport professionals (n = 109) and in-depth interviews from a select and senior group of decision makers in Denver (CO) to explore how knowledge from one learning experience, a study tour, is transferred to wider circles in transport organizations.

Key findings from both samples include:

  • Building interpersonal and communicative skills on the study tour, including inward group reflection and dialogue, affected knowledge transfer more than learning any specific policy solution
  • Conceptual, abstract learning took place over technical learning  (i.e., “I can better articulate why having mobility options is vital for our city”)
  • A positive group dynamic on the study tours promoted positive emotions and memories, affecting future discourse
  • Political leadership and management presence on the study tours and initiative after was crucial in the knowledge transfer process

To cite the academic article: Glaser, M. et al. (2020). Learning from abroad: An interdisciplinary exploration of knowledge transfer in the transport domain. Research in Transportation Business & Management, article in press.

Posted by
Scroll to Top