Harnessing Systems Science and Co-Creation Techniques to Develop a Theory of Change towards Sustainable Transport

Caitriona Corr, Niamh Murphy, Barry Lambe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Integrated transport and land-use planning and reduced car dependency proffers a pathway to mobility justice and reduced transport poverty, whilst providing opportunities for potential health benefits and reducing carbon emissions. In spite of this, smaller cities and towns face opposition to the reallocation of road space away from the private car. Traditionally, transport measures have been responsive to growing car-use. To accelerate a behavioural shift to sustainable modes, an evidence-based, transformative approach is required that is consultative in nature, and inclusive of all relevant stakeholders and nurtures innovation. The study aims to achieve this by co-creating a theory of change, with a broad group of stakeholders and the community. Systems science and co-creation techniques were utilised to enable informed decision-making and foster shared learning, resulting in a theory of change formulated by stakeholders with a shared vision. Sixteen objectives were identified under five broad categories, create sustainable systems; design healthy built environments; engage society; empower people and prioritise road safety, informed by the systems-based framework Global Action Plan on Physical Activity. Assumptions, risks and key performance indicators were key elements of the theory of change. Risks identified for successful implementation of the plan were lack of funding and human resources to deliver actions, political challenges, lengthy planning processes, entrenched social norms and resistance from the community. This process, which was adopted, synthesises scientific evidence, a participatory systems approach, informed decision making and the practical application of the embedded researcher, resulting in a pragmatic theory of change to reduce car-dependency and create a shift to sustainable travel modes. The process highlights the importance of stakeholder and community engagement, from participatory mapping of the system to the development of the theory of change to generate local solutions to identified challenges. The resulting theory of change will form the basis of a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan for Kilkenny City. The theory of change can be adapted to new settings by the participatory processes outlined.

Original languageEnglish (Ireland)
Article number14633
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 09 Oct 2023


  • active travel
  • stock and flow analysis
  • sustainable cities
  • sustainable urban mobility
  • systems
  • theory of change


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