Bicycle advocates: thinking about a community of practice

(Griff Wigley) #1

I’ve got a contract to develop an online community for bicycle advocates in North America. I’ve started working on the community planning template and I need some perspective.

Unlike teachers or doctors or photographers, there are very people who are full or even part-time paid bike advocates. More importantly, few people who volunteer their time on bike-related activities would consider themselves ‘advocates’, for example the woman who shows up to help dig a mountain bike trail, the guy who volunteers to lead kids on a weekly group ride around town, or the couple who takes on the task of maintaining the bike club’s blog and Facebook page.

That type of volunteering is quite different than what’s usually considered ‘advocacy’, for example, the woman who lobbies city hall on her own time to make it safer for kids to ride their bikes to school, or the small group who meets with their state legislators to lobby for increased funding for recreational trails.

My vague, unexamined assumption has been that these two types (volunteers and advocates) have enough in common (help make the world a better place through bicycling) to be part of the same online community. I could very well be wrong but I’m unsure how to analyze it.

Just writing this has helped to make some sense of the problem but I’d be grateful some additional perspectives.

(Richard Millington) #2

I think this could be a tough one, for the very reason there doesn’t seem to be many of them and it doesn’t seem to be a major part of their lives (basing this solely from the information above).

A few questions to think about:

  1. How many bike advocates do you know right now?
  2. How do they currently talk to each other?
  3. How do they define their own work and themselves? (in their own words)
  4. Do they really want to make the world a better place through cycling, or do they just enjoy cycling?
  5. How can you reach them? Do they know how to bring more peopel into the fold?
  6. What are the popular search terms in this field?

You’ll probably get a good idea of the feasibility from the above questions.

(Griff Wigley) #3

Thanks for difficult questions, Richard. :wink:

  1. I personally know only a dozen or so people who would label themselves as bike advocates. I personally know a couple hundred people who I would consider to be bike volunteers.

  2. Bike advocates talk to each other irregularly and intermittently via phone and email. Bike volunteers talk to each other F2F or via private/local/club-oriented platforms like email lists and Facebook groups.

  3. Bike advocates define themselves as such. Bike volunteers identify themselves as members, either of a local club or chapter (many hundreds) or somewhat more officially as a member of a dues-paying national association (dozen+).

  4. North American bicycle “ridership” is in the many tens of millions but the vast majority just do it for the enjoyment and/or for practical purposes (errands, commuting). But over a million have recently added their names to the PeopleForBikes list to demonstrate their "support of better bicycling."

That’s a very low commitment threshhold, of course, but it indicates some significant support for making the world a better place through bicycling. And some of the national bike organizations have tens of thousands of dues-paying members.

Also, the bicycle industry in North America has about 500 suppliers/distributors, 4,500 retailers, and approximately 50,000 industry employees. Some of the leading national bike advocates want to dramatically increase the number of these businesses and employees engaging in advocacy-related work.

  1. The organization I’m working for has strong connections to the various national bike-related associations whose staff engage in advocacy at least some of the time but who also encourage their members to do likewise. If the online network reached critical mass, it seems like it would be quite possible to gradually reach out to the many hundreds of local cycling clubs/chapters and the many dozens of local advocacy organizations, (US list of United States bicycle advocacy organizations at,bicycle_advocacy_organizations )

  2. Advocacy-related search phrases: bike (bicycle, cycle, cycling) advocate/advocacy, bicycle coalition

Membership-related search phrases: bike (bicycle, cycle, cycling) membership/members/association

Volunteer-related search phrases: bike (bicycle, cycle, cycling) volunteer work/volunteers

(Griff Wigley) #4

Thinking a bit more about this, as I try to imagine the answers I’ll get when I start interviewing my first 50 people, prompted in part by Rich’s question #4 above: “Do they really want to make the world a better place through cycling, or do they just enjoy cycling?”

If I ask generic questions like:

What are your main bike-related interests/activities right now?

I’ll probably get a large percentage of responses related to either their recreation or transportation activities and few responses related to advocacy, volunteerism, or membership-related activities.

But if I ask a question like:

What are your biggest bike-related challenges/frustrations/problems right now?

it seems likely that I’ll get answers like: worry about being hit by a vehicle, frustration over having to drive so far to ride a mountain bike trail, lack of connected paved trails in their town or neighborhood, etc.

So even though they might not mention it, these are things that could be addressed by their involvement in bike advocacy, volunteerism, or membership-related activities.

(Richard Millington) #5

If we weren’t hosting an event next week, I’d spent a LOT more time on this. But these questions seem like the right way to go. I think ‘frustrations’ is a bit of a leading term. I’d be curious to see what % use the word ‘advocate’ in any of their answers.

This is a survey we’ll be sending out soon to help us fine-tune what we’re doing. IT gives you an idea of how we would structure questions so they’re not leading people in any particular way yet also gives us useful information.

(Griff Wigley) #6

Rich, thanks for continuing to chime in a little, even though SPRINT is on your brain.

This summer I read Ryan Levesque’s new book, Ask. I’ll find and post the excerpt with his rationale for why he urges asking people about their ‘single biggest challenge’ but here’s how he phrases it in his sample marketing survey:

What’s your #1 single biggest marketing challenge right now? Please be as detailed and specific as possible. (Please go beyond saying “traffic” or “improving conversion”. The more specific and detailed you are, the more likely I’ll be able to cover your topic.

I get your point about how using a word like ‘frustration’ or ‘problem’ could be leading them so I’m fine with avoiding that.

I do like your 3-part series of ‘challenge’ questions and might just have to, um, borrow them. :wink:

3. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the past month?

4. What’s stopping you from solving that challenge? (think carefully and be specific)

5. What would overcoming that challenge mean to you? (specifically to you)

FYI, I conducted a similar survey of my mountain bike skills audience this summer and got a terrific response to this question:

What’s your #1 single biggest mountain bike skill-related challenge right now? Please be as detailed and specific as possible. Go beyond saying “cornering” or “skinnies” or “drops.” The more specific and detailed you are, the more likely I’ll be able to cover your topic.

(Griff Wigley) #7

Here’s the excerpt from Ryan Levesque’s book, Ask, that I referred to above:

Now, the reason why we specifically want to ask about their single biggest challenge – and do not overtly and directly ask, “What do you want me to sell you?” – goes back to what we talked about earlier when we covered the two types of questions people can accurately answer:

  1. What they don’t want; and
  2. Questions about their past behavior.

Asking people what their single biggest challenge is covers both of those items. By asking what their single biggest challenge is, you’re implicitly asking what challenge they don’t want to face any more.

At the same time, you’re implicitly asking about something they’ve run into in the recent past. It covers both of our bases – without burdening the survey-taker with unnecessary additional questions. (Remember, this is an open-ended question we’re asking – not a multiple-choice question with a pre-determined set of options.)

If we asked people directly what they want, it forces them to speculate – and consider something that may or may not be true. Our minds have a tendency to “invent” things to fill in the gap. In other words, what people say they want, what they think they want, and what they really want (and thus will most likely buy or consume) are different things altogether.

The most accurate representation of what people really want comes from identifying what they don’t want and determining what actions they’ve taken in the past. Our Deep Dive Survey is designed to ferret that information out. And the best part is that this process ultimately benefits both you and your customer.