Research improves road safety in New Zealand

What can a 25-year-long market research partnership accomplish? That’s just what we discussed on our podcast with guests Paul Graham of Waka Kotahi and Colin Yee of Glasshouse Consulting. The long-time team recently won the Research Association New Zealand’s Market Research Effectiveness Award in the “sustained impact and effective partnership” category for their nomination entitled “Sometimes research effectiveness is a seismic thing.” They shared more about the work they’ve been doing together for decades and the legacy they are building, as well as some insights into the benefits of a sustained partnership like theirs.


Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency is tasked with promoting an affordable, integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable land transport system. The research spans many different topics, all related to safety and saving people’s lives, which Colin and Paul said makes the work rewarding. They took a look back in time to explore how they set up the robust, diagnostic methodology for their research, and how it has evolved over the years. In part, the audience knowledge gained from the research was used to create advertising and public service campaigns. They were able to identify the exact population – and their thoughts, feelings, fears, attitudes - who most needed to be reached by the road safety messages.

They also discussed the way research has changed from the early days of their partnership, 25 years ago, to today. Colin said, “The beauty of this the relationship is it the actual methodology hasn’t change over time, but it was the fact that we visited the different target audiences and brought new insights about what was actually changing…our target audience grew up with the campaign and so it became even more difficult for us to find ways of tapping into their fears and motivations. We regularly revisited our target groups to bring fresh insights.” They also talked about the shift from telephone to online research, which for them was a slow process, keeping both methods running simultaneously to identify and reduce any possible bias. COVID pushed them to even more new approaches, as it eliminated some of the qualitative aspects of their research.

During the conversation, the guests covered the many different aspects of road safety their research was meant to support. From reducing drunk driving to driving while tired, to wearing seat belts and even creating physical changes to the roadways (e.g. barriers) to prevent collisions, the work has multiple layers – all with the same goal: reduce road injuries and fatalities. They looked at places around the world that were doing a good job with road safety to also help advise their approach, such as beefing up the police presence, reducing alcohol limits, tightening up on speed limits and creating larger campaigns.

They also talked more about the campaigns themselves and what they are about, and their overall goals for road safety. We asked them how they balance humor with gravity in their advertising. They said, “that's all part of the tracking and monitoring of the campaign” in which they iterate, test and gauge impact. They also touched on today’s video-forward, online entertainment ecosystem which is desensitizing a large amount of their target audience, saying “some of the ways you might have shown the consequences of a crash just aren’t as impactful as they were before because they’ve seen it all before.”

The bottom line is that the 25 years of research has been very impactful on increasing road safety in New Zealand.


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