Trial Results

Collaborative activities

  • Managers felt that they had engaged in more collaboration over the trial period and that their relationships had been maintained or improved as a result with some new relationships being created. This was particularly prevalent where there were existing social ties between the managers.
  • The rules regarding collaboration between shops were not defined but there was a general view that collaborative transactions should be reciprocated but if a manager had a bad experience, there could be a tendency to 'cool' the relationship with the receiving shop.
  • Where stock had been re-directed as part of a new collaboration through the app, the outcome in terms of increased sales or customer interest was often not communicated back to the originating shop due to time stress. The concept of giving feedback on sales of products that had been cascaded from one shop to another could potentially prove detrimental to future collaboration if the stock had been particularly profitable.
  • Members of the community not engaging in the active advertising of stock via the app were less inclined to use it and some felt that it should be a mandatory requirement to post available stock on a weekly basis.
  •  The rules of communicating and messaging via the app in a business context need to be defined. There were instances where chat between managers, visible to others in the community was considered 'irritating' by others and could potentially devalue the tool, with users inclined to disengage if the notification messages were considered largely 'trivial'.
  • The app was a useful tool for initiating transactions but that it very much operated as a 'complementary' medium alongside telephone, email and other social media
  • The younger managers, with their own smartphones were much more inclined to use messaging and liked the idea of quick correspondence without having to spend time on the phone talking.
  • All of the shop managers agreed that SMS text was adequate for their requirements and had helped collaboration with other shop managers although only three managers had a positive preference for using SMS rather than phoning despite general agreement that texting was quicker than email or using the phone.
  • Non-response to messages was an issue and automated read receipts were considered valuable. Understanding when stock requests had been satisfied by members of the community and were no longer valid was also needed.

Helping and being helped

  • Only 33% of the managers agreed they would find it easier to ask for help using the app rather than face-to-face or via the phone, highlighting the importance of personal contact in setting up business transactions, and there was a positive agreement about the need to follow up 'virtual' contact with a more personal approach prior to collaboration.
  • Requests for assistance sent via short text maybe more appropriate where friendships and business links have already been established between managers.
  • Managers were largely 'unconcerned' about making commitments to aid others through the app in case they couldn't fulfil stock requests, and similarly unconcerned about having to make transport arrangements.
  • Half of the managers were concerned that there could be additional burdens placed on their staff, managing stock requests for other shops which would take up their time.

Trust, Privacy and Safety

  • All the managers were unconcerned about privacy in terms of other shops knowing their operating status.
  • The drivers were also not concerned about being tracked within working hours. Some managers felt that tracking volunteer drivers through the app gave a greater sense of security that there whereabouts were being monitored from a safety perspective.

Temporal issues

- There were significant differences observed between the categories of messages sent via the app at different times of day with conversations regarding the collection of stock occurring in the morning (before midday) and enquiries and information largely being shared in the mid to late afternoon
- 25% of messages were sent after 17:00 and 19% after 19:00 suggesting that managers were happy to plan future activities out-of-hours and in their own leisure time. The younger, more smartphone savvy managers, particularly those using social media were more inclined to message out of hours, where a relationship had already been established with another shop manager.
- 83% of the shop managers believed that their planning and/or decision making had been better informed as a result of understanding where the driver currently was and would likely be in the immediate future through the app. With the exception of one manager, there was general agreement that their understanding of how time was used in the business had improved with the app.
- In terms of effectively managing time across the various players in the business, views were expressed that the app could just pass on scheduling problems to other people unless the rules governing its use were not tightly controlled.


  • The quality of 3G across all the mobile networks in some parts of the trial area meant that communication was hampered and messages would arrive after the event (e.g. the arrival of the driver). This was seen as a significant issue when trying to engage volunteers with the app long-term. Signal was also hampered due to the situation of stock rooms in shops (basements) which would mean that managers would have to come outside to use the app.
  • Having to carry two phones during the day was an issue as only two managers had their own personal iPhones and had the app downloaded direct to their phone.
  • The app proved very useful for identifying the medium to long term efficiency of donation banks and the round efficiency in terms of seconds/kg servicing time. Across the trials, banks were identified that were not performing efficiently in terms of yield relative to service frequency and the servicing intervals were altered.

Remote monitoring for dynamic collection scheduling

The app also gathered and presented data from donation banks fitted with remote fill level monitoring sensors. As part of the project, metaheuristic algorithms (Tabu search and Neighbourhood search methods) were developed to use the bank fill data to dynamically organise collections for the next working day based on a minimum 50% fill level service strategy.

Over a period of 36 working days using 5 vehicles servicing 56 bank sites and 68 shops, the collections schedules recommended by the algorithms resulted in a 28% reduction in the total number of visits to bank sites, 1159km (464kg CO2) saved and a reduction in daily round time of 32 minutes.

Savings would have been greater but for the requirement to visit the shops on a fixed schedule basis but nevertheless, the results showed that Oxfam could reduce their logistics footprint by better assessing collection needs using the metaheuristic algorithms working with the remote fill level data.

[Link to Cambridge trial report]


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