Organizing 8000 Volunteers to Observe Foreign Trucking Operations – a Novel Approach Using Smartphones and Social Media

Organizing 8000 Volunteers to Observe Foreign Trucking Operations – a Novel Approach Using Smartphones and Social Media


Henrik Sternberg, Lund University


The purpose of this paper is to present a novel, innovative approach to data collection using smartphones and social media (Facebook) to organize large-scale data collection. In total, 330 000 observations were collected by 8000 volunteers.


Road freight transportation is crucial to civilization (McKinnon, 2006) and is an irreplaceable part of almost every supply chain. In Europe road-based transportation accounts for 76% of total freight transportation. For policy makers adequate data to understand and analyze international freight movements are needed both due to the overall social and environmental impact of freight transportation, but in particular with regards to the deregulation. Despite the importance of this, previous research clearly shows a strong lack of available data (McKinnon and Leonardi, 2009) and most available statistical sources themselves state issues on this matter (e.g., Eurostat, 2013). The purpose of this paper is to present and analyze the feasibility and reliability of a method for collecting of trucking operations data, by means of using smartphones and Facebook. To our best knowledge, this method represents a completely novel approach to carrying out research. This paper focus on the methodological aspects.
Truck drivers in supply chain, logistics and operations management have received relatively sparse interest, with literature dealing with driver retention (e.g., Gillingwater and Watson, 2000), driver productivity (Hubbard, 2000, Hubbard, 2003) driver control (Mello and Hunt, 2009, Sternberg et al., 2013) and driver time (Prockl and Sternberg, 2013).
To test the feasibility of using volunteers as observers of truck movements, a smartphone app was developed for Android and iOS-devices. The first versions of the app was initially rather simple, providing only a user interface for typing licence plates and a submit button. The app submitted the license plates together with the GPS-coordinates to the data collection server. Later versions of the app provided further functionality, e.g., top lists of the most active volunteers, maps showing how the latest reported vehicle had been moving through Scandinavia and options to input nationality as well as any other general comment. Through Facebook user groups were organized, instructions and support were given and the users could follow the status updates of the study. The volunteers (mainly domestic truck drivers) were reporting only foreign vehicles’ license plates and the study focused on Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
To analyze the reliability of the data, a comparison is currently being carried out between the submitted observations and the actual location of the observed vehicles at the specified times. Three hauliers, representing over 100 trucks, have shared their GPS-logs with the research team as well as additional copies on relevant documents.
In total over 330 000 observations were collected over two periods, totaling 11 weeks. In total 8000 volunteers used the app, creating a large dataset for analysis. The method itself stirred large media interest, further contributing to create momentum of the data collection.
This paper will outline how using smartphones in combination with social media represents a possibility for researchers to engage volunteers and gain access to large-scale observation datasets. Hence it represents a novel methodological innovation with a huge potential to become widespread in various research areas and this is the very first paper both addressing the methodology and the first reporting on the research project Cabotagestudien (In English: The cabotage study).


Association for European Transport