Recently, I spoke at a Council sustainability fair. The half day event, packed full of workshops, masterclasses, presentations, music and food, was attended by thousands of suburban families.

Major transport infrastructure costs money and the merits are often called into question. New highways don’t alleviate traffic congestion overnight and people don’t sell their car because there’s a new public transport interchange in town. Sometimes it’s the small spending that creates the big impact; the social bike ride that enthuses people to bike to work, the keynote speaker who inspires a suburban community to create change or the walking to school bus that eradicates a hundred cars.

So what are the four secrets for getting big impacts from small spending?

1.     Ask people what they want

I’m obsessed with undertaking research and interviewing people because I know that people do what they want to do not what we think they need to do. It’s not hard. When I have an idea I want to test, I post a question up on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. I identify if the idea is something that interests people and I get to understand if it’s addressing a problem that people have. Let’s face it, there’s no point introducing a bus route if the majority of people in the community tell you it is going where no one wants to go!

2.     Have a clear vision and focus

Getting big impacts from small spending is about creating opportunities that are “right” for people where you live, work and play. We can’t chase and do everything. We can, however, create big impacts from small spending if that matches our vision and focus. Opportunities come to us when we have clarity about what we want to do and achieve. For me, that’s helping mayors and other city leaders to cut traffic congestion without the expense of new roads and annoyed residents.

3.     Understand what’s working

We get big impacts from small spending when we understand what’s already working. Everyone wants – and expects – excellent customer service and public transport users want services that are fast and convenient; that help, not hinder. The Tarka Trail, a 30-mile continuous traffic-free cycling path (largely using a former Devon railway line) in England is a case in point. The creation of cycling experiences has resulted in additional tourist nights, new jobs and increased tourist spending. The trail has outstanding reviews, with one traveller writing on holiday review website Trip Advisor that hiring a bicycle and cycling was “The best £20 I have spent in a long time.”

4.     Trial and test what’s wanted

Small spending can create big impacts when we trial and test what wanted. Everyone wants to save money; governments, councils, companies and ordinary households. We are all trying to get more from less. We are all want to be immersed in technology and digital innovations. Technology can help us to deliver services cheaper and faster. In many cases a (relatively) small spend on technology can create a huge impact. For example, street lights on Bird St off London’s Oxford Street are soon to be powered by the people walking along a footpath thanks to a trial of a new version of energy-generating flooring. It’ll also be featured in a local Westfield shopping centre.

If we want to be have big impacts from small spending, let’s ask people what they want, let’s have a clear vision and focus, let’s understand what’s working and let’s trial and test what’s wanted. That way we won’t need to try harder next time.