Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The contribution of media analysis to the evaluation of environmental interventions: the commuting and health in Cambridge study

Joanna May Kesten12*, Simon Cohn3 and David Ogilvie1

Author Affiliations

1 MRC Epidemiology Unit and UKCRC Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

2 Present address: School for Policy Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences and Law, University of Bristol, 8 Priory Road, Bristol BS8 1TZ, UK

3 Institute of Public Health, Cambridge University, Forvie Site, Robinson Way, Cambridge CB2 0SR, UK

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:482  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-482

Published: 21 May 2014



Media content can increase awareness of, and shape interactions with, public health interventions. As part of a natural experimental evaluation of the travel, physical activity and health impacts of the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway, we analysed print and social media discourse and interview data to understand the nature of new transport infrastructure and how it was experienced.


Newspaper articles were systematically retrieved from the LexisNexis database and tweets were identified from an online archive. Interviews were conducted as part of the larger evaluation study with 38 adults. Inductive thematic analysis was performed and comparisons were drawn between datasets.


The findings are discussed in relation to five themes. First, an understanding of the intervention context and how the intervention was experienced was developed through accounts of events occurring pre and post the busway’s opening. Second, the media captured the dynamic nature of the intervention. Third, the media constructed idealised portrayals of the anticipated busway which in some cases were contradicted by the impact of the busway on the existing context and people’s lived experiences. Fourth, differential media coverage of the intervention components suggested that a lesser value was placed on promoting active travel compared with public transport. Lastly, interview data provided support for the hypothesis that the media increased awareness of the busway and served as a frame of reference for constructing expectations and comparing experiences.


This analysis has contributed to the wider evaluation of the busway, helping to understand its nature and implementation and informing hypotheses about how the local population interact with the infrastructure by attending to the significance of representations in the media.

Environmental interventions; Natural experiment; Media analysis; Print media; Qualitative research; Social media; Travel behaviour; UK