Theme 3: Trialling

How can we accelerate transformations?

In order to realise the types of transformations considered in Themes 1 and 2, it is necessary to develop ambitious yet practical approaches that can bring about change in contemporary settings. This theme develops multi-scale trials with partners and public participants, applying a ‘learning by doing’ methodology.

We align approaches and theoretical perspectives from experimental psychology, social practice theory, studies of institutional change, and political science, to target interventions to impactful actions, groups, and moments in time. Two projects will work directly with individuals and households, negotiating opportunities for behaviour change in the contexts of family, community and place. Work with our partners in industry (Wates Group construction, Anglian Water, Surple software) will enable us to co-design and monitor changes to workplace policies and practice, recognising the roles of individual change agents, organisational culture, and technological innovation.

At the city level, with our partners Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Cardiff City Council, we will develop initiatives designed to meet challenging decarbonisation agendas through city governance, citizen engagement and changes to physical infrastructure. At the national level, our research will investigate the ways in which policies and actors in government set out to initiate change. Alongside the Welsh Government, we will co-design policy to help deliver its commitment to stringent near-term targets for emissions reduction.

Research questions

(a) Which values and co-benefits most effectively catalyse change in behaviours, policies and practices in real-world settings, and how do these vary by scale?

(b) How can individual agency be aligned with structural, cultural and political change in ways that establish durable low-carbon practices?

(c) Where and when are the opportunities for most substantial emissions reductions, and how does this vary across the challenging areas?

We’ll examine how major life events such as moving house or the birth of a child can act as moments of change.

Project 3.1 Individual-level behaviour change

Individual behaviours are difficult to change if embedded in stable social and technical structures. We will target behaviour change at times when structural conditions are disrupted, and otherwise stable behaviours are more open to external influence. We consider behaviour both in terms of individual automaticity (habits) and daily routines (practices), allowing us to bridge psychological and sociological perspectives. The research develops prior work by considering health co-benefits of impactful lifestyle change, through an attention to life-course transitions as ‘moments of change’. We build on previous work targeting interventions, which has been constrained by methodological limitations (e.g., lack of control groups, no follow-ups) or relied on informational approaches which do not address the structural impediments to behaviour change. The project will employ longitudinal mixed-method research across three case studies: First, working in conjunction with Cardiff City Council, we examine residential relocation as an opportunity to change behaviours. Second, we examine a major life event in the form of the birth of a first, or subsequent child. Finally, we will select a third moment of change for an experimental field study; the choice of this study will depend on findings from project 2.3, but could include an intervention to encourage climate-resilient food choices during a drought or to encourage low-carbon thermal comfort behaviours following heat pump installation.

Project 3.2 Community and household change

Local community provides a critical context for enabling collective and individual action on climate change. We will work with the third-sector organisation 10:10, who have pioneered community-level interventions to address climate change, to trial approaches to reduce carbon emissions at the neighbourhood level. These interventions will engage both low-income, and mid/high-income communities (where carbon emissions are typically higher) in four locations in London to achieve lifestyle change in line with meaningful emissions reduction. The exact focus of the projects will be determined in conjunction with community members, but will incorporate socio-technical innovation in the four challenging areas (e.g., shared mobility) and focus on co-benefits, such as health, wellbeing, inclusion and resilience.

Project 3.3 Organisational change

We will collaborate with business partners with whom we have established links, to trial opportunities for change in system processes and employee activities, and evaluate the drivers, barriers and impacts of these changes. This research is embedded in social theories of economic action, with a specific focus on stakeholder involvement in changing organisational norms, this being the most effective route to achieving transformative impact in a firm. With our partners Anglian Water and Wates Group, we will focus on how changing norms and practices are linked to materials use and consumption within supply chains. This provides us with an opportunity to consider how firms can advance climate change mitigation through their organisational processes, policies, and activities. We will adopt an action research approach, entailing ongoing engagement with staff and reciprocity between research aims and organisational practices.

Project 3.4 City-level change

From a perspective of ‘experimental democracy’ this project will work with city leaders as they develop and deploy policies at the city level. This builds on our work for Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) to quantify implications of the Paris Agreement and evaluate low-carbon interventions across infrastructure, processes, and behaviours. The project will work with GMCA as it delivers its programme of immediate actions and develops its five-year city-region plan. Our research will address and support policy and project design to achieve emissions reduction from material consumption, diet, mobility, and comfort across GMCA. We will develop this work in parallel with Cardiff City Council, through co-designing interventions to encourage low-carbon travel behaviour and reduced waste. Our attention is focussed on the role of city governance structures in facilitating or frustrating change, the influence of co-benefits and values in driving or restricting change, and the role of partnerships between the public and private sector and citizens in delivering change across a range of UK cities.

Project 3.5: Government-led change

In most accounts of major societal change, government is assumed to play a central role. However, governments tend to be opaque and difficult to study. Unlike the socio-technical dynamics in wider society, little is known about decision-makers’ understandings and engagement with climate change. This project will shed light on how politicians and civil servants in London and the devolved administrations are able to exert agency and exploit changing political conditions, thus accelerating transformations. This project will also go further, to intervene in a ‘real world’ policy design process, regarding climate change strategies enacted by our partners in the Welsh Government (WG). We will work with civil servants and elected Assembly Members, to co-design and deliver a series of policy design workshops. These will focus on the four challenging areas, enabling us to build social science insights into strategies for reducing emissions in Wales. This work will consider (a) co-benefits in relation to the requirements of WG’s Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, and (b) timing of policy interventions in line with political theories of moments of change (‘policy windows’).

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