I recommend this report as an overview of the current state of play in local government on climate change strategy and action. Download it for free from the site linked below. It doesn’t make for happy reading, suggesting a retrenchment overall, with few authorities seeing the arguable additional ‘localist’ freedoms as an opportunity to move action on carbon and climate up the agenda.
I like that Green Alliance (author Faye Scott is @mrskumquatkid on Twitter) seed the report with reminders that local action needs to be about building resilience and making the transition to a low carbon economy and society. Sounds like one of my blogs. But I’d like to see more recognition from them that this will require a major focus on lifestyles and (in carbon terms) acting on consumption emissions. Local government is free to ignore these, and nearly all authorities do; the report contains just two explicit references to local authority interest in the consumption perspective.
So, on the gloomy side: there is a downward trend, and many authorities aren’t hitting the low bar that has been set. On the plus side, the green shoots of local interest in consumption metrics. I hope Green Alliance and others will encourage these.
Is localism delivering for climate change? Emerging responses from local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and neighbourhood plans
This report explores the impacts of the coalition’s localism agenda on climate change action. It asks:
- Are local authorities continuing to work on climate change?
- How is action being encouraged?
- What potential do local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), local nature partnerships (LNPs) and neighbourhood plans have to strengthen local action on climate change?
Based on extensive interviews and two surveys, the report finds a three-way split between local authorities. A third are maintaining their action on climate change, a third are narrowing their work and a third are opting out of action altogether. Overall, the results suggest that climate change work has narrowed, is very weak or absent in 65 per cent of local authorities.
This is the full (unedited) version of the article Municipal Journal published last week. I think it’s clearer than the shortened version. It tries to explain in 1,400 words the principles we’re using to apply behaviour change techniques, and gives one example of this in practice.
I know it uses some technical (behavioural) terms, but I honestly think understanding of these will become mainstream, so we may need to get used to them!
Warren Hatter and Kieran Stigant on how West Sussex County Council is learning to work ‘with the grain’ of human nature.
For the past year or so, policy makers and academics have found it hard to steer clear of the topic of behaviour change. Cue conference speeches, broadsheet articles and the important debate taking place on the role of the state (most recently highlighted by the House of Lords Science & Technology Sub-Committee report on behaviour change). This discussion needs to happen in the public domain, as it affects citizens’ expectations of government, but it does not need to get in the way of using behavioural insights. So we have decided to sidestep most of the debate and get on with developing the practice. Our rationale is simple: human behaviour is strongly influenced by context all the time, so we should be looking to influence that context to encourage the type of behaviours that improve wellbeing and reduce costs. Though a simple principle to work with, we acknowledge that it goes against the grain of 200 years of post-Enlightenment thinking. Mainstream economists and policy-makers have tended, until now, to assume that people behave rationally, but the evidence from a wide range of disciplines – not least behavioural and evolutionary psychology – now is clear that human behaviour is subjective (though often predictably so), context-dependent and intensely social.
Equally, reservations are sometimes expressed that local or central government using insights from behavioural sciences to shape communications or services is somehow sinister. We disagree; we think that local government’s responsibility is to get the best outcomes as effectively and efficiently as possible. HMRC increased tax revenues last year by changing the wording of letters sent to citizens in a way that employed behavioural insights (telling people, for example, the high percentage in their area who pay their taxes on time); we have yet to see any serious argument that this is underhand behaviour inappropriate for government. Likewise in local government: if we can reduce the number of unnecessary school admissions appeals by wording the communication with parents more effectively, then we should do so.
What has inspired us is less the theory and the policy debate, more the practical examples. In the past few years, there has been an explosion in the amount of evidence we can draw on. We have seen practical interventions using behavioural psychology and behavioural economics, carried out by organisations in all sectors, sometimes with academic engagement, and analytical approaches (the highest profile public sector example being the MINDSPACE report) that help us understand the range of behavioural effects that can be employed. We decided to draw on this evidence to see what opportunities it provides.
Having explained the imperative behind our work, we want to share the three principles that have inspired our approach. It is driven by three insights we gained from our research and initial work: the first, key, one is that we can improve outcomes and efficiency with low- and no- cost interventions. There are numerous case studies where this has been shown, for example well-evidenced examples of a smiley face helping to ‘lock in’ appropriate behaviour such as low energy usage or safe driving. This can be hard for people to accept, as we have rarely questioned narratives that assume we behave rationally.
The second principle is that Councils can do this. It’s not the exclusive domain of university academics and high-priced consultants and – to most – it’s not just interesting, it’s useful, too.
The third is that need greatly exceeds demand. In our view, just about every service has aspects that could benefit from using behavioural insights, but very few are actively ‘in the market’. Managers are not in the habit of using behavioural insights to generate ideas on how their approach could be configured differently, or communications reframed. We have started to change this.
And we also recognise the starting point that WSCC is like almost all other authorities. We have no staff with ‘behaviour change’ in their job description or job title, and hardly any staff who would describe ‘behaviour change’ as part of their role. And yet in many areas, West Sussex, like other Councils, is ‘doing’ behaviour change by encouraging residents in, for example, pro-environmental behaviours.
Our focus now is on using behavioural insights wherever human behaviour is a factor in our work. So, for WSCC, this is about building capacity; growing the amount of expertise in the authority on using behavioural insights.
The With The Grain Tool
The way we are building capacity is project by project using our new West Sussex With The Grain tool. To create WSWTG, we worked with experts in the two professions who make most use of behavioural insights to affect behaviour: designers and communications professionals, as well as getting input from academic experts and practitioners in local government.
WSWTG gives officers (and staff from partner organisations) access to:
•a way of pinning down the behavioural changes we are looking to encourage
•a presentation and poster explaining a wide range of behavioural effects, using the most memorable (as opposed to the most worthy) examples; and
•a method for systematically exploring the full range of behavioural effects to generate ideas from which the team can identify those worth pursuing
We have identified four clusters of behavioural effects that we introduce to officers. These are:
•approval effects, which make the ‘right’ choice (that is, the behaviour we are looking to encourage) seem normal;
•ease effects, which make it easy/ier to make the ‘right’ choice;
•reward effects, which increase the perception of reward for the ‘right’ choice; and
•obligation effects, which help people feel a sense of obligation to make the ‘right’ choice
So, for example, when we looked for ways to encourage all staff to clear their desks at the end of the day, promoting flexible working and enabling the authority to save money by reducing the desk:staff ratio, the following ideas were generated:
•Status quo bias (one of our ‘ease effects’) tells us that new behaviours are maintained when they fit into existing routines, so we are considering including a ‘clear your desk’ prompt or verification to be included in the logging out process at the end of the day. This could be like checking the box to confirm you understand the terms & conditions before you are able to make some purchases, such as train tickets.
•A range of ‘reward effects’ can be employed. Rather then communicating the benefits to the organisation (the likely default option), internal communications can focus on the ‘payoff’ for individuals, particularly in light of temporal discounting, which makes us favour immediate gains: in this case, being able to get up in the morning and decide where to work.
•‘Approval effects’ are very relevant, in particular social norms (none of us wants to be the ‘odd one out’) and authority effect (chief officers and senior managers will need to lead by example).
•Commitment and consistency may be the key ‘obligation effect’; we all want to behave consistently with a commitment we have made publicly. In this instance, asking teams to sign a declaration recognising the benefits of flexible working – not least the end of ‘presenteeism’ – and also the commitment involved (to clear one’s desk) may be a way of driving ‘bottom up’ change.
This is a very brief example of how behavioural insight can be useful, drawn from a current project. Our experience so far is that using the WSWTG enables staff to generate a better understanding of the behaviours which are a factor in their service and generate many more, better ideas than would have been the case without considering behavioural insights in a systematic way.
Having innovative ideas is not enough, of course; success will depend on being able to test and implement the best ones. We will be open about what we learn in West Sussex from now on, not least because there is a good chance that innovations driven by behavioural insights that work here will work elsewhere.
The debate will continue; in the meantime, local authorities have the chance to use behavioural insights to shape future services.
Warren Hatter is a Local Improvement Advisor working with WSCC on behaviour change. Kieran Stigant is Chief Executive of WSCC.
I like this article by NEF’s Tony Greenham very much, because it explains what those who think the financial system is broken should be for, not just what they’re against.
You could give these ideas a number of different narratives, with pretty much the same result. I’d speak of a more localised economy and of the lower use of natural resources that would result from these measures.
Again, I’m struck that this is at the heart of shaping the places of the future and that therefore – in its long-term thinking, once it has dealt with the short-term financial issues – local government needs to be working out its role in this brave new world. Not to mention what it can do in the meantime, in the absence of central government action.
The system is broken, here’s how we fix it. Don’t tinker with ringfencing banks. Break them up as the first step to creating an effective local lending infrastructure. This is not pie in the sky. This is what the German banking system looks like. Its local public savings banks have supported small businesses and ordinary people throughout the recession, where big banks run away at the first sign of trouble. No annual pantomime of Project Merlin is required for our industrial competitors.
Don’t create new money just to feather-bed bankers and enrich the wealthy. Create new money to create new jobs and new wealth. Use quantitative easing directly to fund the renewal of our infrastructure, to build the new green economy, eradicate fuel poverty, reskill the unemployed and tackle the climate crisis at the same time.
Don’t let people become the slaves of distant creditors. It’s time to talk of a massive relief of debt. The UK’s problem is not really the public deficit that so obsesses the chancellor, but private household debt and the daunting treadmill that awaits a generation of young people burdened by student fees, relentless rents and a housing market that is still in the realms of fantasy.
Don’t wait for money to trickle down. Experience shows that, left to its own devices, it will flood upwards. We can start by setting up local barter currencies in every city that help new enterprises use wasted land, buildings, resources and people. Ultimately we need more dispersed ownership and control of the nation’s natural, human and financial capital. We need to restore large sections of the financial industry to the mutual ownership that served this nation so well until the scandalous smash-and-grab raids of demutualisation in the 1990s.
In short, we need to reassert the public interest. It turns out that, as a governing principle for the financial system, greed is not good. Financial plutocracy must give way to financial democracy – banking as if people mattered.
The consumption-based carbon footprinting work I’ve been involved in in Greater Manchester and West Sussex has identified the aspects of our carbon footprint that policy-makers have not addressed. It’s half of our footprint, and it’s overwhelmingly the supply chain carbon resulting from our (over-)consumption of goods and services.
So the question I’m keen to get local authorities addressing is: how can we and our partners create the conditions where the sort of enterprise thrives that will reduce this footprint and at the same time improve wellbeing, social capital, sustinainability, etc?
To illustrate this, here are seven US initiatives in collaborative consumption. There are UK examples too, of course, but Brainpickings just sent me a link to this. Q: How to encourage this sort of stuff in localities, amid the white noise of the ‘growth agenda’?
Inconspicuous consumption, or what lunching ladies have to do with social web karma.
Stuff. We all accumulate it and eventually form all kinds of emotional attachments to it. (Arguably, because the marketing machine of the 20th century has conditioned us to do so.) But digital platforms and cloud-based tools are making it increasingly easy to have all the things we want without actually owning them. Because, as Wired founder and notable futurist Kevin Kelly once put it, “access is better than ownership.” Here are seven services that help shrink your carbon footprint, lighten your economic load and generally liberate you from the shackles of stuff through the power of sharing.
The age of keeping up with the Jonses is over. The time of linking up with them has begin. NeighborGoods is a new platform that allows you to do just that, allowing you to borrow and lend from and to your neighbors rather than buying new stuff. (Remind us please, what happened to that fancy blender you bought and used only twice?) From lawnmowers to bikes to DVD’s, the LA-based startup dubs itself “the Craigslist for borrowing,” allowing you to both save and earn money.
Transparent user ratings, transaction histories and privacy controls make the sharing process simple and safe, while automated calendars and reminders ensure the safe return of loaned items.
Give NeighborGoods a shot by creating a sharing group for your apartment building, campus, office, or reading group — both your wallet and your social life will thank you.
UPDATE: Per the co-founder’s kind comment below, we should clarify that NeighborGoods also allows you to import your Twitter and Facebook friends from the get-go, so you have an instant group to share with.
Similarly to Neighborgoods, SnapGoods allows you to rent, borrow and lend within your community. SnapGoods takes things step further by expanding the notion of “community” not only to your local group — neighborhood, office or apartment building — but to your social graph across the web’s trusted corners. The site features full Facebook and Meetup integration, extending your social circle to the cloud.
You can browse the goods people in your area are lending or take a look at what they need and lend a hand (or a sewing machine, as may be the case) if you’ve got the goods.
Growing one’s own produce is every hipster-urbanite’s pipe dream. But the trouble with it is that you have to actually have a place to grow it. And while a pot of cherry tomatoes in your fire escape is better than nothing, it’s hardly anything. Enter Landshare, an innovative platform for connecting aspiring growers with landowners who have the space but don’t use it.
Though currently only available in the U.K., we do hope to see Landshare itself, or at least the concept behind it, spread worldwide soon.
swaptree is a simple yet brilliant platform for swapping your media possessions — from books to DVD’s to vinyl — once they’ve run their course in your life as you hunt for the next great thing. Since we first covered swaptree nearly three years ago, the site has facilitated some 1.6 million swaps, saving its users an estimated $10.3 million while reducing their collective carbon footprint by 9.3 million tons.
Inspired by the founders’ moms, whose lunch dates with girlfriends turned into book-swap clubs, swaptree makes sure that the only thing between you and the latest season of 24 is the price of postage.
Most of us are familiar with the concept of regifting. (No disrespect, but the disconnect between good friends and good taste is sometimes astounding.) Luckily, GiftFlow allows you to swap gifts you don’t want for ones other people don’t want but you do. The platform is based on a system of karmic reputation, where your profile shows all you’ve given and taken, building an implicit system of trust through transparency.
So go ahead, grandma. Hit us with your latest sweet but misguided gift. Chances are, there’s someone out there who’d kill for that kitschy music box.
We’re big proponents of bikesharing but, to this point, the concept has failed to transcend local implementations. While some cities like Paris, Amsterdam and Denver are fortunate enough to have thriving bikesharing programs, we’re yet to see a single service available across different locations. Until then, we’d have to settle for the next best sharing-based transportation solution: Zipcar, a 24/7, on-demand carsharing service that gives its members flexible access to thousands of cars across the U.S., U.K. and Canada. Zipcar has been around for quite some time and most people are already familiar with it, so we won’t overelaborate, but suffice it to say the service is the most promising solution to reducing both traffic congestion and pollution in cities without reducing the actual number of drivers.
SHARE SOME SUGAR
Lend me some sugar, I am your neighbor. More than an Outkast lyric line, this is the inspiration behind share some sugar — a celebration of neighborliness through the sharing of goods and resources. Much like SnapGoods and NeighborGoods, the service lets you borrow, rent and share stuff within your neighborhood or group of friends