Behavioural insights, better metrics and @rorysutherland

Practitioners using insights from behavioural sciences to improve service design is one thing, but we’re also now seeing the need for policy makers to be systematic about understanding behaviour. This has a number of dimensions. For example:

  • it makes ethnographic observation more important than straightforward qualitative research. In short, you’re more likely to be able to influence behaviour if you gain insight into when and how it happens, than from focus group findings of people telling you what would make them change what they do.
  • it makes experimentation and prototyping vital, because we’re not going to rely (are we?) on interventions based on a belief that people are ‘rational, economic’ beings. There’s a clear link here with design thinking.
  • in designing interventions, it shifts the focus from ‘why’ to ‘what’: from “why do people do this and why might they do what we want to encourage?” to “what it is that people actually do? what triggers it and what are the barriers to people doing what we want to encourage them to do?” I’ve

I should write about each of these, really. But not today. Today, I’m reflecting briefly on something Rory Sutherland said at an event last week that I hadn’t previously given much thought to. He suggested that we need new metrics in public services and public policy. He’s right of course, though there’s a strong case that we’ve got used to having so many metrics that we don’t take enough notice of the ones we do have.

The specific example I remember is about mobile coverage. In the early days of mobile networks, covering 90% of the population when your competitors only reached 75% was a way of differentiating one service from another and creating competitive advantage, in turn driving other companies to increase their coverage. From a public policy point of view, the main metric being used was in citizens’ (customers’) interests. But once every operator had 98% coverage, they began competing on price, and innovation focused on how to design and present specific packages of data/calls, etc. This hasn’t driven up service quality; why would it?

Rory suggests that, since then, the main differentiator between services (in practical experience, though not reflected in marketing) has been the reliability – or uninterruptedness – of service outside of city and town centres, especially in transit. And although we know this as users, we don’t have access to any way of comparing services on this. Competition on this would have driven up the standard of service – but there’s no metric for this. My take on this is that, well, we COULD invent a metric for this, if we were so inclined. And maybe Oftel could have made each network publish its indicator on this and include it in all publicity.

Now, how relevant is this to my main theme – that people need to be systematic about understanding behaviour? I appreciate that some people would agree with Rory’s point, and say that it’s simply about being more ‘customer focused’. Maybe so. But I’m pretty sure that those who saw ‘percentage coverage’ as a key metric weren’t trying to be anything other than customer centric. And I’m also pretty sure that if you’re being smart about understanding behaviour, you’re more likely to generate the sort of useful, clever metric Rory suggests because you’d be focusing on what people actually do.

Official: emissions aren’t falling, and some in #localgov are doing something about it

Today could turn out to be a significant day in history of Britain addressing climate change. Why? Because an influential cross-party Committee has called the Government to account on the myth at the heart of UK policy on carbon emissions: that the UK’s emissions are falling. And I’m pleased to say that pioneers in local government have played a part in demonstrating to MPs that this is worth doing.

The report Consumption Based Emissions Reporting is the result of an Inquiry by the Energy and Climate Change Committee. The lead story is its assertion that the Government should be open about ‘outsourced emissions’, quoting Chairman Tim Yeo as saying that, “the Department for Energy and Climate Change likes to argue that the UK is only responsible for 2% of the world’s CO2 emissions, but the Government’s own research shows this not to be the case. We get through more consumer goods than ever before in the UK and this is pushing up emissions in manufacturing countries like China.”

All governments since Kyoto have happily based policy on the principle that the only carbon metric that counts is ‘territorial’ emissions: in practice, the emissions this country is directly responsible for. This is an understandable conceit for government, as it can influence the energy efficiency of UK manufacturing in a way that it cannot mandate a factory in China.

This exclusive focus on territorial emissions, as the Committee recognises, leads to perverse incentives (if I fly for a weekend in Barcelona, and turn my central heating off while I’m away, this looks like a negative-carbon trip in the UK’s carbon accounts). And it leads to a total failure to recognise the carbon implications of our behaviours and decisions as citizens, beyond the realms of home energy and travel.

So, in challenging this – and the previous – government’s assertion that the UK’s emissions are falling, the Committee has made a massive leap in policy terms: it asserts that we, as individuals, have some responsibility for the emissions in the supply chains of the goods and services we buy and use, and that policy-makers should have an interest in this. In fact, it has asked DECC to “explore the options for incorporating consumption-based emissions data into the policy-making progress”.

Amen to that. Because this matters.

In projects I have been involved in over the past year with Mike Berners-Lee of Small World Consulting, we’ve established that mainstream policy-makers are completely at odds with people’s intuitive understanding of what they are responsible for. If you ask someone to compare the carbon impact of a flight they could take with the impact of a product they might buy, they do not distinguish between emissions in the UK and those elsewhere.

Yet policy-makers do nothing but, at national and local level. This is incongruous and helps explain why government action on climate change has so little salience with the public. It is why local government, for example, has an established track record encouraging behaviour change and demand management on the ‘territorial’ segments of our carbon footprint (transport modal shift, home energy, but relatively little on our broader consumption patterns. Food, in its different guises, accounts for approaching 25% of the consumption-based emissions of any locality, but local low-carbon food initiatives barely register compared to work on retrofitting, etc.

Let’s be realistic, though: in calling out policy-makers, the Committee hasn’t really made a giant leap: to extend the long-jump analogy, it’s really marking the start of the run-up. The real question is how we act on this.

Encouragingly, the report also says: “Ministers should explore the options for incorporating consumption-based emissions data in to the policy making process and setting emissions targets on a consumption-basis at the national level”. And I’m delighted to see that the Committee acknowledges the work of the three local authorities who have explored the consumption perspective (West Sussex, Manchester and the Lake District NPA) in showing that this perspective is useful for local policy-makers.

What needs to happen now? In my view, though the Committee’s asks are for Central Government, the consumption perspective makes even more sense at a local level, and this is where local policy needs to be developed. It builds on local government’s strengths, as we have influenced behaviour to manage demand for a long time. However, there is no budget available for innovation in this vital area; all the work to date has relied on the political leadership from the likes of Louise Goldsmith and Sir Richard Leese.

Overall, the Committee’s report is as encouraging about using consumption-based metrics as we could reasonably have hoped. Credit to them, and also to the pioneers who have been prepared to make the early running on this. As I write, I’ve just remembered this photo I took in Parliament when the Inquiry heard evidence from local government witnesses. I hope they feel the time spent was worthwhile. I do.

Irish President’s Inaugral speech: wisdom on prosperity, materialism and dignity we hope to hear one day from UK leaders

Nothing to add, save that it’d be good to hear this narrative from British leaders BEFORE a financial crash or similar.

Amplify’d from www.thejournal.ie

In full: the inaugural address of President Michael D Higgins

However, in more recent years, we saw the rise of a different kind of individualism – closer to an egotism based on purely material considerations – that tended to value the worth of a person in terms of the accumulation of wealth rather then their fundamental dignity. That was our loss, the source in part, of our present difficulties. Now it is time to turn to an older wisdom that, while respecting material comfort and security as a basic right of all, also recognises that many of the most valuable things in life cannot be measured.

Read more at www.thejournal.ie

New analysis suggests we’re cutting resource use but let’s not over-interpret #decoupling #degrowth

I’ve copied a few paras below, but you really should go to the Guardian website and read the whole article.

This is important because it allows us – very briefly, and possibly illusory – a glimpse of decoupling. Could it be that it is possible after all to reduce material throughput while economic activity increases?

Like I say, it’s just a glimpse. Even if Goodall’s tentative conclusions turn out to be true (and there are important caveats), the degree of decoupling would be nowhere near that required to reduce our resource use enough to sustain our civilisation in the long-term. But – hey – when you thought you’d never see even a glimpse, be pleased.

Two quick points:

One of several important caveats about the metrics is that the story on carbon looks different. ‘Offshoring’ our emissions to China not only gets them off our books; it also multiplies them massively, according to recent (not yet peer reviewed) data I’ve seen.

My main reflection on this article is that this is exactly the sort of discussion that needs to be at the heart of our political and policy debate. This is just the sort of finding that we look at the implications of if we are trying, as Tim Jackson has challenged us, to create the new macro-economics.

We can’t pretend that it is in the mainstream. Yet. But we need to use the influence we have to make it so.

Amplify’d from www.guardian.co.uk

Why is our consumption falling?

From food to paper and water, Britain has gradually been guzzling less over the past decade. Why?

Peak stuff: the data

With so many significant events to look back on, one thing that few people will remember 2001 for is its entry in the UK’s Material Flow Accounts, a set of dry and largely ignored data published annually by the Office for National Statistics.

But, according to environment writer Chris Goodall, those stats tell an important story. “What the figures suggest,” Goodall says enthusiastically, “is that 2001 may turn out to be the year that the UK’s consumption of ‘stuff’ – the total weight of everything we use, from food and fuel to flat-pack furniture – reached its peak and began to decline.”

Goodall discovered the Material Flow Accounts while writing a research paper examining the UK’s consumption of resources. The pattern he stumbled upon caught him by surprise: time and time again, Brits seemed to be consuming fewer resources and producing less waste. What really surprised him was that consumption appears to have started dropping in the first years of the new millennium, when the economy was still rapidly growing.

In 2001, Goodall says, the UK’s consumption of paper and cardboard finally started to decline. This was followed, in 2002, by a fall in our use of primary energy: the raw heat and power generated by all fossil fuels and other energy sources. The following year, 2003, saw the start of a decline in the amount of household waste (including recycling) generated by each person in the country – a downward trend that before long could also be observed in the commercial and construction waste sectors.

Read more at www.guardian.co.uk

My take on what #localgov must do now: create conditions 4 #sustainability #innovation

This is my analysis from last week’s Local Government Chronicle. What’s it about? Here’s a clue: though I learned many years ago that sub-editors never accept the author’s suggestion for a title, I still try – and for this one my attempt was “It’s The Local Economy, Stupid”.

The challenge councils are working on now, dealing with funding cuts, are minor compared to the challenges our places face as a result of systemic global problems. This is why people like Neil McInroy focus on the concept of local ‘resilience’.

I accept that there aren’t yet many local politicians looking to reshape their local economies to meet these fundamental challenges. So the argument needs to be won.

You can help by asking your local leader, “What will the local economy be like if the financial markets meltdown after a default by, say, Greek and Portugal? And wouldn’t it be good to start right now to shape it so that it can deal with shocks like that?”

Amplify’d from www.lgcplus.com

Creating a sustainable future at the grass roots

22 September 2011 | By Warren Hatter

All local economies are facing instability in three systems on which we depend: in the financial markets, in energy supply and prices, and in ecosystem services. And we can already see local problems caused by instability in these systems: just look at the boarded windows on a typical high street, rapidly rising domestic energy prices, or the way that more homes are becoming uninsurable due to flood risk.

Worse, whatever the causes of the recent riots in urban England, they are a sure sign that there are many who feel detached from their local economy. Worse still, all these systems are now subject to major shocks, whether this is financial meltdown from a European country defaulting on its loans, massive jumps in food prices or cuts in oil supply.

There are concrete ways of getting to the understanding that your locality is vulnerable. Maybe through ecological footprinting of the area and starting to understand ‘one planet’ principles (like Sutton LBC); through commissioning a consumption-based carbon footprint, revealing that the true scale of the carbon challenge is more than twice what NI186 has had us believe (like West Sussex CC); or through a networked approach to place planning (like CLES’s work on local resilience).

When leaders realise that their local economy is not fit for purpose, what do we do? First, recognise where we need to go. We often hear leaders talking about the opportunities of a ‘low carbon economy’, but there is much more to this concept than benefitting from ‘green growth’ by providing goods and services related to energy provision and efficiency. The local economy that evolves will need to be:

resilient to shocks linked to food supply

resilient on energy

using much lower-carbon supply chains for everything

able to maintain its natural and social capital

If we don’t choose to be laissez faire, what can local government do to create the conditions for this new, sustainable economy to thrive?

Recognise that place is important

The “little platoons” approach to localism and big society will not suffice here. I believe that there is a vital role for leadership of place (place shaping, place stewardship, call it what you will) that is often absent from Big Society narratives and which is best carried out by a strategic body with a mandate: the local authority. As NLGN has suggested, some places are better equipped than others for the ‘Big Society’, so some intervention is needed. But this has to be about supporting communities, not top-down approaches which stifle innovation.

Grow our economic capacity

Relatively few economists work for local government; still fewer who are engaged with the ‘new economics’ and want to develop policies that let diverse, local enterprise flourish and resource loops become closed. In the future, for example, how can we encourage funding through a new local lending infrastructure? There is a range of models being used and proposed by the likes of NESTA.

Evolve our approaches to local leadership

More than ever, local authority leadership has to allow others in the community the space to lead. To do this, we need to excel at recognising civic entrepreneurship, and nurturing it. And enable the networks that are most likely to bring innovations to scale, so that every place might benefit from innovation elsewhere.

A sophisticated approach to behaviour change

More resilient, successful places can only be created with significant lifestyle changes, but we know that, in recent years, attempts to persuade people towards lower-impact lifestyles have had limited success; increasingly, we are learning to make sustainable living aspirational and in tune with people’s values.

Different metrics

We will have to measure our wealth in a much more rounded way than GDP and GVA do at present. One benefit of new ways of understanding success is that it will make sense for local assets to be used to their full potential.

Whatever we call it, the signs are that the new economy, the Civic Economy, the Big Society, is emerging, with massive energy, with diverse leadership and funding mechanisms and with a strong sense of place. Though these disrupt business as usual, they point to a high-wellbeing, resilient future with high social capital; this is unequivocally an opportunity agenda.

If we can work our way through the challenges, we will find that the local initiatives like these become mainstream. Delivering them is not our job in local government; creating the fertile ground for them to grow and thrive, is.

Warren Hatter is a local improvement advisor specialising in climate change, behaviour change and local leadership

Two recent reports make it clear there are already plenty of initiatives to inspire and councils are involved in many of them. Among the many initiatives highlighted in NESTA’s Compendium for the Civic Economy and NLGN’s Realising Community Wealth are:

  • Fintry community energy partnership, producing profits from sustainable energy for a whole community
  • Nottingham University Hospitals’ sustainable food procurement, promoting local entrepreneurs and growers while improving value for the NHS
  • Sutton Bookshare, a virtual library where members lend books to each other
  • Time Banks network in Islington, enabling people to share skills
  • Southwark Circle, a co-designed membership scheme for older residents
  • Surrey Museums’ provision by volunteers

A gentle reminder that our #localgov #carbon #metrics are seriously flawed

It’s good that LGC has used this story to highlight some of the real progress made by local authorities in reducing carbon. But I’m afraid that the stats showing falling emissions in every authority only tell part of the story: the territorial part.

Once we take into account the emissions we are all responsible for, the emissions needed to create the goods and services we use and buy, the story is very different. These embedded emissions have been increasing, but central and local government don’t report them. So the real story is that every area is responsible for way more carbon that we admit, and most of it is outsourced.

Some authorities, such as West Sussex County Council and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, are starting to understand the consumption footprint of their area, and explore how it can influence policy. And they are part of a growing trend: only this week, an Inquiry was launched by the parliamentary Energy & Climate Change Committee to investigate the case for consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions reporting in the UK.

Amplify’d from www.lgcplus.com

Council carbon data published

19 September, 2011 | By Rachel Salmon

Carbon emissions fell in almost all local authority areas in recent years, according to government figures.

Figures released last week by the Department for Energy and Climate Change showed an overall fall of 14% across all local authority areas between 2005 and 2009.

The report found that domestic emissions had fallen in all local authority areas but there were rises in industrial, commercial and road emissions.

Read more at www.lgcplus.com

Progress: a Parliamentary Ctee Inquiry into UK consumption-based #emissions reporting #carbon #climatechange

I just want to celebrate that this is happening. If you’ve been here before, you’ll know that I bang on about consumption-based emissions a lot. Because it’s vital, and because so few other people do. But most of all because naive me still cannot believe how blinkered policy-makers at all tiers are in ignoring this perspective. Rant over. Thanks to Tim Yeo. Let’s hope it’s an important step on the road to having governance arrangements and policy-making that takes account of the carbon in supply chains.

Amplify’d from www.parliament.uk

Consumption-Based Emissions Reporting

The Energy and Climate Change Committee, chaired by Tim Yeo MP, is today launching an inquiry to investigate the case for consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions reporting in the UK.

The UK’s reported greenhouse gas emissions have decreased since 1990, in line with our commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. However, it has been suggested that this is a result of the way that emissions are currently accounted for, which is on a production basis. Production-based emissions reporting only takes account of emissions produced physically within a particular territory. If a consumption-based accounting approach was to be used—that is, reporting the carbon embedded in all of the goods and services consumed within the UK—it is very likely that the emissions attributable to the UK would be shown to have been increasing.

The Committee will examine the case for consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions reporting in the UK. The Committee invites responses addressing some or all of the following questions:

  • How do assessments of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions differ when measured on a consumption rather than a production basis?
  • Is it possible to develop a robust methodology for measuring emissions on a consumption rather than production basis and what are the challenges that need to be overcome to deliver this?
  • What are the benefits and disadvantages associated with taking a consumption-based rather than production-based approach to greenhouse gas emissions accounting?
  • Is there any evidence of industry relocating from the UK to other countries as a result of UK climate change policy?
  • Would it be (a) desirable and (b) practicable for the UK to adopt emissions reduction targets on a consumption rather than production basis?
  • What are the potential implications at the international level of the UK adopting a consumption- rather than production-based approach to greenhouse gas emissions accounting?
  • Are there any other issues relating to consumption-based emissions reporting that you think the Committee should be aware of?

Read more at www.parliament.uk