What role for communication initiatives in reducing energy demand? Talk at knowledge exchange event at the Science Museum

energy descent? steps to the central line

It was a surprise to be invited to speak at a knowledge exchange event on communication and behaviour change to reduce energy use. My work and that of others, not least in the DEMAND centre on which I was co-investigator, challenges the emphasis on communication, and behaviour change as conventionally framed, to effect change in what people do. But the event was part of a follow on project from the excellent Material Cultures of Energy project led by Frank Trentmann at Birkbeck, and seemed an opportunity to deliver the same messages again to a diverse audience of academics and policy professionals at the Science Museum.

Happily, Sarah Royston kicked things off. I first worked with Sarah when we were both performers in the renowned Extraordinary Lecture <link to something> at the British Library a good few years back. Sarah was also involved in the DEMAND centre. So, little wonder she started things off along way from the event brief – looking at the complexity and distributed responsibility involved in transition towards digitisation in the health sector, with little consideration of the energy, or material extractoin, consequences of both devices and proliferating data traffic and storage.

Andrew Schein form the Behavioural Insights Team was quite a contrast, talking about typical nudge – and technological substitution/automation – initiatives, amenable to randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and the apparent evidence of causality they provide. As is usual with such initiatives, changes were incremental and seem dwarfed by the scale of systemic change outlined by Sarah previously.

Rachel Lilley from Aberystwyth was a bit closer to the project outline than Sarah and myself, but talking about an initiative which was more about active household specific engagement than typical communication initiatives, and also engaging with insights from practice theory. My talk was last in the event, and I drew on key insights from the DEMAND centre research, before discussing the challenges of getting such evidence and ideas into the practices of policy making.

Author: Matt Watson

A Human Geographer at the University of Sheffield, interested in how everyday human action and social orders make each other, with implications for sustainability and wellbeing. Currently looking at energy including how to tackle demand for it.

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