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square_photoI lead an International Energy Agency Demand Side Management (IEA DSM) research project called ‘Task 24. Closing the Loop – Behaviour Change in DSM: From Theory to Practice’. The Task aims to translate and connect good behaviour change theory to best practice when designing, implementing and evaluating DSM projects, policies and pilots in the ‘real world’. This is often easier said than done.

Last October, the UKERC Meeting Place funded us to run an excellent 2-day workshop for our Task at Oxford University. There were 65 (mostly UK) experts from research, industry, community groups and government. The workshop, and the exposure to the UK experts which I knew were world-leading, was a real eye-opener for me.

In my work to date, I have not been exposed to such robust and somewhat brutal debate as I witnessed especially on our first morning. I was surprised by some of the hardened factions that were obvious between researchers, research disciplines and practitioners. And I was surprised that most attendees were aware of these conflicts and expected them to arise again – and that people still turned up!

Let me say upfront that this did not at all reduce the success of the workshop, in fact, it may have enhanced it as there was no time to skirt around issues (as usually happens in overly polite societies like New Zealand, where I live) and we took away some strong learnings which have been shown to have benefited our Task and other attendees.

I did, however, feel a little like a lamb to the slaughter as I hadn’t realised beforehand what (and who) was going to cause such ructions. A lot of the conflict seems to stem from experts’ different approaches, methodologies and definitions of something as seemingly inocuous as ‘energy behaviour’. Most of these issues are ‘insider’ issues and rather hard to grasp for someone who comes from policy or practice and who may have more straightforward (albeit maybe less ‘accurate’) views of the world and how humans behave.

Knowing that these inter-disciplinary and cross-sector issues are there does not necessarily make it easier to overcome them. If academics see policy people as being ignorant (of their work) and policymakers see academics as theoreticians who sit in ivory towers but don’t understand the issues of the ‘real world’, we have a serious problem. Add industry, intermediaries and community sectors into the mix and it seems impossible to find a straightforward way to break through the sectoral jargon, different mandates, needs and limitations.

Despite this, a lot of good work is done in the UK where researchers work with and at policy agencies to improve current behaviour change approaches. Some of the more high-profile areas like the ‘Nudge Unit’ may suffer from being over-politicised but other collaborations, like the ones between DECC and Tim Chatterton1 and between Defra and Andrew Darnton et al.2, have certainly led to very interesting and useful insights into how to take cutting-edge behaviour change research into practice.

I have not seen similarly strong collaborations between research and policy in the other countries partaking in our Task. This makes me feel that, despite (or maybe because of?) being more robust and confrontational with each other than what may be the ‘norm’, UK researchers and practitioners are managing to successfully work together to get things done in this important field.


1. Chatterton, T (2011). An Introduction to Thinking About ‘Energy Behaviour’: a multi-model approach. A paper for the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

2. Darnton, A, Verplanken, B, White, P and Whitmarsh, L (2011). Habits, Routines and Sustainable Lifestyles: A summary report to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. AD Research & Analysis for Defra, London.


Dr. Sea Rotmann is a behaviour change consultant. She previously worked at the New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority as Principal Scientist. She is currently the Operating Agent for Task XXIV on Behaviour Change for the IEA’s DSM Implementing Agreement.


john barrettWhile there have been a number of papers that calculate consumption-based GHG emissions, we were keen to present a paper [now published in Climate Policy Journal, Vol. 13, issue 4] that documents its application to climate policy, recognising the uncertainty in the calculations and presenting the future research challenges.

In this blog I’ve mapped out the “policy journey” of consumption-based emissions in the UK. The journey began in 2005 with initial estimates of the UK’s consumption based emissions right up until 2013 with consumption-based emissions now being a headline indicator for the UK Government with a number of serious policy options being considered.

Read the rest at the Climate Change and Climate Strategies Policy Journal Blog at

Professor John Barrett holds the position of Chair of Sustainability Research at the Sustainability Research Institute (SRI), University of Leeds.

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