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Policy Addressing Climate Change and Learning about Consumer Behaviour and Everyday Life

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PACHELBEL project has been funded with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this website are the sole responsibility of PACHELBEL project and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union

Knowledge brokerage

PACHELBEL is primarily concerned with the utilisation of existing research knowledge. In order to make progress with this objective, there is a need to recognise that such utilisation of knowledge is far from a straightforward, instrumental, process. Strengthening the connectivity between research and policy-making will require mechanisms than can mediate between different kinds of research knowledge and the concrete needs of specific policy settings There are a number of different ‘reservoirs’ of knowledge that we need to consider:

 The existing open research literature on climate change and sustainable consumption.

 Research findings arising from research commissioned by the policy-making organisations with which we will be collaborating.

 Research knowledge concerning the nature of the policy-making process.

 Practical knowledge on policy-making that is utilised on a day-to-day basis by policy makers.

 Research knowledge relevant to the design of the ‘bridging method’ that we propose to implement, in particular the body of knowledge concerned with the practicalities of various engagement, deliberative and decision-making processes.

 Lay knowledge on consumer behaviour and its embeddedness within the constraints and opportunities of everyday life.

Environmentally sustainable behaviours

In recent years the urgent need to develop practical ways to address anthropogenic climate change has become increasingly clear. Work on developing forms of ‘sustainable consumption’ has provided compelling arguments about the nature of the difficulties entailed in seeking to address such environmental impacts by attempting to shift patterns of consumer behaviour. It is not sufficient to simply tell people ‘the facts’ and expect them to behave ‘sensibly’. Significantly, the issue of climate change brings additional challenges for policy-making which seeks to shift behaviour. These arise from the issue possessing a number of distinctive facets that make it difficult to create clear linkages between changes in behaviour and personal benefits e.g. the need for collective action to achieve individual benefit; the long time scales involved and therefore absence of immediate results; and the contested nature of the scientific issues.

A multiplicity of policy initiatives to address this matter are currently planned, or are being piloted, within the continent of Europe, including local initiatives concerned with Carbon offsetting; new methods of energy billing and metering, like the introduction of ‘smart meters’; introducing cigarette-style ‘health warnings’ on advertisements for commodities and services like air travel; road pricing; and embedding the principles of sustainability into school curricula. Increasingly, policy-makers recognise that shifting behaviour is far more than a matter of bridging the gap between educating consumers about the impact of their behaviour, and changing that behaviour. Such behaviours are embedded within a complex matrix of everyday associations, preferred ways of life, economic constraints, and emotional commitments.
In line with this recognition, policy  initiatives  now  tend
to take a more sophisticated form than being simply about ‘public education’, and include elements of communication, advertising, incentives, and citizen engagement.

It seems indisputable that policy which seeks to address the diversity of consumer behaviours which have climate change impacts will be more effective in its design and implementation if it makes workable assumptions about likely impacts on consumer and other forms of lay behaviour. However, significantly, this is an area where the evidence base is not conclusive, and where the conceptual terrain – including as it does contributions from various areas of environmental studies, and from marketing, health studies, sociology, psychology and other disciplines – is highly contested.

In order to address these difficulties, we propose to take as our point of departure the increasingly large body of research and practical findings concerned with citizen engagement. The trend towards citizen engagement as a policy tool has developed significantly within many democratic countries over the last decade. The use of various forms of extended consultation, participation and deliberative involvement with members of the lay public has been advocated as a means to address a number of perceived difficulties of contemporary governance, including deficits of knowledge, trust and legitimacy.

Of great significance has been the recognition of the limits of the extent to which technical knowledge alone provides a suitable basis for the resolution of many decision-making questions concerned with innovation and technology management. In cases where the issue in question is associated with some degree of controversy, and conflicts exist in underlying values and motivations, difficulties arise in seeking to reconcile expert knowledge and the needs of the market with strongly held beliefs and commitments.

Knowledge in the policy-making process

We suggest that any serious attempt to find ways of enhancing the utilisation of research knowledge in policymaking needs to have regard to the concrete nature of the policymaking process within specific organisational settings. Knowledge cannot be viewed as a ‘package’ which can be transferred between stages of an engagement exercise in an unproblematic way. Rather, each stage entails situated processes of gathering, presenting, disputing and agreeing, practical reasoning about, and finally using different forms and sources of knowledge. Therefore it is important to gain a fairly intimate degree of insight into the everyday practicalities of the policymaking process. In this respect, our problem-focused (or ‘action research’) approach, is likely to prove especially useful, by virtue of the close collaborative nature of the intervention that will be needed.

For the public

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