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Influencing Low Carbon Behaviours

Behaviour change must form a key part of meeting our emissions targets in order to make the best of infrastructure and policy changes, transform Scotland in to a community of low carbon citizens and avoid unintended consequences.

Individual, Social and Material (ISM) tool

In order to successfully influence the way people behave, it is crucial to recognise that all behaviour is contextualised – within the values and attitudes that we hold, the habits we have learned, the people around us, and the tools and infrastructure available to us in our day-to-day lives. For this reason, a package of interventions is likely to be more successful in influencing a behaviour.

To help us look at the factors influencing behaviours, the ISM tool was developed. ISM stands for the Individual, Social and Material Tool. This is a practical tool that shortcuts complex theory and can be used throughout the policy / change process. The ISM Tool Influencing Behaviours – Moving Beyond the Individual: A User Guide to the ISM tool was published on 5 June 2013. A technical guide to the ISM tool is also available.

Using the tool demonstrates how multiple factors combine to influence behaviours. ISM starts from a ‘live’ problem and identifies the relevant factors and influences in their context (individual, social or material), organising this information. It is then possible to measure progress by looking at changes in the key factors and the end behaviour over time.  ISM is often described as ‘a head, in a circle, in a square’:

  • The individual context includes individuals’ values, attitudes and skills.To influence behaviour change at the individual level involves making the sustainable choice the easy, default choice.

  • The social context includes social norms, people’s networks and relationships, and the influence of opinion leaders. To influence behaviour change at the social level involves building common cause (values) and supporting the development of positive social norms.

  • The material context includes infrastructure, technology and regulations, and the times and schedules of everyday life. To influence behaviour change at the material level involve supporting the development of technology and infrastructure (e.g. electric cars and charging points), considering regulation where appropriate and influencing softer factors such as people’s schedules.

The ISM Progress Report, published on 30 October 2013, is a short report highlighting progress to date in disseminating and using the ISM tool within the Scottish Government and its agencies, as well as other environmental organisations.  It provides an update on the workshops that have taken place to date and those that are planned for the future to improve the behavioural aspects of RPP2 policies, spanning transport, housing, waste and farming.

Shifting Normal

Shifting Normal is designed to help community groups tackling climate change maximise their success by taking account of how change happens when planning, carrying out and reviewing their activities.

Shifting Normal is based on the Individual Social and Material (ISM) Tool, and draws on the experience of community groups to help you better understand how change happens, and how you can use this knowledge as you work towards your aims.