Influencing behaviours - moving beyond the individual: ISM user guide

A user guide to the individual, social and material (ISM) approach to influencing behaviours.


Increasing individual, business and public sector use of electric vehicles ( EVs) is a key proposal within the Scottish Government's Second Report on Policies and Proposals ( RPP2) which outlines how Scotland will meet its ambitious climate change targets. Whilst the technology (one of the Material factors) is already available and improving all the time, making EVs a common purchasing choice is challenging. As the behaviour mapping below shows, appealing to the multiple factors in the three different contexts is critical if the government and car manufacturers are to break the current 'catch 22' of non-use or niche purchase, and significantly increase the uptake of EVs. The worked example below identifies a wide range of factors - many of which are interlinked - which all need to be addressed if a step change in EV use is to be achieved. For presentational purposes, the worked example captures the main issues raised within the workshops rather than providing an exhaustive list.

Note - the example focuses on people's decisions to buy an EV. As per step 1 above, the factors which influence organisations' decisions to buy electric vehicles will be somewhat different, and are best modelled separately.


This section provides a description in summarised note form of the Individual factors which influence people's decisions to buy an EV, rather than a petrol/diesel vehicle.

The factors identified as part of the Individual context underline how new a behaviour buying an EV is. There is uncertainty around Costs & Benefits in terms of purchase price, resale value and payback period, set against a background of ingrained car buying Habits and refuelling routines. Beliefs, Attitudes and Agency are all influenced by 'range anxiety'. This is the worry about not being able to complete your journey due to running out of charge, despite 98% of car and van journeys being less than 40 miles*, well within the range of an EV. Skills and 'know how' are also an issue in terms of knowing how and where to refuel, and how to drive an automatic.

*Scottish Household Survey 2011, travel diary data

Values, Beliefs, Attitudes

  • Range anxiety (in fact, c.60-100 miles)
  • Lack of critical mass (chicken and egg between vehicles and charging network) - when will a tipping point be reached?
  • (Mis)perceptions of inconvenience

Costs & Benefits

  • Purchase price is high (battery costs up to 50% of car price)
  • But factor in very low running and maintenance costs
  • Leasing agreement for battery (ongoing cost), plus purchase car outright
  • Length of payback unclear
  • No resale market (yet) so resale price unknown
  • Hard to calculate vs fuel prices (future uncertain, including level of fuel taxes)
  • Incentives currently available (£5k - or 25% - off purchase price)


  • Initial distrust/ way to pleasant surprise on test driving


  • Range anxiety plays into concerns about completing journey/not running out of charge


  • How to drive an automatic
  • Knowing where/how to recharge


  • Car buying habits (including preferred make and model)
  • Refuelling routines (new charging habits need forming)


This section provides a description in summarised note form of the Social factors which influence people's decisions to buy an EV, rather than a petrol/diesel vehicle.

The factors identified as part of the Social context again underline newness: most notably, there are no clear social norms around purchasing an EV yet. Meanwhile current Norms for car purchasing are petrol based; indeed the whole meaningfulness of cars only relates to petrol versions. Cars are critical to the 'social conversations' which we have as part of consumer society: what would driving an EV say about the kind of person you are? The Social context also highlights the role of Institutions and key stakeholders - manufacturers, the car hire market, car media and petrol stations - who all have a role to play in promoting and facilitating the uptake of EVs across the different Social, Individual and Material factors.

Opinion Leaders

  • TV shows including Top Gear/Clarkson
  • Taxi drivers (especially if driving an electric cab)
  • Celebrity drivers


  • Key stakeholders including:
    - Manufacturers
    - Car hire market
    - Car media ( e.g. Auto Trader)
    - Petrol stations (install charging points here?)
  • NB some of these already on E-cosse stakeholder working group


  • None! Should be good for using norms: highly visible behaviour - but currently not happening or talked about

Roles & Identity

  • Car attachment very strong - sense of social conversation: 'my car is me'


  • Assumptions and preferences about car styles/ looks, driving styles and journey patterns


  • Electric cars as milkfloats or Sinclair C5s (vs e.g. Teslas or new electric F1 cars)
  • Committed car drivers as 'petrol heads'
  • EV could appeal to 'techie', early adopter people - but EV cars seen as a bit of a joke
  • Ownership models of buying and leasing

Networks & Relationships

  • Personal contact with someone who drives an EV
  • ...failing which films and case studies with new EV drivers
  • Target early adopters and spread new norms


This section provides a description in summarised note form of the Material factors which influence people's decisions to buy an EV, rather than a petrol/diesel vehicle.

Rules & Regulations

  • Financing Arrangements ( e.g. government grants/discounts)
  • A resale market (none yet)
  • Spatial planning guidelines ( e.g. siting the charging network)
  • Congestion charging ( e.g. exemptions for EVs)


  • Electric vehicles themselves, mostly small to medium cars at present
  • Batteries (with increasing ranges/decreasing costs)
  • Various charging arrangements (vary by point type and EV)


  • Charging points (and parking spaces)
  • Homes with space to fit charging points (ideally with dedicated cabling) - NB government financial support with this from 2013
  • EV dealerships


  • Info/maps on charging points
  • Eye-catching branding on charging points

Time & Schedules

  • Recharging routines at home ( e.g. plug in overnight)
  • Scheduling breaks in long journeys to recharge (around 30 mins required for 80% charge)
  • Trip patterns and accurate assessment of how often long car journeys are undertaken - e.g. 98% of car journeys are less than 40 miles

The mapping of factors in the Material context highlights that most work undertaken to date to encourage EV use has been in the Material context: for example,making the Technology viable, more affordable and accessible, and putting in the (hard) Infrastructure, such as charging points, to support the technology. Less has been done to date on information and maps of charging points, and maximising the visual impact of the latter through branding (Objects).

The focus on Time and Schedules highlights another linkage, this time to the Individual context and people's reported 'range anxiety': how many of people's car journeys exceed 100 miles without stopping, and how inconvenient would a 30 minute (recharging) break be in those irregular longer journeys?

The importance of financial arrangements and incentives, and planning guidelines, is highlighted under rules and regulations, some of which is under the control of the government.

However, focusing on Rules and Regulations and Technology highlights an overlap with Social factors around Institutions. While the government can lead on the charging Infrastructure and offer incentives, the Technologies and overall market and pricing are largely in the hands of manufacturers. Therefore close collaboration between government and industry will be important.


The next part of the workshop exercise mapped existing policies and interventions ( step 8), before identifying ideas for further consideration and development ( step 9).

The following existing government schemes designed to encourage the purchase of electric vehicles by consumers were identified:

Funding and incentives (Individual impacting on Costs & Benefits)

  • £5k (or 25%) purchase discount, whichever is higher
  • 0% rated road tax (also example of Material - Rules & Regulations)
  • Subsidised home charging kit installation

Infrastructure (Material, impacting on Agency)

  • Building the charging network (soon to reach 500 charging points, with an aim for a point every 50 miles on the trunk road network)

Ideas generated

A number of ideas were generated as part of step 9. The first three ideas explain the ISM factors in full and how they interact, whilst the rest are in summary form.

Increase visual impact of charging points

Increase the visual impact of charging points ('M': Objects), including through branding, to show people that Infrastructure ('M') to support EV purchase is growing, and to help normalise the use of electric vehicles. Even better if people can be seen using the charging points!

This has potential to impact on the following factors including:

'I': Beliefs and Attitudes - giving people proof in their daily lives is the best way to change attitudes, here by showing them that charging points away from home are available.

'I': Skills - the 'know how' required here includes where to recharge - for instance the ability to spot charging points when driving will build knowledge of how to complete journeys by EV.

'S': Norms - seeing 'people like me' using charging points will be the best way to normalise the behaviour.

Explore alternative charging networks

Home charging at times of low electricity demand is the primary aim, but alternatives which make a wider range of journeys viable are important too. Alternative charging sites ('M': Infrastructure) could include petrol stations, service stations, cafes and other places where people break long journeys.

This has the potential to impact on the following factors including:

'I': Agency - the availability of alternative charging points will make a wider range of journeys viable, which will increase people's confidence in using EVs.

'I': Habit - encouraging EV users to link their recharging activity with other purposes (shopping, resting) should help to make the practice of recharging a routine, and less of a strange chore, until it becomes as established as filling up the tank.

'S': Institutions - clearly, partner organisations will be required here to spread the charging networks.

'S': Meanings - where charging points are located can change the meaning of the act of recharging. If in a petrol station, it would appear more like normal refuelling, but if at a café it could feel more like part of a social call.

Provide better information - maps and apps of the network of charging points

Accessible maps and apps of the charging network, tied into satnav where possible ('M': Objects).

This has the potential to impact on the following factors including:

'I': Agency - the knowledge of how and where to recharge will physically make it easier for people to complete their EV journeys, especially for new and more wide ranging trips. This will further increase their sense of confidence that EVs can meet most, if not all, of their journey needs.

'I': Habit - when people are learning new routes they seek out and focus closely on relevant information; once that route has formed into a routine, their use of information becomes much more 'blinkered'. New charging points call for new route information.

'M': Objects - the maps themselves are needed (at least initially) to support the practice of driving and recharging EVs; having them in electronic formats integrates the task of route planning into other practices, like driving, in the case of the satnav.

'M': Time & Schedules - maps make new routes possible, which in turn make new trips possible, joining different places on an itinerary together to make the best use of time and distance. This includes the possibility of 'trip combining' using different transport modes.

Encourage networks of EV drivers

('S': Networks and relationships), first to encourage demonstrations and norming of EV use ('I': Skills, Agency) then as people switch to EVs, encourage users to offer their charging points to others ('M': Infrastructure). Connecting EV users into networks not only builds webs of knowledge, but physical networks of charging points, potentially in places where other infrastructure hubs ( e.g. arterial roads, garages) are more scarce. There is also the potential to tie into the existing Energy Saving Trust Green Homes network, to build networks across the Scottish Government's ten key low-carbon behaviour areas.

Raise awareness of EVs amongst the general public

('I': Values, Beliefs, and Attitudes), through influential TV shows showing celebrities ('S': Opinion Leaders) or ordinary families ('S': Norms) using EVs long term in their everyday lives. This could combat (mis)perceptions that EVs are far less convenient and much more difficult than other fuelled vehicles, especially for long journeys, if timed carefully in terms of the growth of charging infrastructure. A related idea is to increase public exposure to EVs as taxis, hire cars, branded trade vehicles, etc.

To help calculate payback, cost comparison websites

('M': Object) for EVs versus fuelled vehicles for different models, mileages and journey types would be helpful. Information on the actual costs and other aspects of EV use, such as range and speed, will be important to enable people to make informed decisions about the relative advantages of buying an EV (I: Costs & Benefits).

Think about your mobility

Helping people understand their journey habits better, particularly on
the mileage relating to everyday driving such as commuting, shopping and leisure, with the dual aim of counteracting EV 'range anxiety' ('I': Agency and Emotions) and educating people about alternative transport options. For example, asking people to keep a record of how long their journeys actually are could help circumvent range anxiety. Information on trip habits could also be captured and fed back out to drivers, such that they can get a better sense of what is 'normal' in terms of journey distances and journey patterns ('S': Norms).

Concluding comments

Looking at the insights and opportunities for intervention generated above, it is apparent that most of the ideas address multiple factors, across different ISM contexts. As noted in step 10 above, it is useful to consider these interactions when developing a coherent package of interventions to influence behaviours. For example, although the first three examples above are Material interventions, they impact on the softer Individual factors - Beliefs, Agency, Skills - as well as working to influence Habits, and the key Social factors of Norms and Meanings.

It is also worth considering the roles of government (central and local), business and other stakeholders. Although government holds or can influence a number of levers, industry and other sectors hold many of the remits that can help make widespread EV use a reality. Examples include: the right type of vehicles must be available at an attractive price, with dealer support (automotive industry); support for installation of domestic charging points and transparent and competitive electricity tariffs to encourage EV recharging at home at times of low demand (energy supply industry); and continuing improvements to technology, such as battery life and more efficient electric motors, will help combat concerns around EVs and make them more comparable to conventional vehicle use. Other stakeholder groups could have a role to play in developing and extending networks of EV users, including to people who are considering EV use.

The Low Carbon Vehicle Policy Team in Transport Scotland are considering the ideas generated in the workshop, alongside existing interventions. The Roadmap for Electric Vehicles will be published in summer 2013.


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