The Reshaping the Domestic Nexus project has brought new evidence and understandings of household consumption within the nexus of water-energy-food resources to the attention of key policy partners. From initial design of the proposed project to delivery of final reports, the project has been undertaken in collaboration with:
- Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
- Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
- Food Standards Agency (FSA)
Overall, across these partners, our work has been received with enthusiasm, generating live pathways to further impact and broader collaborations across policy fields. As detailed below, this has been achieved through our synthesis and communication of existing evidence, which has itself been shaped by the collaborative approach. For example, the priority given to our novel concept of ‘change points’ in our final partner reports, and its centrality to post-project impact, funding and publication ambitions, results from the recognition of its potential by several of our partners.
The concept of the nexus of water, energy and food (WEF) has increasing traction in research and policy, confronting the interdependencies between these fundamental resources. Most work in this field has focused on the supply of these resources. The Reshaping the Domestic Nexus project started from concern with how demand for these resources and their associated service infrastructures are constituted, with a focus on everyday practices happening in domestic kitchens.
Given the significance of the kitchen as a site of resource consumption, it is unsurprising that specific kitchen practices are a target of policy intervention including initiatives aimed at water and energy efficiency, food safety and waste avoidance. While varied in approach, such interventions draw on only some of the available ways of understanding why people do what they do, and how people’s current practices might be changed.
One alternative approach is grounded in a focus on practices. This approach shows that generally people do not consciously ‘consume’ energy and water but rather require the services those resources enable in order to do particular practices – such as cooking or cleaning. From the practice perspective, food consumption occurs as part of practices which are bound up with established rhythms and meanings of household life. In turn, the practices characterising kitchen life are substantially shaped, amongst other things, by the systems that provide energy, food and water, and/or allow the disposal of waste.
This project drew upon our previous ESRC Nexus Network funded workshop series The Domestic Nexus. The workshops demonstrated that there is an array of existing knowledge and evidence that can inform understanding WEF service demand as emergent from social practices. The workshops also revealed the promising affinities and synergies between practice research and the emphasis of nexus thinking on interdependencies and relationships, across scales.
The potential of practice theory informed research to make a difference to policy approaches seeking to effect change in pursuit of sustainability has been increasingly recognised by policy actors, with different parts of government and other stakeholders commissioning reports and engaging with practice oriented research. However, so far practice research has had limited visible impact on how policy interventions are conceptualised and carried out. Reshaping the Domestic Nexus worked in partnership with policy actors and other change agents, to understand better the potential and challenges of effectively articulating practice research insights with policy approaches to effecting change.
With each partner, we undertook a series of meetings, to identify topics where our expertise and approach could inform their research and evidence requirements. These topics, which became the focus of one of four reports, were:
Fat, oil and grease being disposed down the kitchen plughole (contributing to ‘fatbergs’) and how we might reduce it – with Waterwise
Food waste from home kitchens and how to tackle it – with DEFRA
Food safety and food waste and how householders negotiate the tensions between these sometimes competing imperatives – with FSA
Energy use in home cooking and ways to reduce it and to encourage flexibility in when it is used – with BEIS.
We set about producing draft reports on each topic working to synthesise existing evidence about relevant practices. Each report sought to explore the issue identified by our partners from the perspective of the domestic nexus, and how water, energy and food could be implicated in these topics. We then developed our distinctive ‘change points’ approach and tailored this to each topic in the different reports.
Subsequent meetings discussed draft reports, to further explore partners’ agendas and ways of framing and responding to the issues, and to identify routes to give the approach we are presenting wider engagement and impact. Across this series of engagements with partners we have met and discussed with over 30 policy professionals, principally with research and/or delivery oriented staff of partner organisations, but also a wider range of policy professionals.