Design thinking for practice-based intervention

A new paper in the eminent Design Studies journal authored by Claire Hoolohan (Tyndall Centre) and Alison Browne (SEED) describes how Change Points combines methods from Design Thinking with ideas from Social Practice Theories to produce a workshop method for practice-based sustainability initiatives.

The paper, titled Design thinking for practice-based intervention: Co-producing the change points toolkit to unlock (un)sustainable practices, is available free and open access here:

This paper is the first of its kind, reporting on a collaboration between the Universities of Manchester (Browne, Hoolohan) and Sheffield (Prof Matt Watson, Dr Liz Sharp, Prof David Evans and Dr Mike Foden), along with Defra, WRAP, the Food Standards Agency, Northumbrian Water Group, WWF-UK and Artesia. This collaboration interpreted ideas from social practice theories into tools and resources to support policy-makers and practitioners in applying the valuable insights from this body of work.

Social practice theories are a way of understanding everyday action as the culmination of social, material, political and infrastructural developments and call for new ways of engaging in the complex and connected world in which behaviour arises to foster sustainability. By drawing on methods and resources in design research, the paper outlines how the toolkit enables a participatory process to intervention design that moves beyond a focus on consumers to consider how and why unsustainable practices arise and what might be done to positively affect their onwards evolution.

Design Studies

Over on twitter, Claire describes the paper as follows:

Unflushables 2030? Mapping Change Points for Intervention

Today sees the end of a two-day workshop “Unflushables 2030?”, co-convened by the Change Points team (Alison Browne and Claire Hoolohan) with Anglian Water and more than 30 industry partners to identify ways of eradicating hygiene products disposed of via the toilet reaching sewers and waterways in the next decade.

Unflushables are a substantial challenge in a world focussed on reducing plastic pollution, improving water quality, reducing water demand and ensuring resilient water supplies. Yet they’re taboo. They cause problems in sewers and waterways as products poorly designed for the lives we live are disposed of in problematic ways in private bathroom spaces.

Not all that much is known about how and why people use and dispose of unflushable products, but a new review article from the University of Manchester reveals the various social, cultural, material and infrastructural complexities of the unflushables challenge.

Not all that much is known about how and why people use and dispose of unflushable products via the toilet, and what might be done to change these practices. A recent review, commissioned by Anglian Water and undertaken by Alison Browne (SEED), Cecilia Alda Vidal (SEED) and Claire Hoolohan (Tyndall Centre, MACE), highlights the various social, cultural, material and infrastructural complexities of the unflushables challenge. Work within the social sciences shows that to address this type of challenge we need to move beyond ‘behaviour change’ approaches that focus on education and awareness raising, and think more creatively and innovatively about how changes to habits and routines happen.

The Unflushables 2030? workshop brought together a huge array of businesses and organisations with concerns in this field to think creatively and collaboratively about different ways to create the environment for change that is essential if we are to reduce the environmental and economic impacts of unflushables. With representatives from Absorbent Hygiene Product Manufacturers Association (AHPMA); Anglian Water; Anglian Centre for Water Studies; Business in the Community (BITC); Consumer Council for Water (CC Water); Cosmetic Toiletry & Perfumery Association;  DEFRA; EDANA; Environment Agency; Friends of the Earth; Jacobs; Kimberly Clark; National Federation Women’s Institutes; Natracare; Nicepak; Northumbrian Water; Optical Express; Rockline;  Sainsburys; Suez; Tesco; United Utilities; University of Manchester; University of Sheffield, Walgreens Boots Alliance; and Water UK.

Unflushables 2030? brought together businesses and organisations with concerns in this field to think creatively and collaboratively about ways to reduce the environmental and economic impacts of unflushables.

The workshop used the Change Points method to consider how to shift hygiene cultures away from disposable and single use products; and how to move beyond behaviour change (education, awareness, labelling as education) campaigns on flushing products to interventions that address social, cultural and infrastructural dynamics.

In addition to extending the Change Points research programme, this workshop emerged from an ongoing collaboration between the University of Manchester, Anglian Water and the Anglian Water Studies Centre, and extends research ongoing within the University of Manchester’s RE3 (Rethinking Resources and Recycling) project. Watch this space for workshop proceedings, a review paper on Unflushables, and further activities.

Unflushables 2030 attendees

Thought Leading at the Environment Agency

To celebrate the new year, the Environment Agency’s invited Claire Hoolohan (Tyndall Centre, University of Manchester) to present Change Points at their ‘thought leadership’ workshop, and discuss how it might inform their new collaborative strategy.

This multi-disciplinary workshop saw thought leaders from the fields of behavioural economics, psychology and social practice theories discussing how policy makers might use research insights to challenge assumptions and develop initiatives fit to meet the challenges that face our country.

Claire presented the Change Points toolkit which, designed with academics at Manchester and Sheffield along with several external collaborators, provides a method to develop systemic approaches to sustainable transformation. Discussions focussed on how the toolkit mobilises social practice theories, a body of work traditionally difficult to apply in policy settings, and helped to identify the plethora of connections that the Environment Agency might make to other organisations driving forward sustainability agendas within the UK. The presentation is available here:

The presentation was one of five, with eminent Professors Lorraine Whitmarsh (Cardiff University) and Elisabeth Shove (Lancaster University), Dr Kris De Mayer (Kings College London) and Toby Park (Head of Energy & Sustainability, The Behavioural Insights Team) contributing ideas from across the social sciences.

Change Points demonstrates how working with the diversity, complexity and interconnectivity inherent in peoples’ daily lives helps to identify novel and effective avenues for intervention.

Slides and notes from this talk are available here:

Change Points at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

Claire Hoolohan was invited to Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, to present on our toolkit. Today, Claire presented there, on its development and its potential to inform policy change. Slides are available here.