Influencing attitudes & behaviours
The amount of water that we use is determined not only by our water system (e.g., water pressure variations) and the technologies that we use (e.g., high volume showerheads), but also by our interaction with technologies (e.g., shower duration and frequency) and our habits (like turning the tap off whilst brushing teeth). Water supply and demand is a complicated system, and we’re only beginning to understand the role of people in it.
Recent surveys of attitudes and behaviours are not giving us many answers. According to a 2010 NatCen survey, 32% of respondents always/often choose to save/re-use water – but the 2009 Defra survey revealed that a whopping 69% said that they already (and intend to keep) making an effort to cut down on water use at home. (This result was up from 52% in 2007.) So, have we become less water aware?*
The research and evaluation work that Waterwise do aims to identify motivations and barriers to water efficiency, as well as pull apart assumptions that underpin water efficiency initiatives delivered in the UK. We believe that ‘nudging’ people is not enough to shift our culture toward one that is water wise (a Lords Select Committee recently concluded this, too), but influencing attitudes and behaviours is one part of the solution – and we need to make sure we’re researching this area and evaluating initiatives well.
Our influencing attitudes and behaviours work concentrates on the following areas:
Understanding behaviour – how and why individuals use water; for example, our work for Southern Water highlighted that customers want more information about their baseline water use, before water meters roll in, so that they know what to expect – but we don’t yet know how best to present and communicate this information.
Understanding change – how change happens at the individual level; for example, the Evidence Base has explored household water savings from retrofit devices and the sustainability of those savings over the long-term, but we’re not sure how much of the savings can be attributed to intentional technological changes and how much to unintentional behavioural changes.
Understanding audiences – who will/can change; for example, through Tap into Savings we know that it is possible to engage across Defra’s environmental attitudes segments, but that uptake of more than 10-15% is difficult to achieve. Can we target initiatives better to achieve maximum uptake at the lowest cost?
Intervening to create change – who, what, when and where to act; for example, results from one deliberative forum study we were involved in suggested that information campaigns were considered acceptable by all but perceived ineffectual by many. To date, there have been on evaluations done on the effectiveness of large-scale water efficiency campaigns in the UK.
*The NatCen and Defra surveys are not directly comparable because they were administered at different times, using different questions and selecting participants differently, amongst other variations. They should be lightly weighed against each other, if only to initiate discussion. Conclusions should not be made.