22 people gathered from across three EUED Centres in Leeds on Friday 6th November to discuss the theme of change and how this was being understood conceptually and methodologically across the different centres.
Morning Session – Concepts
The morning session featured presentations from Greg Marsden and Ian Jones, Elizabeth Shove and Frank Geels. At the heart of the discussions was the challenge of connecting up accounts or narratives of change in the systems which constitute energy demand with approaches which establish relationships between energy outcomes or proxies for this (such as distance travelled) and underlying ‘drivers’.
Understanding the utility of the different approaches requires much greater clarity about the elements of change, and the timescales over which they are to be considered. The complexities inherent in understanding the evolution of practices or the transitions of new technologies, for example, might be central to thinking about longer-term processes of change. However, this kind of analysis might be difficult to operationalise using existing modelling tools and in terms of conventional methods of framing ‘the energy problem’. Provided conditions remain broadly stable, current approaches might help inform decision-makers about likely system level response to small changes in some variable such as price. However, as recent evidence suggests these methods are incapable of anticipating unexpected or rapid change as in online retail or the travel patterns of millennials. Established methods also fail to explore shifting uses of time: for instance, what happens when travel no longer occurs, or what used to happen in the evenings before the arrival of the TV?. Time is always ‘used’ in one way or another and all societal rhythms have energy implications.
The presentations, drew attention to the need to think about change in a richer way than simply focusing on the movement from one fixed state to another. Our research timescales can often lead to research that aims to understand the state of the system over quite short time frames and that is not always able to appreciate the trajectories and histories that brought us to the present. Evidence was presented about layering of innovations and both slow and rapid adoption in the same areas, showing that some elements are quite obdurate and others more fleeting. Different perspectives were brought to bear that suggest change can also be seen as a struggle which incorporates power.
Critically, there was substantial attention given to the interconnections between different aspects of change and the need to explore change in one sphere which ripples out to other spheres in ways which might be equally important as the ‘original intentions’ of the innovation or policy. In discussion it was suggested that there is a tendency to spend a lot of time focusing on new trends and variables which appear to be on the rise.
However, accounts of stability and of things which are disappearing or diminishing may be equally interesting to our understanding of change. We also discussed more fundamental issues of explanation, distinguishing between process based and variable-based paradigms, and reflecting on the qualities and characteristics of each.
Afternoon Session – Empirics
In the first part of the afternoon session Tristan Smith and Nish Rehmatulla presented work undertaken using the data set on GPS tracking of shipping movements. The work is building an understanding, for different commodity types, of what the relationships are between the type of leasing contracts, ship sizes, load factors and speed of shipping which correlate closely with CO2. As well as providing information on the likely CO2 outcomes, it also identifies the potential for research into different elements of the shipping and commodity industries which could be explored for regulatory intervention or contractual innovation. The data is comparatively new and so longer-term processes such asthe impacts of infrastructure investments or political reform do not appear in the data yet.
Maria Camargianni presented work from the London Travel Diary Survey. Over 50% of trips in London have more than one stage and over the past 8 years there has been a 5% reduction in car as a main mode, suggesting rapid change. The work identified the potentiality for greater use of non-car modes and car clubs to replace ownership. Discussion with the DEMAND Centre around earlier work looking at the car dependence of specific activity types and the importance of the car for cargo showed the potential for important insights to be shared across the different Centres.
Schwanen shared insights from work in CIED on the adoption and movement of innovations and advanced the need for greater consideration of the spatial and timespace in thinking about change. In particular this invites consideration of the specific contextual characteristics which contribute to the adoption, adaption or rejection of innovations as they move. As with the earlier discussion on change, there was also a contextually important need for relativity in notions of incremental and rapid change. Conditions are so different in different cities (and often within cities) even within a country that what is radical in one location may be incremental or even backwards looking elsewhere. In the next session Janine Morley noted the very different exploitation of wifi in different cultures.
Janine Morley, Jenny Rinkinen and Tony Whiteing each shared some insights from work on-going in DEMAND. Janine focused on domestic IT use (which it is argued in the literature is important for substituting travel). This is a site of very rapid change. Between 2005 and 2014 the number of hours on-line a week has more than doubled from 9.9 hours to 20.5 hours. It would have been difficult to predict what kinds of activities would be more or less implicated in this change but evidence was presented of technology succeeding previous incarnations of similar activities or colonizing practices which are themselves adapting.
Looking to the transport implications, Tony Whiteing noted that catalogue shopping had all but been replaced by on-line versions. In terms of domestic energy demand, there appears to be change in a certain direction, with expectations and energy-using practices converging between countries. In this context, Jenny asked important questions about whose standards are taken to be ‘normal’ and how these circulate and take hold. To give a similar example but in a transport context the shift to next day or one hour delivery begins to establish new norms which have uncertain energy implications. What is clear is that energy is not foregrounded in the debate.