Sandpit: CHARM: Digital technology: shaping consumer behaviour by informing conceptions of 'normal' practice.

Lead Research Organisation: Kingston University
Department Name: Kingston Business School

Abstract

CHARM aims to develop, evaluate and understand the ways in which digital technology can be used to shape individual behaviour by informing and thereby challenging 'normal' practice. Much of what people do is based on their conceptions of shared conventions, but these conceptions are often misinformed. Research suggests that we can influence behaviour by telling people what other people do. The study draws upon research on social influence in sociology, behavioural economics, social psychology and social marketing. The three-year project will explore, develop and evaluate this approach in the context of sustainability, using digital technology as a non-invasive interface in three case studies: 1) electricity consumption, 2) active lifestyle and 3) Facebook.People do not consume energy directly but use it in practices such as cleanliness, cooking, and travel. Everyday practices and habits are grounded in taken-for-granted assumptions about 'normal' practices, e.g. that one should wash bedding every two weeks, leave kitchen appliances plugged in and switched on, drive children to school, etc. This sort of behaviour is often not a calculated choice, but taken-for-granted, as an inherent aspect of modern life. This helps to explain why traditional approaches that try to change behaviour by directly influencing attitudes and intentions often prove ineffective. However, studies in several related disciplines suggest that everyday practices are malleable, and can be nudged in a socially desirable direction by subtle forms of social influence. In particular, research indicates that feedback on an individual's level of performance (e.g. electricity consumption) can change their behaviour, and moreover, that this effect is enhanced if supplemented by feedback on the performance of a relevant social group. This project will evaluate this process, using and developing digital technology to facilitate the capture and feedback of individual and social group information in a non-invasive, cost effective and timely manner.The proposed research is extensive and robust, including three case studies chosen for their diversity, their relevance to current social concerns, and the challenges they present both in terms of intrinsic motivation and digital technology. In the electricity consumption case study, a sensor attached to the participant's electricity supply will transmit usage levels to a server, which will relay individual and social group feedback to the participant. In the active lifestyle case study, a specially developed application will monitor the participant's daily activity levels, displaying individual and social group feedback on a mobile device (e.g. mobile phone). The Facebook case study will evaluate the effect of individual and social group feedback in the context of a social network site. Overall the CHARM project will include approximately 800 experimental subjects, with feedback available on a weekly basis over an 8 week period. In addition, all respondents will be asked to complete a questionnaire at the end of the experiment. This quantitative approach will be complemented and illuminated by extensive qualitative research. The feedback provided in the field trials should heighten respondents' awareness, not only of overall performance levels, but also of the underlying practices that constitute these patterns of behaviour, making them more accessible to interview-based research. These practices will be explored in longitudinal ethnographic research with approximately 100 respondents, and in focus groups designed to stimulate and elicit normative discourse. CHARM will provide a detailed understanding of conceptions of 'normal' practices, of their amenability to change, and of the ways in which they can be shaped by social group feedback.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description COLLECTION AND DIGITAL FEEDBACK OF PERSONAL DATA
The research provides support for the role of feedback in reducing electricity consumption and promoting health lifestyles but questions the need to complement feedback on individual usage with feedback about the behaviour of other people ('social norms' feedback). Furthermore, it suggests that feedback should be shown at a level of disaggregation that allows users to relate it to their own practices - for instance, in hourly or half-hourly time periods. By allowing people to analyse the miniutae of their everyday lives, it encourages to apply a moral test to themselves and to reflect on whether they are 'lazy' or not, 'wasteful' or not; this can have a powerful affect on behaviour.

Much of the literature on feedback suggests the need for formal target-setting if the feedback is to prompt behaviour change; this research suggested that providing people with visualisations of their behaviours often prompts them to set their own, informal targets, and that these might be more effective than targets from an external source.
Key to the ways in which feedback can provoke behaviour change is increased awareness of the behaviours. The digital tracking of people's steps made them more aware of the steps they took while doing normal activities like shopping and working; this made them value these steps and encouraged them to increase such 'incidental' walking. Similarly, greater awareness of the relationship between household practices and energy consumption provided the understanding necessary to begin to reduce that consumption.

- Behavioural feedback can probably produce short-term reductions in domestic electricity consumption of about 3%. (However, the sample size used in this research (N=320) was too small to test the statistical significance of this effect.) The qualitative evidence suggests that some of this reduction will be sustained in the longer term.

- The provision of social norms feedback may not lead to further reduction in energy consumption compared to individual feedback.
Exploitation Route ELECTRICITY STUDY - The findings could be used (and have already been used) to improve the design and delivery of consumption feedback in the UK Government's roll-out of domestic smart-meters. The findings are also of relevance to more general attempts to meet the UK's carbon reduction targets, where they suggest that the focus should be on changing practices rather than on reducing consumption per se. The finding regarding the importance of the 'wastefulness' discourse suggests that the use of this discourse might be a powerful trigger for behaviour change.

WALKING STUDY. The walking study points to the importance of a focus on 'incidental' walking for campaigns to increase the activity levels of inactive people. This principle could be applied in public health campaigns such as those run by local authorities and could form the basis of an alternative to eixsiting schemes, which usually involve sending people to gyms and whose effectiveness has been cast into doubt by NICE.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Transport

URL http://projectcharm.info/findings/
 
Description Findings from the electricity study influenced the design of commercial customer feedback webpages. They also influenced the government roll-out of the smart-meter programme.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal

 
Description DESSN Network+ Challenge Fellowship
Amount £50,000 (GBP)
Organisation Imperial College London 
Department Sustainable Society Network+
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2013 
End 04/2014
 
Description DIASMA: Diabetes Self Management among Adolescents
Amount £29,904 (GBP)
Organisation South West London Academic Network 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2012 
End 11/2013
 
Description Digital Economy Sustainable Society Network+
Amount £1,500,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/K003593/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2012 
End 04/2015
 
Description Mobile Technology to manage obesity in a real community
Amount £5,800 (GBP)
Organisation Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) 
Department Seed Corn Research Fund
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2011 
End 05/2012
 
Description Smart Communities Funding
Amount £559,421 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/I006982/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2011 
End 06/2014
 
Description The allure of good plans: How mobile phone - based feedback can boost the positive effect of concrete plans on health behaviour change.
Amount £3,950 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2011 
End 06/2012
 
Description Applying the lessons of CHARM to behaviour change around alcohol 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A presentation to a conference hosted by Drinkaware: "Can technology change our behaviour?". The talk prompted a good number of questions from the audience.

not known
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/about-us/events/digital-seminar
 
Description Bristol City Council 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Discussion with Head of Enterprise at Bristol City Council to share experiences of testing techniques for reducing domestic energy consumption.

Bristol City Council have been involved in EU research to test the use of digital technology to reduce electricity amongst fuel-poor residents of social housing. In this meeting, the findings of the CHARM research and methodological lessons were shared with the Bristol team.

not known
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description DECC Round Table discussion on domestic energy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A round-table discussion involving industry, academia and the junior mininster at DECC.

The Junior minister for energy and his advisors were exposed to the key findings of the research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013
 
Description DECC Round Table discussion on heating controls 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A more informed debate amongst policy makers on how to promote more effective and efficient use of domestic heating controls.

not known
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description European Energy and Society conference (Krakow, June 2014) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 50 people attended this event, which sparked questions and emails

We were asked for further information
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.energyandsociety.confer.uj.edu.pl/en
 
Description Kingston Stories video - Making People Greener 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A video outlining the ground-breaking research methods employed in the CHARM case-study that tested the use of a social networking site to promote sustainable behaviours.

Stimulated interested in the CHARM approach
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Po3n1yW7dcc
 
Description Meeting with GSK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation of CHARM research.

The CHARM approach may have influenced the design of GSK research on an anti-obesity treatment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Meeting with Unilever 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with Dr Hilde Hendrick, senior researcher with Unilever.

A discussion of the findings of the CHARM Home Energy Study and the Smart Communities and its implications for 1/ Unilever product development, 2/ Uniliver sustainable behaviour campaigns and 3/ future Unilever research

We were asked to contribute to the design of a questionnaire for further research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Meetings with British Gas 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A series of meeting to discuss energy consumption feedback platforms (on the basis of findings from CHARM and Smart Communities) with a view to future collaboration in research and practice.

We have now advised British gas on their Smart Energy report and have submitted an associated research proposal to Horizon 2020.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
 
Description National Housing Federation conference on Green Deal 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact talk sparked questions and discussion

not known
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.housing.org.uk/events/presentations/the-green-deal-for-housing-associations/
 
Description New mobile phone app to help people take fitness in their stride 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A newspaper article (Western Mail)

Eslambolchilar, P., New mobile phone app to help people take fitness in their stride, Western Mail, 5th of September 2011, http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/health-news/2011/09/05/new-mobile-app-to-help-people-take-fitness-in-their-stride-91466-29361760/.

Requests for further information
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
URL http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/health-news/2011/09/05/new-mobile-app-to-help-people-take-fitness-...
 
Description Presentation of walking study to DfT 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation to DfT policy staff of findings of the CHARM walking study.
Discussion of the walking study findings with two members of the DfT's social research team

Request for participation on another project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Presentation to Department of Energy and Climate Change 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation and discussion. Slides circulated afterwards

We were asked for further information
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Presentation to Global Action Plan 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presented to: Global Action Plan, London, UK, 6 October 2011.

We were asked to participate in a future event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Samsung meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with members of the team at Samsung who are developing their smart meter technology.

Not known
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Seminar at DECC 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation of the CHARM Home Energy Study as part of DECC's staff seminar programme.

Presentation of the findings of the Home Energy Study to c. 20 DECC policy makers, including members of the team planning the smart meter roll-out and of the team responsible for the Green Deal

This led to ongoing engagement with the Smart Meter roll out team at DECC and to many more conversations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Talk at NHF Green Deal conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Panel member for discussion on 'How best to engage residents and drive demand'.

Requests for further information
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description bActive - An Android App to Make You More Active, Queen Mary University (Publisher) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact A magazine article for school children. Walton, S., Eslambolchilar, P., Rettie, R., Harries, T., Burchell, K., bActive - An Android App to Make You More Active, Queen Mary University (Publisher), June 2011, http://www.cs4fn.org/mobile/bactive.php.

Positive feedback
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
URL http://www.cs4fn.org/mobile/bactive.php