Tag Archives: UIA

The difficult transition of consumers towards more sustainable practices

Diapositive2It has been years since I have been concerned with the issue of our consumption behaviour and practices. How can we make ourselves better consumer in order to enhance the resilience of our ecosystem? How (and who) can we provide support to our peers to this process?

For years, I had been following, what I would call a traditional public management/ psychological/ behavioural economics/ linear approach that suited me intellectually perfectly: I assumed that by identifying intervention logics and detailed analytical grids, we would identify causal chains and act at the right level. Conceptually speaking, it was very straightforward and easy to use. For years, I also used such approaches for evaluating European public policies. Yet, I realised that it was not enough. I could see the limits of such an approach in my own acts, in that of my surrounding and in public policies. At the same moment, via studies in Sciences, Technology and Society (STS), I opened up to a more systemic way of analysing and researching, that made me understand our behaviours and practices in a more consistent and holistic way. I became a strong proponent of a practice approach as opposed to psychosociological one. I experimented its operationalisation with the Brussels’ Regional Ministry of the environment in addressing food waste in households. Don’t get me wrong, I did not feel previous public policies were to be thrown away. But I kept on meeting civil servants frustrated about their (partially) unsuccessful policies and I felt they were missing out some of the point.
During one of the first discussions I had with Gabrielle Van Zoeren, Project manager of the Antwerp Circular South project, it appeared her conceptual approach had followed the reverse path of mind of mine: she was convinced that behavioural economics were the key to make people change their consumption behaviours. In particular, through nudging, people could easily change their behaviours and to see immediate benefits of those, in a smooth, yet forced way. I was sceptical when Gabrielle shared her enthusiasm about nudges that could establish a routine: “We are already structured around our working and lunch hours, why not establishing that we do our laundry at an exact time each week, especially if we save money?” 

What about life flexibility and unexpected event? What about the fact that we are already constrained by so many obligations, do we already want to add some new ones? What about empowerment? What about deeper understanding of what makes people behave in a certain way? What about sustainability of such behaviours? What

I raised these questions with the partners. My own scepticism became a source of mutual learning, streamlining of approaches and further stress into co-creation with the partners and the beneficiaries (the citizens). Having dug into the project, I now see the reality that matters: it is that nudges are not taken in isolation and are strongly supported by qualitative analysis and that beneficiaries are fully involved. The partners have a strong potential in order to ensure that the project will be carried out very closely with  citizens, putting them at the heart of co-created solutions that will suit them in their reality: the knowledge of partners in direct contact with citizens through the cooperative Ecopower, the Pantopicon designers or De KringWinkel at the heart of the daily interaction with citizens will feed into the nudges that will be developed and implemented through the expertise and technicalities of the other partners, IMEC, VITO, Digipolis and EnergieID. I had to admit that it was worth the experimentation. And to me, that is the biggest value of this project.

Reposted from the UIA’s website.

Being a super civil servant, what does it take, where does it lead us to?

IMG_8012Interview with Gabriëlle Van Zoeren, Antwerp Circular South Project Coordinator.

You appear to be enthusiastic, positive, very creative and always looking upfront/forward and, not letting down. How is it to be an innovative project coordinator?

It does take the willingness to except many obstacles to conquer.  Yet it´s great to work with visionary partners, we all share the challenge of bringing something complex into reality, this common effort makes it inspiring and gives me the vibe to keep going. We all know, if it works, we created something really valuable.

What has been your experience of dealing within your internal administrative structures? (have you face any strong personal or structural blockages, are you rather supported or not)?

A municipality has the responsibility to make the city processes run smoothly. Citizens need a stable, trustworthy and transparent administration to count on. Of course, this a direct contradiction with an innovative environment. So yes, I have been stumbling upon closed doors. Yet I understand that this is part of the game called innovation. My mentality is, stay focus, accept that it takes time and be patient. Sometimes the door stays closed but usually two windows open in the end and we can move on.

What are your biggest fears of failure for the project? Are there any?

My greatest fear would be that all our activities have NO results. Citizens can choose not to respond to a nudge, not to come to the Circularity Centre, they can choose not to care, and this would be my biggest fear, that we are too much, too fast, too complex to comprehend for the citizens.

Reposted from the UIA’s website.