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    Review of 'Decarbonising Existing Homes in Wales: A Participatory Behavioural Systems Mapping Approach'

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    Decarbonising Existing Homes in Wales: A Participatory Behavioural Systems Mapping ApproachCrossref
    This article makes a welcome contribution to tackling the complexities of retrofit at scale.
    Average rating:
        Rated 4.5 of 5.
    Level of importance:
        Rated 5 of 5.
    Level of validity:
        Rated 4 of 5.
    Level of completeness:
        Rated 4 of 5.
    Level of comprehensibility:
        Rated 5 of 5.
    Competing interests:
    I have collaborated with one of the authors (Chris Jofeh) on projects at the research/practice interface of delivering retrofit, in areas outside Wales.

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    • Article: found
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    Decarbonising Existing Homes in Wales: A Participatory Behavioural Systems Mapping Approach

    Background: To reduce carbon emissions, urgent change is needed to high-carbon human behaviours including home energy use. Previous policy failures point to insufficient use and integration of systemic and behavioural approaches to bring about change. A novel behavioural systems mapping approach was used to inform national policy recommendations for energy-saving retrofit of homes in Wales. Method: Three participatory workshops were held with the independent Welsh residential decarbonisation advisory group (‘the Advisory Group’) to (1) map relationships between actors, behaviours and influences on behaviour within the home retrofit system, (2) provide training in the Behaviour Change Wheel framework (3) use these to develop policy recommendations for interventions. Recommendations were analysed using the COM-B (capability, opportunity, motivation) model of behaviour to assess whether they addressed these factors. Results: Two behavioural systems maps were produced, representing privately rented and owner-occupied housing tenures. The main causal pathways and feedback loops in each map are described. Necessary interventions to achieve national-scale retrofit included: government-led investment, campaigns and awareness-building, financial-sector funding mechanisms, enforcement of regulations, and creating more streamlined and trusted supply chain services. Of 27 final policy recommendations, 6 addressed capability, 22 opportunity, and 12 motivation. Conclusions: Participatory behavioural systems mapping can be used in conjunction with behaviour change frameworks to develop policy recommendations that address the behavioural determinants of complex environmental problems. Research is underway to refine and extend the approach through application to other sustainability challenges and methods of constructing systems maps.
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      Review information

      10.14293/S2199-1006.1.SOR-SOCSCI.AUZTMQ.v1.RLHNPX
      This work has been published open access under Creative Commons Attribution License CC BY 4.0, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Conditions, terms of use and publishing policy can be found at www.scienceopen.com.

      General behavioral science
      Public policymaking,Energy and policy,Sustainability in architecture and the built environment,Environmental policy and practice,energy, decarbonisation, retrofit, behaviour change, complexity, systems thinking, participatory systems mapping, policy,Sustainability
      ScienceOpen disciplines:
      Keywords:

      Review text

      Overall I welcome this article’s contribution to reflecting on the practical challenges, and opportunities, in tackling a complex systems problem with an urgent need for change!

      The introduction of behavioural systems mapping to the field of retrofit discussion is important, and the use of an underpinning behavioural psychology theory, such as COM-B, adds a rigour which is not often present in this kind of highly applied and practitioner-facing work.

      The close attention to the private rented sector is particularly needed, and interesting. 

      The clarity of thinking that this approach brought to a complex and urgent problem is very welcome.  This is described on page 34 as “explicitly specifying actors behaviours and influences on behaviour”.  Such clear segmentation and analysis is vital if research understanding is to lead to actual change in practice!

      Expanding on the level of validity of the study: I would be interested in more analysis and critique of the composition of the Advisory Group, whose knowledge was core to the maps produced, and therefore to the policy recommendations.  Does the advisory group represent all stakeholders?  Or rather all domains of expertise thought relevant?

      Expanding on the level of completeness of the study: I believe that the most significant contribution of the research is methodological, but I think that the case for retrofit as a vital area which demands such methodological innovation would have been strengthened by more reference  to the technical requirements of retrofit (e,g, CCC 2019 “UK Housing: fit for the future”, CLC 2021 “National Retrofit Strategy v2.0) and a recognition that this can be measure by measure, whole house, or over time (e.g. FAWCETT, T. 2013. Exploring the time dimension of low carbon retrofit: owner-occupied housing. Building Research & Information, 42, 477-488.)

      While I fully accept that owner occupiers, private landlords and Welsh policy makers are the major actors whose behaviour is being analysed, I think that putting the whole of the supply chain into a single box in the prototype systems diagram, labelled ‘suppliers’ is open to some challenge and could be further refined in future work.  Materials and equipment manufacturers have different behaviours to merchants (e.g. Killip G, Owen A, Topouzi M. 2020. Exploring the practices and roles of UK construction manufacturers and merchants in relation to housing energy retrofit. Journal of Cleaner Production. 251), who in turn have different behaviours to the construction firms working in RMI, which are the main focus of the research cited at the moment.  

      Other observations on the article

      1. The understanding the sociotechnical nature of the retrofit delivery system is set out well.  Might the problem statement be strengthened further by returning to some of the core frameworks in STS – such as the multi-level perspective or the co-evolutionary systems?
      2. The participatory mapping methodology is very well described.
      3. I strongly support the need for methodological innovation in this area of research/practice, and we therefore need to explore how transferable are new methodologies.  In this case, I am keen to know how are the results obtained using this method validated?  On page 18 a short statement says that the workshop results were validated by two of the authors.  Is this rigorous enough to allow the research findings to be generalizable?  How was this validation undertaken? The advisory group are an expert group; their perspectives and their depth of knowledge are very important.  And yet, to achieve changes in behaviour, other perspectives need to be represented.  This challenge is acknowledged on p37 : “Several rounds of review and refinement helped us to be confident in the validity of the maps from [the advisory group’s] perspective as stakeholders, although it is possible that the map would look different had different stakeholders been involved in each workshop.” I think this is worth further consideration and testing in future rounds of mapping.
      4. I also wondered if we needed a simple definition of the behaviours that would lead to decarbonising homes – and how these behaviours might differ for different actors.  The team has clearly mapped out these behaviours in some detail in Appendix B but they are not described in the body of the paper.  The list in Appendix B1 covers a huge variety of behaviours, with different loci and impacts.  Some categorisation of these, perhaps in terms of how they relate to the prototype system map, might be helpful?  By describing the technical tasks of retrofit, but not the range of behaviours needed, the balance between C, O and M in policy measures risk becoming something of a pick’n’mix menu for policymakers, rather than a coherent and consistent package …  p28 mentions the “desired behaviour change of owner occupiers and private landlords” but this could cover a variety of behaviours including funding retrofit, commissioning retrofit, using a building renovation passport etc.  On p38 then it seems that other organisational behaviours are also within scope.
      5. 10 headline recommendations are referred to on page 19, but 26 policy recommendations are identified in the results.  I understand that the 26 were generated by workshops which used the initial 10 headlines as stimulus.  Some critical discussion of the role of these headline recommendations would be valuable.  If a different mix of headline recommendations were used as the stimulus, how might this have changed the longer list generated through workshops?  I think that this might lead to some reflections on the completeness of the set of recommendations developed.
      6. I’m also intrigued to see that in both the headline recommendations and the complete list, some recommendations do not connect to C, O or M.  These are lobbying recommendations.  One what basis are they justified if there is not a connection to the desired behaviours?  Or is there a secondary connection that lobbying would create WG opportunities, that would then translate into owner occupier or landlord opportunities?

      Thank you for the opportunity to review this innovative work.

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