The Climate Emergency was the theme of Leeds City Council’s State of the City event this year. Several members of the DecarboN8 team attended to talk with participants about what they felt needed to change in order for Leeds to become a city where you do not need to own a car.
Councillor Judith Blake opened the event by sharing a vision of Leeds as a place where it doesn’t matter where you were born, you should have equal access to opportunities, clean air, transport, and quality of life. The people we spoke to found it easy to imagine how reducing our dependence on cars could help achieve this goal. There was an overwhelming sentiment that a city the size of Leeds should have great public transport. People are ready to ditch their cars in favour of more sustainable options, but they are finding it difficult to shift away from car-use due to the high cost, poor coverage, and lack of capacity on trains and buses serving the Leeds area at the moment. They also feel unsafe cycling and walking in our car-packed city.
DecarboN8 Director, Professor Greg Marsden, shared this presentation with a workshop which looked at transport, challenging participants to think about what changes would be required to make Leeds a less car-dependant city:
Later in the workshop we were asked to map our journeys around Leeds, consider where we could shift those journeys to more sustainable travel options, and discuss what barriers prevent us from choosing those options. Participants spoke of having to travel by car for most journeys because public transport options were unavailable, unreliable, too costly, or felt unsafe. Others mentioned peripheral factors such as their children’s school not providing anywhere for the children to store their coats, making walking difficult, especially in winter.
DecarboN8 also had a stall in the exhibition area, where we provided maps of the Leeds area to participants and invited them to draw their ideal transport future for Leeds. You can see their responses in the slide deck below. Common themes include: the need for circular public transport routes connecting suburbs, congestion charging, a pedestrianised city centre and safe walking and cycle paths.
Keynote speaker, Natalie Fee, from City to Sea shared this quote:
“We change our behaviour when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing”. ~ Tony Robbins
The conversations we had at the State of the City event suggest that people in Leeds care about the climate crisis and are keen to change their behaviour, but at the moment the pain of changing still feels too great. Those we spoke to concurred that to shift this, balance better public transport and active travel options must be extended across the city to provide safe and reliable alternatives to the car, fit for the complex realities of people’s day to day lives.
DecarboN8 is offering seedcorn funding to develop research projects to tackle these kinds of issues. The deadline for applications is 5pm on 27th February 2020.
Earlier this month we held our first workshop on the theme of Carbon Pathways, ‘Decarbonising Transport: Connecting Carbon Targets to Action’. The workshop was attended by a mix of people from academia, local and national government, industry and civil society. Participants heard evidence from members of the DecarboN8 team and the CREDS Centre (slides for these presentations are shared below) about the scale and nature of the decarbonisation challenge. Through a series of participatory activities, attendees shared their local and professional knowledge to interrogate how carbon budgets can best be used to inform transport policy and modelled possibilities for a low-carbon transport future in a variety of Northern locations.
The morning’s break out activities on carbon targets will directly inform a forthcoming series of policy briefings. The afternoon activities underlined the value of taking place-based approaches when thinking about decarbonisation pathways. The very different urban and rural cases, when considered over both the short and long term, produced some fascinating contrasts. A key challenge will be to produce a supportive policy framework and set of technologies which can encompass and adapt to these differences. Insights and challenges identified throughout the day are already being used to inform DecarboN8’s research priorities.
Introduction to DecarboN8
Professor Greg Marsden
CREDS: The Carbon Briefing
Professor Jillian Anable
Aligning UK Car CO2 with Paris
Professor Kevin Anderson
Making Mobility Futures: Carbon Pathways and Societal Readiness
Professor Monika Büscher and Dr Nicola Spurling
Our aim with this series of thematic workshops is to inform research objectives for future funding calls and to inspire collaboration by bringing together a variety of stakeholders interested in decarbonising transport.
For regular updates about upcoming projects, events and funding calls subscribe to our newsletter. We’ve also recently announced our first round of seedcorn funding. The deadline is 27th February and we welcome applications from all disciplines to develop research projects to help decarbonise transport in the North.
And our friends at Influential produced this short video for the N8 Research Partnership about the day.
Ideas and contributions from the day have been collated to help inform our priorities and agenda for the future of DecarboN8. The slides are available to review on SlideShare:
The launch was of course just the start – in the coming weeks and months we have many more opportunities for you to get involved and work with us to decarbonise transport across the North:
Seedcorn Funding Call NOW OPEN:
Check our our funding pages for details of our first round of seedcorn funding. A pot of £100,000 is available to support individual or collaborative seed/pilot/demonstrator projects led by UK Research Organisations. The deadline for applications is 5pm (GMT) on Thursday 27 February 2020.
DecarboN8 Stakeholder Reference Group
Our advisory group made up of individuals providing place or sector specific insight. This group will help shape the research agenda, connect with networks, review publications and evaluate projects. Please apply now if you’d like to get involved!
Keep in touch
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change is critical to rapid decarbonisation. Citizens’ active participation in
energy management is ‘as critical as technology’ for sustainability; not least because social
innovation could support decarbonisation at scale, and faster than technical or
infrastructural innovation. However, technocratic
conceptions of social acceptance and societal readiness are misdirected.
Innovation cannot succeed by demanding that individuals and society change to
develops a new framework to evaluate the societal readiness of
socio-technical innovations. This working note motivates this move in
outline, provides working definitions of social acceptance and societal
readiness from a socio-technical perspective, a sketch of the Societal
Readiness Levels (SRL) framework for evaluation we are developing, and a set of
questions that research teams can use to develop the societal readiness of
Why take a socio-technical approach to social acceptability and
At a time when millions of people across the globe are demanding action on climate change, and 88% of UK citizens understand that human action is mainly or partly responsible for climate change, it can hardly be said that society is not ready for change. However, our innovations often do not enable change. People are imprisoned by mobility systems that leave them very little real choice over how to travel. Indeed, the depth of systemic lock-in and the demand for social acceptance of narrow technological fixes (electric vehicles) and policy interventions (carbon taxes) delay action towards systemic and structural change. We are headed for failure if we continue to design technologies, policies, infrastructures, ideologies that people cannot integrate into their everyday lives. The social acceptability of our solutions must improve. Methodologies that allow citizens genuine participation in innovation processes are needed. A socio-technical approach can enhance the ambition and effectiveness of innovations by inspiring socially acceptable design for systemic change and societal transformation.
What is social acceptance in a socio-technical definition?
social science is in: the ABC of transition theories, which all too often posit
that education, nudging, or enforcement can effect social acceptance, is
wrong. A change of A –
individuals’ Attitudes, will not automatically translate into B –
Behaviour change, and ultimately C – Change in the system. Technocratic
concepts equate social acceptance with behaviour change, evaluating the
willingness of individuals to ‘take’ the technologies, policies, infrastructure
innovations that experts devise. This hubris denies that there are factors that
make technologies, policies, infrastructures more or less acceptable
for people – they may not be desirable, useable or effective for good
socio-technical definition of social acceptance helps us understand these
reasons. It sees acceptance as a process by which innovation becomes embedded
in everyday practices, that needs to be supported by good design and creative,
inclusive design methods. It enables a focus on enhancing the acceptability
of solutions. This may imply careful attention to useability, and the context
of appropriation, it may require wider systemic change, it will often depend on
stakeholder value chain mapping, and methods of collaborative design and
responsible research and innovation.
What is societal readiness in a socio-technical definition?
readiness refers to the readiness of a socio-technical assemblage to be
acceptable to society. That is, it evaluates how well a solution supports
appropriation at scale and at speed, as well as how it contributes to the
public good. For example, a fully digitised on-demand transport solution may be
highly practical and fit for appropriation. However, it may introduce societally
unacceptable levels of surveillance. As a result, it has low societal
readiness. Its societal readiness can be improved by building privacy
preserving techniques into its use of data and by involving citizens and
stakeholders in an iterative design process that discloses and addresses
emerging unintended consequences through creative ethical and social impact
assessment and design. To give a second example, a solution may be highly
acceptable to affluent citizens with high mobility capital, but create mobility
injustice for others. By anticipating and addressing issues of equity, gender,
age, class, ethnicity and other aspects of inequality, innovations can be
What is the role of place in societal readiness?
approaches are often based on an approach to innovation in which ‘solutions’
are developed for imagined, generic users, in non-specific places. If people or
places do not share the vision, they are
seen as the problem.
DecarboN8 we disagree with this point of view.
place-based approach addresses challenges faced across the North as specific,
and very diverse places are seeking to rapidly decarbonise transport.
Understanding place is an essential starting point for making decarbonised
A key question is: How can we ensure that innovations in decarbonised travel are ready for specific places? This requires taking account of place-specific characteristics including:
existing transport infrastructures and services that vary by place – this variety of starting points should feature in future designs;
populations vary by age, disability, gender, ethnicity with different implications for inclusivity and access;
different place-specific systems and cultures of mobility mean that lifestyles need to change in different ways;
the end uses underpinning travel demands have different profiles across the region.
DecarboN8’s place-based approach emphasises that innovation must be designed and combined in ways that are more attuned to how people wish to, and are able to, practice transformation in different places.
Societal Readiness Levels (SRL)
There is currently a surge
of interest in societal readiness, and various definitions of ‘societal
readiness levels’ are emerging. The SRL concept originates in debates about a
transition towards low carbon futures2 and the Danish Innovation
Fund’s attempt to find a ‘way of assessing the level of societal adaptation of
… innovation to be integrated into society’. This contrasts with the
more common approach of technology readiness levels, which evaluates how
‘proposed solution(s)’ meet ‘plans for societal adaptation’. For example, in
the context of future transport, a technology readiness approach would
evaluate the decarbonising potential of a proposed innovation, and place
responsibility for increasing society’s readiness for it with individuals,
communities, societies, politicians, and policy makers. It would propose
innovations and then ask how to alter people’s attitudes and behaviours to
DecarboN8 is critical of this technology readiness approach.
The societal readiness
levels that we are developing (see figure 1) turns the tables. Instead of
asking how society can be made ready for innovations, we ask: How ready are our
socio-technical innovations for society?
At the lower levels in our emerging socio-technical framework of societal readiness levels, are concepts and technologies like electric vehicles, which have the potential to support systemic change but are isolated from real world practice and lacking societal and material infrastructure for large-scale appropriation. Moving up the scale are experimental embeddings of technologies, such as the Tyndall Travel Strategy and the University of Edinburgh’s business travel reporting tool prototype, which are being effectively used to reduce emissions from academic travel, and are engendering social innovations, such as no-fly academic conferences. Within its 2019-2022 remit, the DecarboN8 Network aims to reach innovations that are at SRL4 and 5. Plans for future efforts envisage achievement of SRL 8 and 9, with liveable, effective, significantly decarbonising innovations (net zero carbon), which are aligned with systemic changes and evaluated as societally ‘good’ by a broad and diverse group of stakeholders, including citizens.
Achievement of high Societal Readiness Levels depends upon engagement with diverse stakeholders and translation of insight into synchronised technical, regulatory, policy, and social innovation. Discussion of ‘Impact Readiness Levels’ by the Dandelion project on an inclusive, innovative and reflective societies-sensitive valorisation concept offer valuable insight into the kinds of engagements with stakeholders that are conducive to our aims.
How to design for societal
The DecarboN8 network
seeks to facilitate co-creation of a socio-technical framework for achieving
high-quality innovation for rapid decarbonisation of transport in the UK. The
discussion in this document is intended as an invitation to members of the
network to engage critically with the notions of social acceptance and societal
readiness, and co-create a good framework with us.
Below we raise some
questions that we believe can support designing for socio-technical societal
readiness. They are by no means exhaustive or prescriptive:
Is your innovation (technology / policy / infrastructure / transport plan / form of activism) ready for the individuals, communities in our society?
Is your innovation good for society? Now and in future? How do you know? What are the contextual and systemic dimensions of your innovation?
Have you considered all relevant perspectives? Who has been involved in your design process and how? Have all those affected had a say? Have they been listened to? Have you made it possible for the less powerful to be heard on an equal footing?
Have people had an opportunity to try out your innovation in their everyday lives? Have you undertaken multiple iterations of your design to discover disruptive consequences?
Have you considered and addressed ethical issues, from accessibility to mobility justice to datafication? From individual to societal scales? Now and future generations?
 EU Commission(2012) Energy roadmap 2050. Publications Office of the
European Union.ISBN 978-92-79-21798-2, doi:10.2833/10759.
J. M., Gutowski, T. G., Serrenho, A. C., Skelton, A. C. H., & Worrell, E.
(2017, June 13). Industry 1.61803: The transition to an industry with reduced
material demand fit for a low carbon future. Philosophical Transactions of
the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. Royal
Taking the temperature and equity commitments enshrined in the Paris Agreement at face value places mitigation demands on wealthy industrial nations far beyond anything thus far countenanced. Interpreting Paris through the science in the IPCC’s most recent report demonstrates the importance of living within a tight and rapidly dwindling carbon budget.
Provisional work by UKERC and Tyndall Manchester for Decarbon8, estimates a UK Paris-compliant carbon budget, subsequently apportioned to different UK sectors, including car travel. The implications are profound. Even if the UK car fleet is completely decarbonised by 2035, the number of vehicle-km travelled will still need to be cut in half if the sector is to make its fair contribution to delivering on the Paris commitments.