Policy context and origins of ISM

The policy context

The Scottish Government and Ministers recognise that behavioural factors are of critical importance in ensuring Scotland’s successful transformation to a low carbon nation.

“Understanding the role of behaviour and decision-making in achieving targets and influencing accordingly” is one of 5 cross-cutting themes comprising government strategy on meeting emission reduction targets, the Second Report on Proposals and Policies, Low Carbon Scotland, Meeting the Emissions Reduction Targets 2013-2027, (RPP2).

ISM is identified as a means of helping “the government and others build stronger policies and programmes to meet the challenge of changing the way we live, work and travel.” RPP2.

The Scottish Government has been using ISM to support policy development and inform the Climate Change Plan which is the third report on policies and proposals and sets out how climate change targets will be met up to 2032.

Public bodies are required to report annually on compliance with their climate change duties. Reports are required to list projects intended or contributing to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, including behaviour change interventions. Public bodies are encouraged to use ISM in the design and development of low carbon projects whether to address corporate emissions or for partnership projects and initiatives with other organisations.


Origins of ISM

ISM evolved from two key projects commissioned as part of the Scottish Government’s climate change behaviours research programme:

A simple analytical framework, born out of the International Review, recognised the Individual, Social and Material contexts and that targeting them holistically and coherently was fundamental to the success of behaviour change initiatives. This simple framework was later populated with a range of influencing factors identified in the course of analysing interviews and case studies of organisations involved in the workplace study - and ISM was fully formed. The original graphic is reproduced below but this was given a makeover when the Scottish Government published “Influencing Behaviours, Moving Beyond the Individual, A User Guide to the ISM Tool” Andrew Darnton and Jackie Horn, 2013.



Both studies also identified some key principles and learning which are useful to consider in timing and framing a change initiative. These include:

  • Targeting moments of transition to harness “windows of opportunity” – e.g. office relocation or refit, reviews or new organisational strategies, staff recruitment, financial challenges and changes to funding streams.
  • Using non-environmental messages e.g. around health and fitness, time-savings (framing around cost-savings) can create rebound effects and plays to self-enhancing values rather than strengthening self-transcendent values. The latter tend to support more sustainable behaviours and life-styles. Find out more about values and framing at on the Common Cause Foundations's website .


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