User Insights and ISM: Beyond Low Carbon

User Insights

We asked some early adopters and enthusiasts to share their insights on using ISM.

ISM is a great way of creating and jumpstarting a working group which needs to address a specific challenge, bringing different points of view and priorities to an issue. Often some of the root causes of barriers are common irrespective of specific agendas such as health and transport.

The ability to frame and explore difficult and complex issues dispassionately and systemically can help introduce aspects of a problem that would not normally be considered or even acknowledged.

ISM can really help evolve a systemic view of complex issues but it needs to be built in early in the process as it can throw up issues which may be seen as disruptive. This will not be well-received if a plan has already been formulated and there is an urgency to deliver on time.

Clive Mitchell, Programme Office Manager, Strategic Development, SNH


One of my favourite things about an ISM workshop is that it levels the playing field. You have a group of people from different backgrounds and at different pay grades in the room, but everyone’s opinion is valid. It allows a level of honesty that cannot be achieved in a normal meeting or 1-to-1 situation.

Keith Masson, Policy Coordinator - Climate Change, The Highland Council


ISM has been the perfect framework for exploring the refresh of the Eco-Schools Scotland programme. We have used it as a planning tool and as a way to assess how we communicate with our schools. There is huge potential for ISM to be used to frame whole school discussions on planning an approach to Learning for Sustainability through the Eco-Schools Green Flag Award and exploring solutions to reducing energy consumption in the school estate, for example

Alastair Davidson, Education and Learning Coordinator, Keep Scotland Beautiful


Recruiting the right people to attend an ISM workshop is crucial, including those with the power to progress actions that arise during the workshop. You need to achieve their buy-in and ensure that they understand why they are being asked to attend.

We have used ISM informally in the development of our behaviour change initiatives to understand our stakeholders, and as material for occasional guest lectures…relating to sustainability and behaviour change. We integrate ISM into some of the background theories because we recognise it as an academically developed behaviour change tool.

Caro Overy, Sustainability Engagement Manager, University of Edinburgh


The emphasis on personal ability (Agency) to deliver change is not always reflected in organisational structures (Institution, Rules and Regulations). ISM offers benefits for performance management review and other human resource management activities by helping identify, understand and address some of the institutional barriers which can adversely affect our ability as individuals to realise the necessary change. 

ISM could help ease transition to new reporting systems, for example to inform the development and roll-out of IT systems for finance and staff expenses which can often seem over-complicated, time-consuming and frustrating when first introduced.

I think we improved internal networking within South Lanarkshire Council and colleagues were able to signpost a fellow colleague to a funding opportunity to support cycling – which we have just heard has been successful!

Bronah Byrne, Team Leader, Food and Environmental Services South Lanarkshire Council


ISM: Beyond Low Carbon

The origins of ISM lie in sustainable practices and behaviours but it is applicable to many other issues and complex challenges. Examples of ISM being used to help address other complex behavioural issues or to support change more generally are presented below.


Coordinating Partnership Working

SEPA used ISM to frame discussions on barriers to joint working as part of an EU LIFE+ project on Smarter Regulation of Waste in Europe. There are big gaps in understanding how illegal waste markets behave and which present major challenges in tackling this criminal behaviour. Opportunities for innovation depend on improved coordination and collaboration across partner organisations, including the Scottish Environmental Crime Task Force, Police Scotland, Europol, environment agencies, Office of the Traffic Commissioner, HM Revenue and Customs and the Health and Safety Executive.

Improving engagement

Keep Scotland Beautiful used ISM to identify potential barriers and actions to ensure schools understand and register for the refreshed Eco-Schools programme. This includes ensuring greater engagement with energy, facilities and education staff within local authorities. ISM will also feature as part of the digital learning tools resource for schools to explore local issues and develop action plans as part of the new programme.


Analysis and evaluation

The Institute of Occupational Medicine used ISM to structure findings from two evidence reviews on air pollution and health impacts. The idea for using ISM as an organising framework arose from a workshop on barriers to active travel held with the Scottish Urban Air Quality Steering Group. 


Designing new systems

YoungScot, in partnership with Zero Waste Scotland and the Scottish Government, organised an Ideas Jam event for young people aged 16-25 to design a new circular economy system in action. ISM was introduced as part of the two day workshop to help participants explore interconnections between Individual, Social and Material factors that would enable circular economy models to work. Knowledge and awareness, social norms, industry commitment to altering manufacturing processes and clear regulation and tax reform were some of the key factors identified in the final pitches made by groups on workable solutions.


Developing an accreditation scheme

Using ISM to unpack alcohol-related behaviours amongst students is a mandatory qualifying criteria for the NUS’s Alcohol Impact scheme. Alcohol Impact is an accreditation initiative which works with students’ unions to promote a responsible drinking culture on campuses across the UK.


Reducing roadside littering

Roadside littering from transport presents a substantial social, economic and environmental burden within Scotland; incurring extensive costs by local authorities, increasing the risk of road traffic accidents and exacerbating flood risk resulting in traffic congestion. An ISM workshop held by Keep Scotland Beautiful for the Local Environmental Quality Network Managers’ Forum helped bring fresh thinking and interesting ideas on new ways of preventing roadside littering. The workshop findings informed a statement produced by the network on roadside litter.

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