DECC – a view from the inside

What is it like to work for the Government and how is energy and climate policy really shaped in the UK today? These were some of the questions answered by Dr. Tim Chatterton when he presented a “DECC – a view from the inside” seminar at SPRU on 4th November. Dr. Chatterton, originally a social scientist from the University of the West of England, is on a 12-month Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Fellowship to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The goal of his fellowship is to advise Government on certain research projects, but also develop linkages between academia and policy makers – hence the visit to SPRU.

It seems that energy and climate policy making at DECC is mainly in the hands of civil servants with a background in technical sciences and engineering. When Dr. Chatterton started his Fellowship at DECC in February 2010 there were no social scientists at the department, now that number has risen to three. Partly this is due to departmental shifts – when climate change was taken out of Defra and moved to DECC, much of the social science research stayed behind in Defra (there are still only 12 social scientists in Defra today). On one hand the Government is advocating concepts such as “new localism” and “ the big society” for dealing with problems such as climate change, but what is interesting to see is how much weight is actually being given to social science regarding this inside the Government. Much of energy and climate change policy making still seems to be based on large, top-down and supply-side focused engineering solutions.

What Dr. Chatterton wants to focus on while inside DECC is to highlight the role that social sciences can have in energy and climate change policy making. This involves concepts such as behavioural change and what can be learnt from social and psychological sciences in terms of energy behaviours – majority of which are based on socially constructed habits. People need to shift their behaviours at the individual level, but the Government needs to also engage communities and encourage them to play a positive role.