Accelerating Social Transitions

In the global north we are constantly mobile and constantly purchase goods.

As households, we heat our homes and cook and make choices about what to buy.

In our communities we exchange ideas and signal our self-identities to ourselves and others with our consumer choices.

‘Transition’ describes a system-wide process unfolding through entwined social and technological change at multiple scales. By focusing on ‘social transitions’, we analyse our ways of life and our relationships with technologies and infrastructures.

Collectively, our research contributes to accelerating social transitions towards a zero-carbon future. We will deliver our improved understanding back to policy-makers to support evidence-based decision-making. We engage with non-governmental organisations and industry to improve the design of low-carbon innovations and interventions.

We advance knowledge in five key areas. From historical analogues to future visions: 

  • How can compelling visions of a low-carbon future motivate change? 
  • How are different social groups affected by change? 
  • How can historical analogues help inform current efforts to drive change?

We implement large-scale surveys to examine public perceptions of new low-carbon technologies and their future prospects; we use historical case studies to understand drivers and barriers to rapid social change; we develop participatory scenarios and systems modelling to explore plausible storylines of low-carbon transitions and how these will affect people’s daily lives.

We emphasise the socio-technical and systemic nature of the problem and the solutions:

  • How can interactions between people and technology and materials resist or enable change? 
  • How can cultural variability help change? 
  • How can the media enable or undermine change?

We apply in-situ ethnographic methods to understand how people and technology interact in specific settings, and with what implications for emissions; we analyse textual data from media and other actors who influence opinion, action, and discourse; and we use cutting-edge modelling techniques to capture heterogeneity in how households and firms adopt and respond to low-carbon technologies.

We focus on how systems are governed, from formal policy instruments to informal institutions:

  • How can governance institutions and policy approaches effectively drive change? 
  • How can high-emitting behaviours be effectively targeted for change?

We work with local, national and international decision-makers to understand the institutional contexts in which policies are made and plans put into action.

We highlight the potential importance of people as consumers, energy users and shapers of shared values and culture: 

  • How can consumer demand for low carbon innovations contribute to change?
  • How can people’s expectations for quality of life enable or undermine change?
  • How can society reconceptualise its shared goals to support change?


We analyse how expectations of change transform into experiences of change, and the implications this has for public acceptability. 

  • How can researchers effectively work with and engage stakeholders for change? 
  • How can empowered communities and grassroots initiatives contribute to change? 
  • How can researchers work effectively across disciplines in support of change?

We develop and test participatory and engagement processes that elicit public and stakeholder views on social transitions and feed these into local, national and international decision-making. 


We will also engage with the broader academic community to integrate our insights into climate science and policy. This includes improving integrated assessment models and IPCC assessments to provide more socially and behaviourally realistic simulations and projections. We also apply and promote innovative low-carbon research practices to demonstrate new ways of working.