Understanding Household Water Behaviours and Testing Water Efficiency Messages (2013)

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This summary sets out key findings from research undertaken by Icaro Consulting and Ipsos MORI on behalf of Defra. Via interviews and surveys this research gives insights in to household behaviours in relation to water use and the key motivations and test messages aimed at encouraging water efficient behaviours. the research highlights the potential role for a new suite of messages that target, variously, perceived norms, behaviours and specific household activities and routines.

Executive summary

This summary sets out key findings from research undertaken by Icaro Consulting and Ipsos MORI on behalf of Defra.

Objectives

The purpose of the research was two-fold:

(a) Understand household behaviours in relation to water use and the key motivations and barriers

While there is a significant body of existing research looking into (conscious) attitudes and behaviours in respect of water, there is much less on the processes governing water use that operate sub-consciously and/or independently of wider attitudes and value sets. Therefore, the research sought to take a broader view of water using behaviours, incorporating some of the psychological and sociological drivers associated with certain activities that take place in the home (e.g. laundry, showering). This approach draws upon insights from a range of different theoretical disciplines which re-conceptualise water use as a relatively incidental by-product of ‘daily life’.

(b) Test messages aimed at encouraging water efficient behaviours.

This forms part of a wider commitment in Water for Life1 to support the development of effective messaging that promotes a perception of water as a valuable resource. A range of messages were developed that go beyond traditional value/attitude driven behaviour change and test the efficacy of messages that target specific household activities and activate emotional, rather than rational, responses (e.g. social proof).

Methodology

The research methodology, outlined in Figure S1, involved two main phases of research: (a) 42 in-depth home interviews; and (b) a survey of 4,011 households in England.

The qualitative research, undertaken first, explored in-home behaviours and activities, the motivations and barriers to water efficiency, and reactions to some existing communications on water (e.g. from their water company). The survey, building on the qualitative insights, had a narrower remit to test (i) the prevalence of different behaviours in the home across the population as a whole, and (ii) specific water efficiency messages. The messages were developed by the research team in the interim between the two phases and also involved a workshop with the Defra Steering Group.

The research was supplemented by an initial literature scan of the wider evidence base and, following on from the research, a knowledge transfer workshop involving practitioners with expertise in engaging with / communicating to the public on water efficiency.