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Reimagining spaces of innovation for water efficiency and demand management: An exploration of professional practices in the English water sector

Claire Hoolohan
Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Manchester, UK; claire.hoolohan@manchester.ac.uk

Alison L. Browne
Sustainable Consumption Institute/Geography, University of Manchester, UK; alison.browne@manchester.ac.uk

ABSTRACT: Social practice theories have established an important counter narrative to conventional accounts of demand. The core argument of this body of research is that, having focused on informing and incentivising behavioural change, demand management has largely neglected the social and material dimensions of everyday action that shape how and why resources are used. Despite making a compelling case for reframing demand management, there is limited evidence of practice-based approaches having gained a foothold in policy and business practices. This raises important questions regarding how and why certain modes of intervention are pursued at the expense of others and, more broadly, the factors that shape the pace and direction of innovation in demand management. In this paper we turn a practice-lens towards the professional practices of demand management. Using mixed methods, we demonstrate how specific modes of intervention emerge as priorities within a social, political, semiotic and material landscape of professional practice. Our empirical analysis highlights four particular contingencies of demand management that constrain the scope of interventions pursued. These are industry expectations and ideals; modes of collaboration; processes of evidencing action; and hydrosocial disturbances. We discuss the implications of these findings, making suggestions as to how innovation in the practices of demand management might be facilitated, and the role of academic research in this process.

KEYWORDS: Water, demand management, governance, behaviour change, intervention, social change