At the recent cross-government Behavioural Insights (BI) network conference, delegates were introduced to the idea of theories of practice as a way of framing policy making for behaviour change. BI network members design and test policies using principles from behavioural economics, which is as far removed from the sociological routes of ‘practice’ as it is possible to be. However, the limits of behavioural economics for achieving meaningful behaviour change are well documented. For example, critics have highlighted its narrow scope and low ambition in the face of intractable problems such as climate change and obesity.
Theories of practice underpin the work of an increasingly large number of academics who aim for systemic, cultural change, not just better choices. Some government social researchers (GSRs) are aware of the ‘practice’ approach, although the lack of evidence base has so far stunted its adoption. However, most GSRs are unfamiliar with its potential.