Governance: desk reviews & backcasting experiments

A core aim of CONSENSUS is to review good practice policy, initiatives and processes for governing sustainable consumption and production (SCP). This  involved comprehensive desk-based studies and culminated in reports on Ireland’s progress on SCP incorporating recommendations for policy development; along with a review of EU directives on production and consumption, cataloguing international best practice models and tools for Quality of Life Proofing

A distinguishing element of our research has been the experimentation with participatory backcasting governance processes to design sustainable consumption innovations and long-term action plans. In contrast to forecasting, which involves extrapolating current trends to the future, backcasting begins with imagining a desirable future vision followed by working back to the present to design action plans for its achievement. With its creative and collaborative qualities, backcasting is said to be a useful tool of system innovation and governance in the face of complex sustainability problems. So far, backcasting studies have tended to focus on sustainability transitions in systems of provision, technology and the built environment with less attention to socio-cultural dimensions. CONSENSUS designed, applied and analysed a backcasting approach where social practices related to household water, energy and food consumption take centre-stage. We called this Practice-Oriented, Participatory (POP) backcasting. See our video overview below.

How might our heating, washing & eating practices be conducted sustainably in the future?

Our POP backcasting process re-frames the problem of sustainable consumption as a challenge of innovation in everyday practices. This multi-phase process (see image below) was applied in parallel for our water, energy and food studies, taking the practices of: personal washing; home heating; and food purchasing, growing & cooking respectively. Our question was: how might the needs of these practices, like cleanliness, warmth and nutrition, be achieved in the future? This question was posed to members of the public and key stakeholders across sectors and disciplines. This led to the development of scenarios depicting new norms, skills and expectations that should be cultivated in heating, washing and eating practices and the hardware, systems of provision, policy and educational interventions to support these. Transition Frameworks were developed containing policy, business, research and development and educational action plans to achieve the scenarios. Stakeholder feedback suggests that the procedure provided valuable space for widening perceptions of the problem faced and the kinds of solutions that may be designed (Davies et al., 2012). 

See the energywater and food research pages for the results of our POP backcasting studies, including our future scenarios and Transition Frameworks


Reports & presentations


  • Doyle, R., & Davies, A., R. (2013). Towards sustainable household consumption: exploring a practice oriented, participatory backcasting approach for sustainable home heating practices in Ireland. Journal of Cleaner Production, 48, 260-271.
  • Davies, A., R, Doyle, R., & Pape, J. (2012). Future visioning for sustainable household practices: spaces for sustainability learning? Area, 44(1), 54–60.
  • Pape, J., Rau, H., Fahy, F. and Davies, A. (2011) Developing Policies and Instruments for Sustainable Consumption: Irish Experiences and Futures, Journal of Consumer Policy, 34(1), p25-42.
  • Davies, A., Fahy, F. Rau, H. and Pape, J. (2010) Sustainable Consumption: practices and governance, Irish Geography, 43(1) p59-79