DeCarbFriends: Gamifying Peer-Influence: The Role of Friendship Networks in Decarbonizing Private Consumption Choices
The global challenge of climate change such as the loss of biodiversity, the increase of water and resource scarcity, demographic change, ‘pose major collective action problems: A group benefits from a certain action, but no individual’. Standard (neoclassical) economic theory, on the one hand, suggests that self-interested, rational individuals have virtually no incentive to voluntarily contribute to the provision of public goods such as individual voluntary climate protection activities. This approach — which completely leaves aside psychological motivations and the embeddedness of individuals in social contexts—under-predicts the private provision of public goods in light of ample empirical evidence. Sociology, on the other hand, has a longstanding tradition of analyzing individual behavioral attitudes and behaviors as the outcome of social forces such as social learning and social diffusion mechanisms in complex social networks. A combination of sociological and economic approaches could therefore advance the study of the provision of public goods in general and individual voluntary climate protection in particular. In summary, policy measures that are based on the framework of standard (neoclassic) economics, which are primarily targeted at price setting and financial incentives — and mostly ignore social forces — to change individual behavior, are insufficient in promoting voluntary climate protection activities. There is a pressing need for policy measures that consider the social context of the individuals and which aim to activate it through targeted interventions.
But how can policy measures target a set of relationships and not just a set of individuals? We propose to explore gamification—i.e., the inclusion of game design elements into non-gaming social processes—as a novel governance instrument to target climate protection interventions at the level of friendship relationships. DeCarbFriends examines and develops two digital games, which are evaluated with all scientific rigor, for participative policy-making to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), providers of voluntary climate protection activities (e.g., voluntary carbon offsetting), firms, and particularly policy-makers. The resulting gamification instruments represent a novel approach to transform private behaviors targeted at climate change mitigation without manipulating the individuals without their consent, as is the case with nudging. DeCarbFriends thus provide an empirical basis for further information and education programs with respect to the potential and effectiveness of gamifying individual decarbonizing strategies that are not already established in society (such as investments in climate protection projects via crowdfunding, curtailment of meat and dairy product consumption and voluntary carbon offsetting) and are thus still associated with great uncertainty within the population.
Dr. Anja Köbrich León
Department of Economics
Chair of Empirical Economic Research
University of Kassel