Climate change and cities: problem structuring methods and critical perspectives on low-carbon districts

Rachel Freeman*, Mike Yearworth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Cities around the world have set climate change mitigation targets, yet actions to implement these targets have so far proved inadequate. Better methodology is needed to support this impetus for action. Problem structuring methods (PSMs) enable improvements to be made in wicked problem situations; they appear to have potential to improve climate change mitigation actions but they are difficult to carry out in highly pluralist problem contexts. A case study (STEEP) that applied a PSM to support low-carbon urban energy master planning in three cities is presented. The STEEP methodology was effective in reducing the wickedness of the problem but issues of a lack of clarity on problem ownership and lack of interessement were seen. A reflective boundary critique study found that there was a mismatch between power and interest amongst key stakeholders towards the low-carbon vision. Three key issues identified in the case study were discussed through the lens of critical systems thinking: (i) the need for new competencies, (ii) dealing with wickedness, and (iii) behavioural complexity and discordant reference systems. The paper suggests how these issues might be improved through the application of non-PSM theories which can support the use of PSMs in improving city-level climate change mitigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-64
Number of pages17
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • Boundary critique
  • Climate change mitigation
  • Critical systems thinking
  • Problem structuring methods
  • Problematisation


Dive into the research topics of 'Climate change and cities: problem structuring methods and critical perspectives on low-carbon districts'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this