Designing Collective Engagement Approaches to Foster Sustainable Behaviors


  • Kalina Maria Piskorska University of Vienna


The project focuses on inspecting existing literature on the use of persuasive strategies to promote sustainable behaviors, understood as actions that are climate-friendly and do not compromise future generations’ ability to meet their needs [1]. Examples include restricting water and energy usage, reducing the consumption of animal-derived products and selecting transportation options based on their carbon footprint. Drawing on interdisciplinary research from fields such as psychology, sociology, human-centered design, education and environmental science, the project aims to develop design recommendations to encourage sustainable behaviors (e.g., on specific mobile app features). After the initial literature review, the research question was narrowed down to the seemingly essential problem: how to foster the change of unsustainable habits effectively?

The issue of sustainability and the larger issue of climate change are wicked problems, involving interconnected, complex networks of phenomena and conflicting stakeholder needs (e.g., social, environmental and economic). For instance, psychological and social phenomena like learnt helplessness, displacement of responsibility, and the popularization of fear appeal messages in climate change communication can deter action [2]. To embrace these complexities and maximize effectiveness, other crucial factors related to sustainable development goals [3] were integrated into the project: inclusivity (diversity-sensitive designs) and strengthening sustainable communities. Particular emphasis was placed on fostering ‘collective engagement’ where a community exchanges ideas and knowledge while collaborating towards a common goal. This holistic approach synthesizes design thinking and systems thinking.

The methodology involves building a theoretical foundation from various disciplines and drafting initial strategy ideas, followed by reviewing more empirical literature. The literature research has been conducted with the method of snowballing and keyword searching in scientific databases. The research conclusions informed the creation of a problem map which helped visualize the complex system and empathize with users’ needs. Based on the literature analysis and the identification of best practices in persuasive technologies, prototype versions of a mobile application were designed. The application would facilitate forming a network of sustainability-friendly businesses, services and events within a local community and include features such as a map of all the nearby “network spots” and a habit tracker (with options for cooperation and competition in groups). 

The project provides direct recommendations on aspects to focus on to encourage collective engagement towards sustainable behaviors, potentially contributing to climate change mitigation. Further research would require detailed prototyping and testing of the proposed ideas and designs, with feedback from a diverse group of potential users.


[1] World Commission on Environment and Development, “Our common future,” 1987. Accessed: May, 9, 2024. [Online]. Available: 

[2] S. O’Neill and S. Nicholson-Cole, “‘Fear won’t do it’: Promoting positive engagement with climate change through visual and iconic representations.,” Science Communication, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 355–379, Jan. 2009. doi:10.1177/1075547008329201

[3] United Nations, “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development A/RES/70/1,” 2015. Accessed: May, 9, 2024. [Online]. Available: