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Workshop in Lincoln

posted May 18, 2011, 3:20 AM by Howard Noble   [ updated May 18, 2011, 6:36 AM ]
We ran our first research project workshop in Lincoln yesterday. These sessions enable our team to bring people interested in behaviour change and sustainability campaigns together to discuss the role that technology/the internet/meter data can play in increasing engagement with environmental issues. The structure of the workshop has been designed to help us get plenty of detailed quantitative and qualitative data we can use to inform the design of visualisations of energy use at Oxford. Our starting hypothesis for this work is that putting a graphic on an LCD monitor in the reception of buildings will have practically no effect on behaviour. Ten people attended the workshop, coming from Lincoln University, the City and County councils, and the Transition Town movement

The Survey


With only 10 participants our ability to generalise is of course very limited but here's some headlines:

Confusing stuff!:

    • Meter data at the most granular level is the most motivating (e.g. office level) because we are likely to know the people who are using it
    • But when we go public with our data it is more motivating to do so at a departmental level. By going public I mean when people can compare and contrast their consumption.
    • However, if we are working towards a target then participants thought the most motivating graphic was at whole organisational level (University level).

Visualisations can provoke very different responses:

"This visualisation would appeal to a great number of people and would probably motivate them to be more energy efficient. Unfortunately, it doesn't explain why Pete is very sad and what you specifically need to do to stop him being so sad - so although more appealing it's not so comprehensive."

"Guilt is not a good long term driver! And a polar bear is hardly relevant to most of us. Please don't develop anything like this!"

An interesting visualisation is not necessarily the same as an effective one

We need to be careful of eye-candy and PR stunts!



(5 (orange) is a high score e.g. very interesting, 1 (green) the opposite.)

Boring but gets the job done. 

The fact that it is common across many things (fridges, houses and appliances) is very useful. The concern is that it is overly simplistic and it is not clear how the numbers it represents were derived:

Attitudes towards sharing data vary considerably 

When comparing an individual's data, and information pertaining to their employer. I find it quite surprising this 
(cohort was not more prepared to share home energy use more openly.

Campaign design exercise

The design exercise was interesting but we did not have enough time to get the data we really wanted. Participants were just about to start thinking at the level of detail we were after when we had to stop. Nevertheless some interesting ideas came out:
  • All groups expressed the need to bring together the people that already care about sustainability initiatives to help drive campaigns. The idea was touted that these people could be given training and accreditation which could feature on their CVs and be valued during recruitment. 
  • Most groups picked up on using competition to drive energy efficiency but quickly found that there were many ways to do this and deciding the metrics was not easy. Should people compete on absolute energy use (kWh), or performance against a target consumption level. Who should set the target - external bodies or should targets be agreed internally. Who are the best groups to compete against, departments or offices, within or external to an organisation

Common good game

As usual the players were very quick to spot that we did not define the rules, and see that the slightest change would dramatically effect the outcome. Participants found the link between the game and running energy campaigns obvious and after a presentation by Joss on the so-called Jevons effect the conversation flowed. There was perhaps a sense that like reporting energy consumption at too high a granularity, thinking in such an abstract level was not helpful. The main thing I learn from this hour was the importance of trust. This means trust in the people delivering a campaign, the statistics they use, the motivation behind the actions. A really concrete example of the need for trust came out with the idea that energy savings should be ring-fenced and turned into something of value e.g. a student bursary. It would be a real measure of trust in the campaign that this money was kept as intended.

Another big theme for me was the role of competition. I hope I am not generalising too much but cut-throat competition is enjoyed/promoted by some people (men?) and not so much by others (women?) The idea is to use competition to drive change in a spontaneous and emergent manner, however many people picked up on the idea that 
this could result in people feeling excluded, or push people into a corner. As mentioned before, the tone of the competition will be decided by the metrics it uses. It is then very important to get consensus on how people will compete.

Based on the way the design exercise ran we will change the design exercise to focus on targets/game metrics. 
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