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Workshop in Oxford

posted May 26, 2011, 4:13 AM by Howard Noble   [ updated May 27, 2011, 7:08 AM ]
We ran the second research workshop in Oxford yesterday. People came from Estates, IT, Finance, Environmental Change Institute and most impressively Earthwatch. We changed the design exercise because we felt it was too broad, so this time we discussed the design of a campaign focused on the following scenarios:

1. How to promote two actions to colleagues in a department (a) turning off PCs after work (b) signing up to a pledge system.
2. What to do when, after some initial success in saving electricity, the savings had leveled off.
3. What to do if people get tired of contributing and savings actually decline.

We still need to work on this activity because the campaign plans that emerged did not propose to make much use of technology, and emphasized a rather traditional approach to instigating change e.g. expecting senior managers to revise policy, carrot and stick incentives, and disseminating information with face-to-face meetings and posters. Perhaps, in an effort to remain realistic, people are less likely to explore more radical solutions. Also we wonder whether their is a general lack of knowledge of how the Internet could be used e.g. open data/linked data, information visualisation, real-time metering. In the group I worked with there was a lot of conversation about how pushy the message could be. This may reflect culture differences in academic and service departments. (Note: DF is decoding the design activity data and we will analyse the survey data again after the Leicester event).

DW and HN created a prototype web interface based on the ideas that came from the Lincoln workshop:

We presented this at the end of the day. The response seemed to be positive although there was concern that ring-fencing money might be legislated against. This interface combines many of the ideas that were highlighted e.g. power of real time information, representing energy savings as money which is ring-fenced and used for causes (which hopefully do not lead to more energy use aka Jevons Paradox), and finally towards senior management accountability. After attending a behaviour change event at the James Martin institute we've had a few more ideas on how to improve this design - we'll present these the the next workshop in Leicester. One participant suggested that rather than just giving to a wind turbine the money could be used to buy shares in the build, which would further increase the value of the donation. Finally, the devil is always in the detail and we should work out what the metrics are for the visualisation e.g. how will the league table work, how will we decide on the targets etc

Broadly speaking the Oxford participants concurred with those who attended the Lincoln event. Here's some additional things I noted:
  • When answering the survey questions it is difficult to answer personally, the temptation is to think about how others might perceive the questions
  • The form of data was highlighted as very important and particularly with respect to pledging e.g. a graphic that showed 80% had pledged and there was no energy saving would be very de-motivating.
  • With pledges there could be a lose relationship with the actions people will do e.g. they can pledge to be part of an initiative but tell people a range of things they themselves will do to reduce energy use. (This avoid the situation where people are asked to pledge to do something they already do).
  • It was highlighted that the People and Planet league table was very motivating for some people in Oxford, and the new release due in next few weeks.
  • Since the people attending with workshop were self-selecting we are encouraged to get the questions out into a more open forum to see how people respond more generally.
  • Again attitudes to competition emerged but this time the idea came forward that perhaps some people didn't like competition, not because it was a bad way to motivate people, but simply because they didn't want to lose. This might be particularly true of people who are not used to have less experience of losing.
  • Another disadvantage of energy dashboards in reception is that you'll see them when you come into work in the morning...just the time when you're about to switch everything on.
  • When we discussed communication channels we were told to beware using channels people use to 'play' e.g. Facebook, for work purposes. We were also advised that if something is important then it should be made into a 'hard copy'. The very sage advice was also given - don't obsess over the channel - obsess over the quality of the message.
  • In agreement with Kotter, we were advised that a campaign should start with a bang. Survey data showed that people are frustrated by the rate of change and just want to get on with it.
So, the workshop keeps evolving and we need to redesign the design activity for the Dashboards Event in Oxford on the 14th June