The RECCKN research has focussed on four communities in two contrasting areas. That our findings are so similar across different socio-economic groups suggests that they are widely applicable across the UK. They should therefore be of great interest to policy makers, local authorities, third sector organisations, community groups and individual citizens.
Summary of the RECCKN project findings:
In spite of mass provision of information about energy by Government and energy companies, there is a perceived lack of practical and trusted information about energy use and saving
RECCKN participants identified a lack of impartial trusted information, a lack of detailed practical advice, and a lack of confidence in their own competence to make wise and optimal decisions about energy use. We found that:
- Top-down information provision by large institutions and companies isn’t working. It is regarded as commercially-motivated and partial, and/or overly general and removed from the practical realities of everyday energy use.
- There are a number of key factors affecting how people perceive and receive information about energy. These factors are what the information is (content); where the information comes from (source); and how the information is communicated (process).
- Without trust, practical detail and opportunities to ask questions and learn from experience, more information does not necessarily lead to more knowledge or to changes in energy use.
There is a significant degree of scepticism and mistrust on the part of domestic energy consumers
RECCKN participants expressed frustration about the complexity and confusion surrounding energy information. Many had experience of miss-selling or hard-selling by energy companies and of companies selling energy-related products (e.g., double glazed windows, boilers, solar panels). This suggests that:
- Schemes like the Green Deal and ECO may not work as intended if they are delivered by for-profit companies.
- More needs to be done to support the work of 'honest brokers' such as universities, charities and NGOs in delivering energy reduction targets.
- Information and experience sharing between friends, neighbours and peers - who are often amongst those most trusted - should be encouraged and supported.
People tend to regard energy as a private, household matter that is not a common topic of conversation
Participants told us that energy is not an easily discussable topic; not something they have conversations about with people outside their household. Some even said it can be embarrassing to talk about it when managing the rising costs has become difficult. We found that it took time and careful planning to get people talking about their energy use with peers, but once they engaged in collective conversation about things they had in common (such as using an EDM), they benefited from the sharing of experience and opinions, in many cases leading to changes in their own energy habits. Conversations often moved into broader issues, and sometimes to criticisms of energy company practices and government policies.
Community networks and collective discussion among peers enable people to gain useful knowledge about energy efficiency
The RECCKN discussion groups were considered a success by participants because they facilitated the focussed sharing of experience, questions and ideas among peers. We found that participants were able to gain new and build on existing knowledge by comparing habits and routines, and by monitoring their own energy use. They reported that their involvement in the discussions gave them inspiration to make changes, and/ or to work out solutions to problems by pursuing advice from peers, online forums, local experts and independent advisors, Many said that the groups helped them to gain confidence in discussing energy with others and in their own ability to change their energy consumption patterns.
The 'right' environment for making energy 'discussable' in communities has to be created
For energy to become ‘discussable’, creating the right type of environment and space for social interaction is essential. From the RECCKN project we found that there are four elements that local events need in order to enable energy discussion:2>
- A sense of common purpose and common endeavour amongst participants. Everyone uses energy in their home and energy bills are a concern for many people. In the RECCKN project, we found that participants’ mutual experience of having an energy display monitor in their home, and the interactions they all had with this monitor, were very effective in facilitating the sharing of ideas.
- A feeling of equality between participants. It is important that everyone involved in a discussion recognises that all viewpoints and types of knowledge are equally valued, as this builds a trusting environment in which everyone listens and feels confident speaking. Practical ways of saving energy and stories based on personal experiences are just as valid as technical, detailed advice from 'experts'.
- Meetings that include food and drink (e.g., tea and cake) create an informal, convivial atmosphere where people feel relaxed and able to chat.
- Many of our participants felt it was important that discussions took place face-to-face, rather than over the telephone or online. Face-to-face interaction builds trust and allows hands-on engagement with technologies (e.g., EDMs) and other energy-related objects (e.g., fuel bills).
The RECCKN project also found that, contrary to assumptions about the ‘Big Society’ and the ability of communities to organise themselves, there are many obstacles to organising and arranging these types of collective discussions about energy. They will not happen without support. We found that the following ingredients were also necessary for energy discussion events to take place:
- Resources: money for room hire, refreshments and effective publicity. The RECCKN community actions each had a budget of £ 500.
- Time: organising events that bring people together in an environment conducive to open, collective discussion about energy can be time-consuming and therefore requires people with time to commit. In the RECCKN project the most active participants were retired people.
- 'Honest brokers': to enable, support and ensure quality in the process. The research team from Keele University and the Marches Energy Agency played this role in RECCKN. It is entirely possible that this role could be played by third sector organisations and local authorities. The important thing is that they do not have vested interests, or be perceived to be, in pursuit of sales and profits.
Household energy display monitors (EDMs) enable people to gain and share knowledge about energy saving
The use of EDMs and individualised feedback about energy use, accompanied by comparison data and tailored advice, was overwhelmingly welcomed by RECCKN participants. We found that most participants who used their EDMs said it helped them to save money on their energy bills.
We found that the EDMs became a good way to get people in the focus groups talking about energy use. In addition to sharing experiences with other members of the groups, most participants said they have told family, friends and neighbours about what can be learned from using an EDM at home. Many people used the EDM to experiment with their energy use in their home in order to understand where their greatest electricity use (and wastage) occurs. This experimentation helped build people’s knowledge and make it personalised to them, thereby increasing their confidence in making wise decisions about their energy use.