Because I am going to tell you about 3 days at the University of Oxford, UK at the Behave Energy Conference . Get your Oxford Dictionary out, you might need it.  Topics ranged from Theoretical ways to Conceptualize Transformation to Dragon-Breath and Snow-Melt: Sensory Experience, Know-How and Practices of Thermal Regulation in the Home. And you guessed it, everything else in between.  I had a short moment in the spotlight to present my work at UHN on Energy Management, Behaviour Change and Hospital Culture – but you have heard about that here and here and here.

Let’s put our big brains to the test and dive deeper into what the international academic community had to say about Behavioural Economics, Social Psychology, Cognitive Linguistics, Anthropology, Building Science, Story Telling and Embodied Experience and how it relates to our Energy Future. You have been warned this is going to get really deep!

But first…a look at the lovely Keble College Dining Hall. Where I had a proper English Breakfast each morning.

keble breakfastkeble-college

Fortified for the day and ready to go…First talk was basically an update from Jeremy Leggett about how soon things are going to get messed up.  His book “Risk Blindness” pretty much sums it up – we are at the front-line of an inter-related crisis of energy, finance and climate. He says by 2025 we are going to see the beginning of the end and his words “there is a whiff of madness in the the air”.  Jeremy was the most matter of fact talk of the conference but the same sentiment was echoed over the next couple of days.  The talks however focused on the programs, policies and research that is being done and could be done to get us through this impending climate disruption.

What was clear at the conference is that programs, policies and research continues to focus on the residential sector. there were very few talks about industry or institutions.  So in many ways UHN’s leadership is notable because there really isn’t anyone else in the game.  Here is what the biggest and best minds are thinking about when it comes to people and energy at home…this will all of course be very useful to me as I play with their theories and conclusions translating for our context here at the hospital.

I sort of knew that there must be theories that help to predict and model behaviour. Gavin Killip, University of Oxford; outlines a couple in his talk The Role of Professional Intermediaries in Decision-Making: A Comparative Account of the Working Practices of Small Builders Using Actor Network Theory and Social Practice Theory

I realize this will be review for most of you…”The ANT account suggests an underlying fragility of seemingly stable routines and behaviours, and suggests that innovations (eg new products, processes, documents, etc) can be seen as attempts to reconfigure the whole system, with unpredictable outcomes. Social Practice theory has grown in profile and popularity in recent years, and is at least partly responsible for shifting ‘behaviour’ debates away from the individual as the primary unit of analysis and the dichotomy of structure/agency as the analytical frame.”

Sarah Royston from the Association for the Conservation of Energy had one of the most interesting talks at the conference. DRAGON-BREATH AND SNOW-MELT: SENSORY EXPERIENCE, KNOW-HOW AND PRACTICES OF THERMAL REGULATION IN THE HOME.  Her narrative analysis demonstrated that to accomplish thermal management we need to think about lives and everyday activities without focusing on the energy.  She built on the theory of Experience Based Know-How, saying that energy know-how is held not just in the mind but also in the body, in the form of physical competences and unconscious routines.  People understand energy through sensory experience, building up embodied and practical knowledge.  She has found that Energy Literacy can be accomplished through sensuous ethnography – sensory experiences involved in building people’s know-how in monitoring temperature; understanding heat loss from their home; using heating systems and appliances; and finally in understanding what is “normal” and possible.

I also really liked what Agnes Bray, University of Sheffield had to say in her ‘Power up’ and ‘Power down’ Processes of Sustainable Energy Transition talk. She outlined the Sustainability Transitions Theory which takes innovation from a niche and moves it to a regime but spent most of her time talking about a new approach called ‘Renewable Energy Economy’.  “It is modelled after Vandana Siva’s philosophical concept where ‘energy’ does not only refer to energy in a purely physical sense but in metaphysical sense as well. Shiva’s view is applied in this framework by using the terms ‘power down’, referring to reduction of fossil fuel and carbon-dioxide emissions and ‘power up’, which refers to creative human energy and collective democratic endeavor.”

I will quickly tell you about Dan Lockton’s (Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Royal College of Art, London) talk Energy storytelling through annotating everyday life.  Basically he had the whole Department of Energy and Climate Change put post-it notes on every gadget around the office asking them to annotate things—buildings, objects, appliances—with comments, questions or ideas relating to energy themes, especially where the things play roles in their everyday routines or practices.

Finally I really loved what John Isaacs, Abertay University was saying in his talk VISUAL SIMULATION FOR STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT & DIALOGUE.  “Previous research has suggested that 3D visualisation will be the key to wider stakeholder participation by enabling more effective communication between experts and non-experts.” He put this twist on it…”Modern computer games however are able to provide the user with realistic environments with a large degree of interaction, especially over the control of the view or camera with which the user sees the environment. The use of games techniques in 3D visualisation may help the lack of participation and interactivity available in current visualisation methods.”

But rest assured to communicate any of this to anyone we need to take the advice of brand expert Simon Goodall at OPX and keep it simple.