The UK government’s “Big Energy Shift” sought to better understand public views on carbon and energy savings at a domestic level. Nine citizen forums were held across the UK, assessing appeals and barriers of technology uptake, funding options and future policy.
Problems and Purpose
In response to the threat of climate change, targets have been set at EU and UK government levels for an 80% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2050, compare to 1990 levels. One implication of a target of this scale is the virtual elimination of emissions from homes in the UK. In light of this, the “Big Energy Shift” public dialogue project was designed to establish the basis on which people would be prepared to take up energy savings, renewable and low carbon measures. The project was intended to inform policy makers on public views about community-level carbon and energy savings. 
Between January and March 2009, a series of nine citizen forums were held across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland to seek people’s views on government’s plans for a big shift in the way people’s houses and communities are insulated, heated, and powered. The project sought to understand how people approach the issue of energy as individuals and householders, within the larger context of their views on what communities and the country as a whole should do.
The final report describes how the dialogue aimed to:
- Educate the public about the future challenges in Britain’s energy use - the need for Britain to affect a ‘Big Energy Shift’, in domestic energy saving and generation
- Test options for potential interventions
- Assess the triggers for behaviour change in domestic energy options, by considering the following questions:
- What makes individuals shift from no action, to action?
- What makes individuals shift from piecemeal to household action?
- What makes householders shift from household action to community level or collective action?
- What makes people get involved in mass action, at a national or cultural level? 
The case study outlines the following objectives of the dialogue:
- Test out the public’s views on community-level carbon and energy savings
- Enable UK Government to make fully informed policy decisions in response to the proposals in the Climate Change Bill
The dialogue sought to understand:
- What range of policy measures proposed by the Government was more or less attractive to people and what mix of incentives, regulation, information and advice, or other measures, may tip the balance for them to take up or support various options
- Whether there were alternative measures suggested by the public that would meet DECC’s objectives
- How people viewed the inter-relationships between decisions about their homes and communities, and wider national debates and/or policy interventions
- How people viewed the inter-relationships between energy efficiency, heat and renewable energy (e.g. what sort of disruption householders were willing to endure and at what price?)
- How responses differed according to socio-economics, property type and community. 
Background History and Context
The UK government is committed to major changes in the production and use of energy over the coming decades. This commitment has led to a number of policy and institutional changes, including the creation of a Department of Energy and Climate Change in 2008. Reports by Stern in 2007 and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made a strong case for a substantial response to the threat of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In response, policy targets have been set at UK and EU levels aiming for an 80% reduction by 2050 in comparison to 1990 levels. Meeting the targets will involve both an increase in the deployment of renewable energy sources, and an increase in energy conservation, whilst paying attention to other dimensions of energy policy such as maintaining energy security and tackling fuel poverty. 
In 2008, 27% of emissions in the UK came from energy use within households. Reducing domestic energy was seen as a fundamental part of contributing to the Government’s target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) concluded that government needed to have a good understanding of how far people were prepared to contribute and get involved so that it could make informed policy decisions in response to the Climate Change Bill and its targets. In response, DECC commissioned the Big Energy Shift Dialogue, delivered by Ipsos MORI and evaluated by KRSR and Placewise.
The close connection to evolving policy around behaviour change to reduce domestic energy consumption ensured that the dialogue had strong support and endorsement from Government Ministers at the time. The project received significant media coverage as well as being considered a high-profile dialogue in DECC given that the potential results had far-reaching implications for Government policy. 
The public deliberative dialogue formed one part of a wider process of engagement undertaken by the UK Government as part of their preparations for publishing the Renewable Energy Strategy encompassing both electricity and heat, and energy saving, in July 2009. Alongside the public dialogue, engagement was undertaken by DECC with businesses via Business in the Community and the Small Business Consortium, and with the public sector (such as schools, hospitals, prisons, local and central government) via the Sustainable Development Commission. EEWG was involved in this engagement as well as the Big Energy Shift. 
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
- £788, 000 total (Sciencewise funding: £381, 000)
- Commissioned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change
- Delivery contractor: Ipsos MORI
- Project evaluator: KRSR and Placewise 
The project was commissioned and supported by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Northern Ireland Executive and Welsh Assembly Government, and supported by Sciencewise. Following an open call, the DECC contracted Ipsos MORI to deliver the dialogue, and KRSR and Placewise provided independent evaluations of the dialogue.
Sciencewise-ERC is a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills funded programme to bring scientists, government and the public together to explore the impact of science and technology in our lives. It helps Government departments and agencies commission and use public dialogue to inform policy making, involving science and technology issues. Its core aim is to develop the capacity of Government to carry out good dialogue, to gather and disseminate good practice, have successful two-way communications with the public and other stakeholders, and to embed the principles of good dialogue into internal Government processes.
Ipsos MORI, part of the Ipsos Group, is a leading UK research company, specialising in social & political research and public dialogue on complex and sensitive issues.
Kathryn Rathouse Social Research (KRSR) is an independent social researcher.
Placewise design, conduct and evaluate research projects and facilitate workshops for clients in the public, private and voluntary sectors.
The evaluation report provides estimates on the time devoted to the project by staff involved in running and advising on the project as well as stakeholders. This is mainly based on feedback from a small number of interviewees.
- DECC project manager – 70% of her time from October 2008 until April 2009
- Sciencewise dialogue engagement specialist – 11 days total
- Devolved administrations – 4 weeks (split between several staff)
- Stakeholders on EEWG – 1.5 to 4 days each (including time to attend events) x 23 stakeholders (excluding DECC project manager, DETI, and Welsh Assembly)
- Stakeholders only attending event 3 – 1 day each x 28 stakeholders
- Stakeholders only attending event 4 –1 day each x 34 stakeholders (15 external stakeholders and 19 officials). Costs for Ipsos MORI’s work are not included as they are commercially sensitive. The evaluation cost £15k plus VAT. 
Participant Recruitment and Selection
- Public participants: 250
- Oversight Panel members: 26
- Other stakeholders/experts: 52 
The public events were supported by an Energy Engagement Working Group (EEWG), an oversight panel composed of policy makers and external stakeholders. Additional stakeholders, experts and ministers attended meetings during the events (52 in total). 
Events were run in nine areas: three in England, three in Wales, and three in Northern Ireland. In each country, the areas were selected to include one urban, one rural, and one off-grid area. 250 householders were recruited, from within a few streets of each other, to include the following:
- Men (42%) and women (58%)
- A range of ages (18-30:13, 31-40: 26, 41-50:29, 51-64:24, 65+:8)
- A mix of ethnic backgrounds
- A mix of household types
- All were owner occupiers.
Participants were given a cash incentive for attending (£70 at the end of event 1, £230 at the end of event 3 which included £90 for event 2 i.e. £300 in total). Having most of the incentive given at event 3 partly explains the excellent attendance at the later event. For event 4, three householders from each area were selected to attend (26 attended in total). A cash incentive of £100 was given at the end of event 4.
Methods and Tools Used
This dialogue project took place in parallel with formal consultations on the Heat and Energy Strategy and Renewable Energy Strategy being prepared. 
The aim of the research was to gradually give people information about a complex topic, so that by debating with each other, and guided by facilitators, they were able to come to a more informed view on policy questions. A wide range of exercises were used throughout this project intended to throw light on the subject from different angles and present different points of view. The research did not seek to provide one totally ‘unbiased’ set of arguments to debate, but rather provide a range of different perspectives on the topic.
To this end, the exercises used included:
- Discussion of new technologies in small and large groups, using pictures, ballpark figures, and case studies
- Trade off exercises where participants are asked to make hypothetical choices of technologies
- Tasks between the events, including site visits, filmed in-home interviews, peer interviews and energy diaries
- Paired exercises noting the pros and cons of funding options, plus small and large group discussion sessions
- Exploring mocked up headlines, imagery and concepts for policy ideas in the context of ‘future scenarios’
Key to this deliberative research is that while it reflects the views of communities, it is not a research method involving a representative sample of members of the public and does not give statistically valid findings.
The dialogue involved the following four stages:
Stage 1: The first (full day) event brought participants together to learn about new energy technologies and energy efficiency from a range of energy and technology experts, who were on hand to explain and answer any questions.
Stage 2: A “disaggregated event” (FR): Participants were given a choice to take part in a range of different activities including interviewing their peers, visiting an exemplar building, completing a diary, or being interviewed by the project team in a filmed interview at their own home (ER). The second stage enabled participants to view some of the technology options first-hand and consider how these might work in their own homes and communities, as well as review how they used energy in their homes (through keeping an ‘energy diary’).
Stage 3: The third event brought the participants back together for another full day, along with other stakeholders including local non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This was to discuss the best course of action at the individual, community, regional and national level; the possible role of the Government; and the underlying principles and values of the approach that the Government needed to adopt. Policy makers from DECC and other bodies were available to discuss funding options and policy questions. All of these stakeholders were briefed on the project and given guidelines for best engagement in a citizen dialogue before attending. 
Stage 4: The fourth stage saw three participants from each of the nine areas attend a final meeting in London to discuss their recommendations with other stakeholders and policy makers. 
The research events were supported by a website which was built and added to during the project. The website contained a discussion forum where questions arising from each event were posted on the morning after the event. Apart from at the events, participants interacted with the energy experts and policy makers on the Big Energy Shift website, posing questions on technologies and government policies. Additionally, participants could see filmed interviews and exemplar visits from other areas. The website also contained links to sources of information about energy and sustainability. 
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Event 1 – Introducing people to the technologies
At Event 1, participants were shown a wide range of insulation products, microgeneration products, and community-level generation schemes:
- Picture and description of technology
- Very ballpark and relative cost indications
- Details of how installation might work
The appealing / less appealing aspects were debated in the context of the local area and the national scene.
Experts were on hand to answer questions about the technical aspects.
The most appealing aspects of any new technologies are:
- Low upfront cost or subsidized by grants
- Easy to maintain, well established reputable firms offering installation and maintenance
- Cause minimum disruption to people’s lives on installation and usage
- Add value to the house and payback as soon as possible
- Replace existing technology without needing too much adaptation
Key barriers to take up are:
- Upfront costs and concerns over payback time and value for money
- Risk of taking up new untried technology
- Worries about disruption to the aesthetics of the house and everyday life, both in installation and living with the new technology.
Take up of individual technologies recommendations
- Reduce upfront costs to the homeowner wherever possible
- Increase perceptions of immediate win, and long term value for money through the way that pricing and payments are designed
- ‘Normalise’ the technologies through exemplars and open homes so that they are seen as familiar
- Develop the market so that aesthetically mainstream products, rather than only leading-edge designs, are on offer
Event 3 – Discussing potential funding options
At event 3, participants were shown a range of large “posters” on which there were concepts for different funding mechanisms for new technology adoption. Participants rotated around the posters in groups and discussed the pros and cons of each. This included:
- Description of the funding options
- Very ballpark figure of relative upfront costs and payback times
- Details of how funding might otherwise be obtained
The appealing and less appealing aspects of each funding mechanism were debated in the context of the local area and national scene.
Policy experts were on hand to discuss the options in more detail and answer questions about householder’s perceptions.
Recommendations on how to make the big ideas work
- Legislation to help government demonstrate the seriousness of the problem, and to enforce change within the timescale
- Fair targets and timescales should be set
- National and local government involvement, especially at a community level (also see section 3.3 on community solutions)
- Most importantly, grants and loans schemes to make costs upfront as low as possible for individuals
- All potential products and involvement designed to nudge people towards action, rather than leaving them to make consumer choices in an immature market
- Government must ‘walk the talk’ in installing new systems in public buildings
Event 4 – Reconvening to discuss communications, the ‘big story’ and the most important elements of policy
At Event 4, participants were brought together from across the 9 forums as well as a range of stakeholders and policymakers from both Government and external organisations. The purpose of the day was to collate the views from across the forums as well as allow stakeholders and the public to debate how the ideas which had been generated could be applied in practice.
Three ‘worlds’ were used to stimulate discussion in Event 4, the reconvened session with householders, stakeholders, and policymakers. The idea of these worlds was to imagine the future after the shift has happened, and identify which elements and policies would be most likely to make change a reality. These three ‘worlds’ were built on the basis of learnings from Events 1-3, to explore hypotheses further.
- World One: Participants indicated that the Government needs to be ‘taking it seriously’, so World One describes one way the Government could do this.
- World Two: It was also clear that participants value the aesthetics of their homes, so World Two shows a cultural context around the Shift where consumer choice has become important.
- World Three: Participants suggested a cultural shift to a moral framework around wasting energy, where business and Government might also be held to account.
The worlds were evoked through handouts and mock-up newspaper headlines. This stimulus provided both supporting and critical media coverage of the Government’s approach to the Big Energy Shift within these worlds. Examples of these are provided at the start of each of the following sections discussing reactions to each of the worlds.
From World One:
- Urgency of communication on a ‘big story’
- Government communication on a mass scale to demonstrate national leadership: though solutions may be local, people wanted to feel they were taking part in something of national importance. Community options are felt to be more likely to work if in context of national movement.
- Relaxing planning rules for energy-efficient building (though an appreciation that there are many different interests to consider which would make this a complex challenge).
From World Two:
- Education and information disseminated through society
- Policies which help a new market to grow attractive, affordable technology packages
- Making it easy for people to get involved – small grants and loans to get them started
- Grants and loans which reward people who make an effort
From World Three:
- Public estates leading the way and setting themselves binding targets on energy efficiency
- National network of advice centres with tailored, specific advice for individual properties
- Government does not ‘name and shame’ itself, it nudges the moral framework into existence rather than tries to create it explicitly.
The ideal policy narrative and trajectory is mapped out in the final report. That report identifies the following overall outcomes from the forums across the events.
What is the potential for behaviour change?
This research reveals tremendous potential for people to change their energy behaviour. The majority of people across the forums were overwhelmingly positive about improving the energy efficiency of their homes and about the low carbon and renewable energy technologies in principle. They would like to see change and appeared both impressed and shocked by the scale of the problem.
Homeowners want to maintain their quality of life with a secure supply of affordable energy. To capture people's positive mood for change, the Big Energy Shift needs to offer people the prospect of a win-win situation where they can have their hot showers and cut their carbon emissions.
However, despite individual goodwill, the findings also show that individuals will not necessarily be the instigators of change. They will need to be ‘nudged’ along by the government and other principal stakeholders.
Householders feel that ‘business as usual’ or tinkering with existing frameworks will not deliver change, and that business, homeowners and government all need to play their parts. But they also assert that the mechanisms in business or government are not yet in place to allow them to make changes, either individually or collectively.
So, they look to Government to take the lead, and are ready for some bold steps.
Need for an overarching narrative from Government
To take advantage of public goodwill, participants recommend that government focus on four steps:
- Explain why the shift is necessary in clear, simple language which shows how global issues impact the daily lives of UK citizens
- Set out concrete goals for society (including government, businesses and individual households) with timelines for delivering measures on the ground, while supporting and enforcing these goals
- Provide information and advice to the public on how they can participate to achieve these goals, with bespoke advice to those looking to invest in new energy technologies
- Ensure that systems are in place to help people with the financial burden of investing in new energy technologies
The context for the shift
Housing type, income level, life-stage, urban or rural setting all make a difference to people’s likelihood to adopt new technologies. When designing intervention, detailed analysis of what appeals to different segments will be necessary. Models of behaviour change and innovation diffusion can help.
Some key points at which Government could intervene are:
- Buying house: Explain to buyers the benefits of buying energy-efficient homes
- Redecorating: Many measures can be done one room at a time, to spread costs
- Replacing boiler or heating system: This often involves changing pipes and radiators, so thermostat controls can be added
- Renovations / extensions: Ensure new buildings are energy efficient, and improve existing buildings at the same time
- Selling house: Demonstrate how new technologies could add value at sale
Following the public dialogue, the following recommendations on potential government interventions were identified:
- Organise exemplars, targets and administer funding at a local level through local government organisations.
- Tailor exemplar and show homes to properties broadly characteristic of area to maximise relevance to local homeowners
- Ensure local public buildings, such as schools, libraries, community centres are exemplars
- Incentivise early adopters to install low-carbon technologies at household scale by helping cover the upfront cost
- Consider supplying all homes with smart meters free of charge
- Provide home energy audits offering tailored individual advice for a small charge (below £100)
- Grants, with value determined on sliding scale from low-cost, low-fuss insulation and metering technologies up to more advanced micro-generation technologies (up to around 75% for advanced technologies)
- Consider supporting a relatively limited choice of packages for each area, appropriate to the housing stock, so householders are not baffled by the pressure of choice.
- Where the payback time is long, careful communication will be needed to explain the benefits and why it is a win-win situation.
- Introduce legislation – offers double benefit of a symbolic function to communicate the gravity of the issue, as well ensuring all properties comply with minimum standards.
- Provide sufficient lead-in time (e.g. 5 years)
- Base requirements on specific measures to be incorporated into all households rather than expecting all homes to reach same overall efficiency grading
- Make minimum standards a requirement for selling a property
- Direct financial support to those in most inefficient homes, with funds channelled to those on lowest incomes. 
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Influence on policy makers and policy organisations
Policy makers learnt new and different types of communication approaches that would be effective with the public.
Furthermore, the project confirmed to DECC ‘the willingness of citizens to accept and play a part in step changes in energy production and consumption’, and that contact with the public can be positive and constructive.
Impacts on public participants
Participants’ confidence in whether the public views from this project would make a difference to government policy grew from 58% to 79% over the course of the project. The presence of Ministers at events had a positive impact.
There was also a significant increase from stages one to three in the numbers believing that individuals should be responsible for technologies in the home and that communities should be responsible for technologies in their areas.
99% of participants said they had learnt something from the project (after stage three). They had found out about technologies they did not know about before, how technologies worked, where to go to find out more, and payment options and delivery methods.
Evaluation interviewees reported making small changes in their own energy use, such as switching off the lights and turning down the thermostat.
Impacts on scientists/experts and other stakeholders
Stakeholders gained a better understanding of how public dialogue worked and could be used in the future. Additionally, new and stronger networks were established between stakeholders and Government, including starting to consider each other as allies.
Positive feedback on these sorts of public dialogue activity was seen to help build personal reputations and careers.
The dialogue challenged stakeholder assumptions including the emphasis given by the public to the Government’s role in regulation and the need for extensive support if people are to install new technologies in their homes. 
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The Big Energy Shift dialogue is considered by DECC to be a very successful project. It has directly impacted policy and led to the development of the LCCC and an investment of £10 million in 22 communities. LCCC is a research and delivery programme that provides financial and advisory support to ‘test bed’ communities across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland that are seeking to cut carbon emissions.
The results of the dialogue project provided many practical insights on how to achieve low carbon targets, which has enabled UK Government to make more fully informed policy decisions in response to the proposals in the Climate Change Bill.
A further impact of the project is that it also helped to change the views and behaviour of many of the public, Government and stakeholder participants.
Lessons for future practice:
It takes time for the public to digest new information and use it to come to conclusions. There needs to be a balance between information giving and discussion.
Scientists and stakeholders need to stay for the duration of the event they are involved in. Leaving early had an impact on motivation and on the status of the event in the eyes of the participant.
Stakeholders may question the validity of the results of dialogue if they feel the sample is too small (e.g. in this case, the overall project was seen to be sufficiently ‘large-scale’, although stage four was not) and the participants are not ‘typical’ (e.g. in this case, once the participants were ‘informed’ they were no longer typical). However, attending events with the public increased stakeholder trust in the findings (especially stages/events one and three in this case).
It is important that facilitators are seen as independent of any particular views on the subject under discussion. The quality of the small group facilitation needs to be consistently high to ensure the full range of views are heard and recorded. 
Overall the dialogue worked well. The following points were particularly outstanding:
- Householders enjoyed taking part, despite the level of commitment required to take part, largely due to excellent rapport with the Ipsos MORI staff and well-structured events.
- The dialogue had positive impacts on householders’ attitudes such as their willingness to accept a wind turbine in their neighbourhood and the responsibility attributed to individuals and communities. They attributed such changes to site visits as well as discussions.
- The policy-focused report fed directly into a number of policy initiatives, including the Low Carbon Communities Challenge.
- The dialogue led to the creation of a strong network of stakeholders. This came about through DECC’s project manager openly and pro-actively seeking input alongside the more traditional working group.
- Householders’ trust that the dialogue would make a difference was boosted through the presence of government ministers at events and exceptional communication after events.
However, there were two main difficulties.
- During the householder events some discussions were more inclusive than others and discussions were not always recorded systematically.
- The final event, designed as a dialogue between householders and stakeholders, did not work as intended although it served other purposes. Informal dialogue with a small number of stakeholders at the earlier householder events was more effective.
There are five main lessons for future public dialogue projects.
- To ensure that the full range of views is heard and recorded, it is important to use techniques for making discussions inclusive and for recording them systematically.
- Householder engagement can be maintained throughout longer than standard public dialogue projects, provided they are well structured and facilitated.
- An effective model for direct dialogue between stakeholders and householders seems to involve informal discussions with a small number of stakeholders at householder events (as in event 3), rather than more formal meetings with larger numbers of stakeholders (as in event 4).
- Dialogue projects can act as an excellent opportunity for building stakeholder networks, provided that a variety of approaches to engagement are used, both formal and informal.
- Reports setting out a clear agenda for action help ensure that dialogue findings are translated into policy. 
 Sciencewise (2009) Case Study: Big Energy Shift- A dialogue on public views about community level carbon and energy savings
 Ipsos MORI (2009) The Big Energy Shift, Report from Citizen’s Forums, Final Report (30 June 2009)
 Rathouse, K and Devine-Wright, P (2010) Evaluation of the Big Energy Shift, Final report to DECC and Sciencewise-ERC (August 2010)