torsdag 18 december 2014

Energy and climate advice beyond "one size fits all"

I'm part of a research project, STEM, that has to do with "Improved energy habits through Quantified Self". At a recent meeting, we (Björn Hedin, Daniel Pargman and Henrik Artman) sketched out a project that media technology students of ours could work with either as part of the Individual Course in Media Technology (4th year students - 3 hp) or as the topic for their bachelors' Degree Project in Media Technology (3rd year students - who would get an extra 3 hp on top of their 15 hp bachelor's theses). I will use this blog post to sketch out what it would mean for a student to participate in the proposed project that would run from mid-January to mid-February because this is also a recruitment ad!

We imagine that this task is particularly suitable for students who are interested in and who read courses in human-computer interaction, interaction design and/or sustainability. The task concerns sustainability but the methods are taken from HCI/IxD. Seen as an individual course in media technology, students would:
- read up on relevant sustainability/sustainable HCI literature
- use HCI/IxD methods that they have learned in other courses
- develop design concepts (mock-ups/prototypes)
- hone their project management skills

The project itself would start at the very beginning of the next term. The time schedule below is adapted so as to fit the schedule for the degree project, i.e. the outcome of this project has been coordinated timewise with the third year students' degree project/bachelor's theses. Below I sketch out a rough outline of what it would mean for a student to be part of this project (course). We will direct students to this blog post and after reading it they should have enough information to be able to decide if to join the project (take the course) or not!

Phase 1 - preparations (before Jan 13)
Read up. Read this blog post carefully to start with. We have selected a few articles that students should read in preparation for an initial meeting - perhaps a group discussion(?) - between interested students and the STEM researchers (Björn, Daniel, Henrik) on Tuesday Jan 13 between 13-15. Students should prepare for the meeting by summarising initial thoughts and by preparing questions about the project that they feel have not been answered by this blog post. We might also divide the students into teams at this meeting. A best-case scenario for us would be three-person groups with one 4th year students taking the individual course in media technology and two 3rd year students who will use the output of this project as input for their bachelors' thesis (that our students write together in pairs).

Phase 1 should not take more than two full days of preparations for the students. Students should, before the meeting, read the following scientific articles:

  • Brynjarsdottir, H., Håkansson, M., Pierce, J., Baumer, E., DiSalvo, C., & Sengers, P. (2012). Sustainably unpersuaded: how persuasion narrows our vision of sustainability. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI). ACM.
  • Strengers, Y. (2014). Smart energy in everyday life: are you designing for resource man?. interactions, 21(4).
  • Knowles, B., Blair, L., Walker, S., Coulton, P., Thomas, L., & Mullagh, L. (2014). Patterns of persuasion for sustainability. In Proceedings of the 2014 conference on Designing interactive systems (DIS). ACM.
  • The Common Cause values online handbook and in particular the section about "How values work".

Phase 2 - design interactionary (one day, Jan 21)
For one whole day during the subsequent week (on Wednesday Jan 21) students will work in three-person teams. In the STEM research project we are working with the Swedish municipal energy and climate advisors and we want three-person teams of students to explore and develop an initial design concept for a system that will support these advisors in their work. We however work with the assumption that energy and climate counselling today makes "one-size-fits-all-ish" assumptions about citizens' motivations for asking for advise (for example being primarily motivated by economic incentives - "how much money can I save by doing X?" ). With this proposed project, we want to expand the space for counsellors to "meet" citizens that have different and widely varying motivations.

Based on the Common Cause values online handbook and the "Schwartz value circumplex, we want different three-person student teams to design systems that target groups of people that have very different motivations for wanting to change their energy and climate habits.

On Wed Jan 21, we will organise a full-day activity that partly resembles a "hackathon", but with mock-ups, prototypes and interaction design at its core rather than computer code and hacking. We will use the "Interactionary" format to get a lot of brainstorming and creative thinking done in a short period of time. Interactionary is originally a competitions format where the task is to compete in interaction design "live" - in front of an audience and with very tight time frames. We here tone down the competitive element and borrow from hackathons that are all about generating and exploring new ideas. See this Interactionary FAQ and the Interactionary guidebook for more information about the Interactionary format.

Student teams will also have access to users and experts of various kinds throughout the day such as MID4S teachers/researchers. We will also invite researchers from CESC as well as try to recruit representatives from companies and organisations (Ericsson, design bureaus, energy and climate advisors etc.).

The goal is for different student teams to develop a variety of design concepts that will work for people who have different motivations for wanting to decrease their energy consumption and/or their climate impact.

Phase 3 - questions, inquiries and answers (one week - Jan 30)
The Interactionary exercise (phase 2) will result in each group of students producing a design concept (mock-up/prototype). As a by-product, we also expect that different questions will come out of the Interactionary exercise that cannot be answered then-and-there (during that particular day). Some of those questions might mean that we (the STEM researchers, e.g. Björn, Daniel and Henrik) will have to work and help the students find answers, for example by conducting a fast-and-loose survey among our friends or by helping the students put together a survey of their own and help disseminate it. It might also be the case that we will need to help the students to get in touch with relevant persons (for example energy and climate advisors or other "experts"), set up a test, to suggest new things the students should read up on, or, in any other way "open doors" and help students continue their work. The third phase of the project thus consists of trying to answer those questions that come out of the second phase.

Phase 4 - New-and-improved design concept (one week, Feb 6)
Based on the activities in phase 3, the students will have one more week to revise the design concept they came up with in phase 2. This might include rejecting or revising parts of their concepts and developing and enhancing other parts so that they can present a new-and-improved design concept (mock-up/prototype).

The students should at this point also hone not just their design concepts but also their arguments. They should be able to describe what worked and what didn't work in the first version, what has been changed, how is this an improvement, exactly how they know that is the case etc.

Phase 5 - Report (one week, Feb 13)
As part of the individual course in media technology, students have to write a report. For students who instead will write their bachelor's thesis (in pairs), the output should also be a specification for their bachelor's thesis (should they choose to continue to explore these issues also within their bachelor's thesis).

There is a very good reason for the compressed schedule sketched out above and that is of course the need for this project to end at about the same time that the third year students will start to work on their bachelor's theses. The idea is that the output of this project can become the input to a bachelor's thesis (or several bachelor's theses in parallell, each working to satisfy the needs of a specific group of users).

The most important audience for this blog post is not regular readers but rather students who might be interested in actually doing the project we propose above! If you are such a student and would like to know more, please announce your interest/sign up by sending a mail to me (pargman<at> as soon as possible! We will then get back with more information right after the New Year holiday.

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