Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

How IT can make the world a greener place

Unpanel on Energy Dashboards

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Jaymi Heimbuch reports from West Coast Green 2009: “Can Energy Dashboards Change Behavior, Permanently?” The result from an unpanel:

What does science tell us about these questions?

Victor Strecher of the University of Michigan has studied health-related behavioral change for years and is an innovator in online health coaching. Perhaps his insights can inform thinking about the efficacy of energy dashboards:

I find behavior change and self-improvement a fascinating subject; it’s a unique aspect of our human nature. Interestingly, I find that few lay people can tell me how behavior change actually works. Many people feel that change is simply a matter of “willpower.” But, in our research we’ve never been able to find this thing called willpower. We do know that smokers who say that quitting is a matter of willpower actually have lower rates of success in quitting.

First, do people really want to change their energy behavior? If so, is “willpower” an issue, or something else? 

Based on years of research, two major factors relate to success in changing behavior. One is motivation— how motivated are you to lose weight, to quit smoking, to exercise, to manage your diabetes? Motivation comes from motives: I’m losing weight to look better, to feel better, to be healthier, etc. Motives come from our values— I value my appearance, I value being a good parent, I value being in control of my life. Exploring motivation to change a behavior and the roots of this motivation helps us understand the causes and therefore some of the targets of our behavior change efforts.

What are the motives for changing behavior around energy use? If motives come from values, what values are at play? What is the role of information delivered via dashboards in shaping values, motives, etc.? This relates to the first dimension of the BAO framework (beliefs, attitudes, etc.). Relating this to health, if I eat too much I become overweight and I see that all the time. What if I lived in the body of an avatar: i wouldn’t have a connection between eating and being overweight. I’d need some kind of “overweight meter” to tell me that.. 

Another factor of change is called self-efficacy— how confident are you that you can lose weight? What influences our self-efficacy? Our previous successes and failures and how we’ve interpreted them. Watching other people we think are similar to us succeed or fail. Having others tell us that we can or can’t do it. Our ability to control our emotions while we try to change.

Are individuals confident that they can save energy? What if we have no prior history with saving energy, observing others, or having others tell us we can or can’t do it? What is the role of dashboards in changing this confidence, for better or worse? What about emotions and their connection to visualized energy information?

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Author: nigelpm

Associate Professor of Information Systems, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. Research/teach/consult - how IT transforms value generation in firms, focusing on corporate sustainability performance (energy reduction and carbon emission management).

One thought on “Unpanel on Energy Dashboards

  1. Pingback: Smart Grid: Energy Savings and GHG Reductions « Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

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