Questions & Answers

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Here are some questions by MECHanisms users and our answers for how to use MECHanisms and the related resources to start answering them.

 

How can I engage my target group from the start?

If you are working in an unfamiliar context, it is really important to learn to know your target group (Step 2: Get to know your target group) and learn about opportunities and obstacles in the context (Step 3: Understand your context). You might start by interviewing some key stakeholders – like people from local energy agencies, associations (e.g., residents’ associations), or in a business context, e.g, the personnel manager, line managers, staff members and e.g. trade union representatives. Start with an open mind and try to figure out what your target group’s main concerns are and what is going on in their lives right now.

You need to make a positive initial contact with your target group. If people are not very enthusiastic, you might start getting them on board with ‘easy’ things. If possible, co-operate with members of your target group in using the following tools:

You need to build up trust and confidence in your project. Our project story on Energy efficiency for Latvian multi-apartment dwellings shows how this can be done. You need to involve ‘opinion leaders’ and spend sufficient time interacting and discussing issues with your target group. Here are some tools to help you in building trust and confidence:

 

How do I get to know my target group?

We provide some methods for getting to know your target group under Step 2: Get to know your target group. Depending on your resources, you might start your work in this order:

  1. Read our Target Group Profiles and check out relevant cases listed for this target group.
  2. Use our checklist: What do you know about your target group to identify major knowledge gaps
  3. Select the best methods for your resources from: Tools for small-scale research. Using existing knowledge requires the least resources, and small surveys are also fairly easily done, but we warmly recommend at least some face-to-face interviews or focus groups to get acquainted with your target group. Field observations can be helpful for ‘difficult’ problems where it is not really clear why people use energy wastefully.

 

How do I make an impact on consumers’ energy behaviour?

It is important to recognize that there are different types of energy behaviour – routines and habits, which are not conscious decisions, and energy investments, which are made more consciously. You can read more here:

Two different types of behaviour

Different tools are suitable for these different kinds of behaviours:

Moreover, different tools are suitable depending on how engaged and interested people already are. You will find advice on “when does it work?” and “what do I need to look out for” under each tool. Because people’s behaviour depends on their social context, we recommend that you also check out our:

Tools for engaging the community

For further reading, we recommend: Yes! 50 Scientifically proven ways to be persuasive by Robert Cialdini.

 

How do I get pensioners to renovate their houses?

We had quite a few pensioners involved in the Micro-ESCOs project, which really highlighted the importance of getting to know your target group (Step 2: Get to know your target group) and understanding opportunities and obstacles in the context (Step 3: Understand your context).

It is clear that it is difficult to get pensioners to invest in energy renovations. Pensioners may be particularly concerned about fuss and mess from renovations. Many are not particularly willing to loan money (even at low interest rates), and some are doubtful whether their children see any value in “the old house”. One thing we found might be helpful is to involve the pensioners’ children in the discussions. Role models – real-life examples of pensioners with successfully completed renovations – may also help. Reliable valuations of how investments influence the value of the property can also be helpful, and pensioners may need extra support and services. 

You may find some good ideas and examples on these pages:

Here are cases and project stories that might be helpful:

 

How can I engage diverse audiences – e.g. a university campus sustainability programme?

With a diverse target group, you might start with trying to figure out what your are trying to achieve, and use e.g. our Problem Tree tool to discover what needs to be changed (you might need to construct several problem trees for different parts of your targeted organization). This will help you define clear problems statements and goals for your project. 

You might also use our Visualize your Stakeholders tool to make a map of the different communities involved in your target group. You could then assess what you know about these different groups using our checklist What do you know about your target group? (you will need to fill in separate checklists for different segments of the target group). A survey may be the easiest way for you to fill in knowledge gaps, but you could also complement it with focus group interviews with the most relevant groups (e.g. students, faculty, support staff). 

You will probably need separate tools and instruments for separate segments of your target group:

 

How do I ‘sell’ energy efficiency and behaviour change in an organization?

Energy efficiency is a good way to reduce an organization’s environmental footprint and contribute to sustainability and social responsibility targets, because it is cost-effective. For example, the Carbon Trust in the UK has estimated that there is an economic energy efficiency potential of 30% in SMEs, and some best practice businesses have achieved savings of up to 50%. In offices, changing employee (and sometimes even customer) behaviour and low-cost investments can really make a difference and reduce energy consumption significantly. They can also be a way to engage all employees in sustainability programmes (read more under Offices and SMEs).

Cost savings can thus be a good argument, but for example in offices, energy costs are rarely a significant share of total costs. It may be better to position energy efficiency and behaviour change as a ‘cost-effective way to reach sustainability targets’ and do real ‘hands-on’ work for corporate responsibility. When organized well – e.g., when cost-savings are shared with employees – energy efficiency programmes can also enhance employee motivation and commitment.

Cases providing good results from energy efficiency and behaviour change in organizations:

For more information, cost-effective potentials and tools, see:

EnergyOffice - Internet Community for Cost-Free Energy Savings in Office Buildings (external link)

For further reading, we recommend: Yes! 50 Scientifically proven ways to be persuasive by Robert Cialdini.

 

How do I help organizations to change their energy behaviour?

We recommend that you start with Step 1: Pinpoint your problem. Identifying the causes and effects of problems can be an important step in discovering why inefficient practices exist and persist. For example, if you want to change office IT use practices or business travel practices, it is important to understand the reasons for the current practices. If possible, interview or engage people from your target group in analysing the causes and effects of current practices.

Additional resources:

 

Who are my most important target groups in an organization?

In organizations, people’s behaviours are strongly interdependent. It is easy to see that you need top management commitment, buy-in by line managers, as well as engagement of the relevant staff members. You may also need to engage suppliers and service providers. Practical examples of relevant stakeholders for, e.g. energy and carbon emission reductions in offices include:

  • Management
  • Employees
  • Staff in charge of particular functions (e.g. IT)
  • Trade, labour and professional organisations
  • Clients
  • Facility owners and managers
  • Suppliers and service providers
  • Government (national and local) 

Depending on your project, you might select multiple target groups, as well as define stakeholders you need to work with. You can find some tips on how to work with different stakeholders here:

 

What is the role of top-down vs. bottom-up change in organizations?

There are two basic models of organization change: top-down and bottom-up. Their importance varies by country but also depends on the history and structure of the organization. Top management and authority figures may be very important in traditional industries and in countries with more ‘traditional’ cultures (e.g. Southern and Central-Eastern Europe). But their commitment and example may be important even in countries and industries with a more ‘modern’ approach.

Top management, however, rarely controls or even knows what is going on everywhere in the organization. So you always need to get employees on board too. In a more ‘top-down’ organization, this might require new rules, detailed instructions and performance measures tied to energy efficiency. In a more ‘bottom-up’ organization, you might be able to rely more on employee initiatives and group-level incentives (e.g. sharing part of the cost savings with employees).

MECHanisms advocates a participatory approach to promoting energy saving – you need to engage your target group because you are dependent on them for reaching your goals. In organizations – with multiple target groups – this can be complex. You cannot please everybody all the time. This tool can help you assess whom to engage and how:

Strategic assessment of partnerships

Here are some additional resources:

 

How do I get feedback from my target group and stakeholders?

Our tool Active Collection of Feedback helps you organize your efforts to collect feedback. Here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure you collect and make a note of all spontaneous feedback you receive (see here for sources of unsolicited feedback)
  • Ask for feedback and keep your eyes and ears open when meeting with your target group and stakeholders (remember to make notes of what you learned)
  • At relevant turning points (milestones) in your project, collect feedback through one of the following channels:
    • a survey (see here for an example you can modify)
    • interviews with critical stakeholders or members of your target group
    • meetings providing information on the progress of the project and inviting feedback (either spontaneous comments or an organized groupwork session for eliciting feedback)

 

How do I monitor and evaluate a project delivered by several people or organizations?

You will need to be extra careful when monitoring and evaluating a project delivered by multiple advisors – e.g., several agencies or peer advisors. It is a good idea to organize meetings before, during and after your project focusing specifically on monitoring and evaluation. It is also important to maintain a common and accessible database of indicators, baselines, milestones and feedback received (see Energy Academy project story).

Basically, however, the same principles apply as when monitoring and evaluating a project you are delivering yourself (see Step 6: Define Goals and Manage External Demands). Define, as early as possible:

  • Goals: what are the success criteria you would like to achieve?
  • Indicators: how to measure achievement of these success criteria?
  • Baselines: what is the current situation with respect to your indicators?

If you have several organizations and/or people delivering your project, it is important to create a common understanding of goals, indicators and baselines. Different people and organizations might define success differently – you need to align expectations and find a manageable set of common criteria. 

You will also need to take particular care in monitoring the ‘health’ of your project on a regular basis. Remember to plan for period evaluations at important milestones of your project, and to engage those delivering the project as much as possible in such evaluations (see Step 13: Evaluate and improve). You should also make sure that everyone involved appreciates the importance of collecting and keeping track of feedback received from your target group (see Step 12: Get some feedback) and that feedback received is widely shared among the project teams.

 

How do I establish a baseline for measuring project outcomes?

Establishing a baseline for evaluating your project’s progress is important because you cannot take credit for every change that happens after your project (some would have probably happened even without you). On the other hand, however hard you work, the current situation also sets limits on what you can accomplish (for example, some people have already made the investments you aim to promote). Thus, a good description of the current situation allows you to define achievable success criteria and assess your real achievements (read more in Knowledge Quick Bite: What are success criteria, indicators and baselines?)

A baseline is the description of the situation before your project (or without your project). Different types of projects will need different baselines, here are some examples:

  • energy consumption, awareness and existing level of investments before an energy advice or audit project starts (measured by surveys and existing statistics)
  • number/share of people taking certain measures before the project started (survey)
  • in some cases, you can also use previous projects as a baseline e.g. to assess cost-effectiveness
  • you may sometimes need to develop an ‘ex-post’ baseline, e.g. ask customers if they would have made the investment even without your project

You can find more examples here.