Beyond Individual Persuasion: Towards a Paradigm Shift in Interactive Visualisation and Sensing for Environmental Change

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: UCL Interaction Centre


The overarching goal of this project is to innovate the design of interactive visualisations and sensing for environmental change, reorienting them beyond their current use as levers of individual persuasion, towards an extended role as technologies that can link behaviour change and sustainability policy. The link aims to be bidirectional: on one hand helping people in relating existing climate change and energy policies to everyday life; on the other empowering them in influencing and engaging with policy making by generating an enhanced understanding of their own everyday practices. While there is certainly merit in using digital technology interventions to try and persuade individuals to act sustainably, it is also clear that the large-scale changes needed to tackle the climate emergency require policy interventions, beyond promoting individual action. We believe that there is vast untapped potential for digital technology to catalyse engagement with environmental sustainability policies. This project puts forward the ambition to realize such potential, and the vision of transforming the role of digital technology in relation to behaviour change for environmental sustainability.

The work will target in particular practices and policies related to the built environment, in a variety of domestic and non-domestic buildings, and with policy contexts ranging from organization-focused change (e.g. temperature policy in office buildings) to policies focused on increasing the use of renewable energy (e.g. by enabling collective self-consumption of rooftop solar or demand shifting within household or community settings). Such a multi-domain approach is enabled by the involvement of four different user partners, who recognize the relevance of the proposed project and will facilitate research deployments across the private (Fosters + Partners), non-profit (Carbon Coop; Repowering) and higher education (UCL) sectors. Moreover, strategic advice by project partner Arup will further broaden the scope and impact of our work (see also letters of support).

The project will leverage network-connected sensor nodes and displays, generally considered part of the Internet of Things (IoT). The research will follow a user-centred approach, involving the iterative development of robust, fully functional "high fidelity" IoT interactive prototypes and their evaluation in-the-wild through research methods from the social sciences, thanks to the close collaboration of our multi-disciplinary research team.

Moreover, the project puts forward a novel participatory prototyping research approach: by combining ethnographic and user-centred design methodologies we will involve (some of the) participants not only in the design, but also in the technical development of interactive visualization and sensing prototypes. In parallel with more traditional researcher-led user-centred design and prototyping, hands-on workshops (such as 'hackathons') and online engagement activities will play a pivotal role in the research plan strengthening links between community interests and visualization design. These activities will leverage strong existing research relationships with communities along with the abundance of easy to use open source interactive tools and software libraries, and widely available hardware. This approach is designed to actively increase the social and environmental sustainability of the research process: promoting the community ownership of the open source prototypes developed throughout the project will prevent them from becoming unmaintainable e-waste once the research funding ends. Moreover, this approach will also maximize impact. The participatory prototyping activities will target multiple age groups, including teenagers, offering them STEM skills learning opportunities. Our collaboration with community-based partners will help us to reach under-represented groups particularly from BAME communities


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