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Lessons we learned in 2013-14

11 November 2014

A core goal of CSE is to share our experiences – both positive and negative – so that others can learn from them and apply them in their own lives and work. And this year we’re sharing our experiences through our 2013-14 annual accounts which have just been released (available to download).

For the first time, our accounts feature a section on lessons we learned during the financial year and which we’re hoping to keep in mind in our future work – and you can download these lessons without all the financial numbers here).

Here’s a summary of our five key lessons from 2013-14. (The lessons in full are available here):

Lesson 1: Stories trump data

Typically “we use cost and carbon saving data and payback periods, hoping the numbers will somehow create emotional resonance”. Yet, well told tales are renowned for their ability to engage and convince. The Green Open Homes Network was the success story that highlighted storytelling as an effective way to promote energy efficiency. The enthusiastic voices of householders (often trusted neighbours) resonate far more than technical data. “We don’t belittle the value of robust technical information, but those become props in an engaging narrative rather than the leading characters.”

Lesson 2: Communicating by SMS works well

Text messages are one of Bristol City Council’s favoured methods for contacting tenants. When we partnered with them to advise these households, we hesitantly adopted this communications method too. Rarely have we felt so popular. When advertising an energy advice workshop, the text message was so instantly and widely received that our advice team was over-run and had to call the office for reinforcements. 

Lesson 3: Good commercial insight leads to better policy making

“How would a loan shark make money out of this policy?” and “Is that what we want?” are two new questions we recommend for the policy making process. Based on our evaluation of the flawed Energy Company Obligation (ECO), it seems clear that the policy was developed in the absence of a decent understanding of the commercial pressures which drive the behaviours of the businesses targeted (in this case, energy suppliers and the insulation and heating supply chains) . So to achieve the policy effect intended, policy-makers need to understand these pressures far better and build this understanding into policy design.

Lesson 4: Fuel poverty isn’t a priority

Well of course it is for us, but we’ve stopped suggesting it should be for the health sector. Instead we’re repositioning tackling cold homes “not as an end in itself (which our calls to the health sector to prioritise action on fuel poverty had suggested) but as a key preventative (and in some cases potentially curative) approach to the very diseases and conditions such as childhood asthma which the health sector tends, quite appropriately, to prioritise. That way, getting action taken to improve the affordability of heating a home isn’t extra health service workload; it’s better, more effective work that ultimately reduces demand on the service.”

Lesson 5: ‘Community energy’ needs broad definition

These are exciting times in the community energy realm with projects popping up across the country. But we see a risk in limiting the perception of community energy to the (very valid) model which has dominated in the last 10- 15 years – a social enterprise developing renewable energy projects, raising money from local investors. The types of activity and action group that fall under the community energy definition need to be broadened, particularly if they’re going to be recognised and supported by policy makers. Other types of activity might be those which focus on demand reduction, behaviour change and the infrastructure to support this. Community energy initiatives needn’t be driven by residents alone; action by local authorities and public interest organisations should also be encapsulated.

We’d welcome your feedback on the content and value of this addition to the accounts | info@cse.org.uk.

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