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The UK CHARM project explicitly used the social norms approach to stimulate behaviour change. Fieldwork was based in Bristol, UK. Over 400 households were professionally recruited, door-to-door, from one poorer and one richer area of the city, using an £80 incentive. CHARM developed a version of the SNA that used digital technologies (i.e. energy monitors, websites, email and SMS) to collect and feed back behaviour data. This was an example of a personalised SNA: those participants who received social norms feedback (i.e. average and best 20% figures for a group of others) also received feedback about their own behaviour. In addition, the project used injunctive norms, in the form of ‘smiley face’ emoticons, to discourage regression to the norm. The approach taken differed from most previous work in a number of ways: 1) feedback was based on actual behaviour rather than claimed behaviour; 2) as well as snapshots of behaviour, feedback included graphs showing how behaviour changed over time; 3) it compared two types of feedback: one that only included individual-level data and one that also included social-level data, and 4) evaluation included analysis of behavioural data and substantial qualitative research as well as the analysis of survey data.


The Story

Once upon a time... the residents of Bristol, UK, had no idea how much electricity they were using by the various activities they did at home or how their total consumption of electricity compared to that of their neighbours. Because electricity was invisible, they treated it as if it was limitless and free.

Every day... they used washing machines, lights, computers, fridges and other devices as if it didn’t matter how efficiently they were using them or that the energy was largely generated from dirty, fossil fuels.

But, one day... social scientists from the CHARM project offered to show them graphs depicting how their consumption varied throughout the day and how it compared to that of other households. The people of Bristol found it fascinating to see their normal lives converted into scientific-looking graphs. They loved to try to work out which parts of their lives were responsible for which parts of the charts. They were surprised to see how their consumption varied throughout the day and how much electricity they appeared to be wasting.

Because of that... some of them started to change their behaviours, switching things off when they weren’t using them, sharing meals so as to use the oven less often and buying more energy efficient fridges and freezers.

But then... the project fininshed and the good.people of Bristol could no longer see any graphs.

So, finally... Electricity became invisible again for some but others stayed true to the memory of the graphs by continuing to eschew waste make better use of that most precious of commodities, electricity. The end.

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