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Competitions – Call for input

Written by CarbonCulture Team on 5th September 2014

Throwing efficient machines at buildings won’t deliver a sustainable built environment alone – we need to involve people as well. Competitions and contests can play a key role in involving people, but they only work under the right conditions. It takes careful competition design to make a contest that is both easy enough for people to engage with, and challenging enough to keep them interested over time. Also, it takes careful framing to keep competition friendly, and not burn up the precious collaboration capacity amongst your audiences.

At CarbonCulture, we’ve been talking with members for a while about various ambitions to use competitions to drive sustainability engagement and behaviour change. There’s a very broad range of ideas and approaches – CarbonCulture members have tried some fun and engaging ideas that have been very effective – and some others that have failed to capture the interest of users. We’ve decided to run an evidence-led design research process to find out what works and what doesn’t, and make the learning available to everyone through a new tool. This should make it easier for all of us to set up and run evidence-based competitions that can help engage our people more reliably, and measure how our efforts deliver the business and sustainability outcomes we’re after.

We’ve used competition many times in our work to drive sustainable behaviours in our engagement projects; for example at DECC, at UK Parliament, and a forthcoming project for the Mayor of London. These have each been designed to closely fit the specifics of the context they’re going into &ndash the interests of the users, the physics of the buildings, with incentives and feedback to reward engagement. This time, though, we’d like to design a more general tool that could help to build competitions for many different organisations. Bringing together the common elements that have been proven in various contexts, with the ambitions that you have for competitions you’d like to run in your communities and in your buildings. 

As always, we’re beginning with evidence from user research. If you’d like to get involved or just to let us know your priorities, please let us know by sending us feedback or leaving a comment below. This will allow us to make sure that we’re taking the needs of your users into account. We may set up a few design-research interviews, so if you have time for one of these please let us know.

  • Have you ever run competitions that have been really successful, that you’d like to replicate at scale? Have you got an idea for a competition or challenge that you’re excited about, that could work better with the support of some scalable tools? For each competition idea you have, you may want to consider each of the following questions separately
  • What outcome would you like to target? Would it be energy, carbon, or cost, or some other quantitative measurable result? Or might a more valuable outcome be demonstrable staff engagement or staff capability gains? What would you like the long-term outcomes to be, and how would you like to report them? 
  • Who should the teams be?  How would you structure the competition into groups that make the emotional side work, for example would you like to see a big race between buildings, between self-selecting groups or between departments?
  • Aside from the targeted outcomes, what competitive measures would you like to use to drive the competition – kWh savings or something else (something that could even be a bit more fun)? How would you make sure users feel that it’s a level playing field - for example normalising against occupancy or floor area, comparing with different kinds of baseline? There are many choices here…
  • What kind of incentives might you want to use? They could be ’soft’ or ‘hard’ - from brownie points to actual brownies, there’s a broad range of incentives available. What are the financial and political constraints that you’re working within? Which would work best? Many people are unmoved by financial incentives but value peer recognition very highly. Should the competition be ‘owned’ by a senior member of staff, an external celebrity, or a well-known character in the ranks of your organisation?

If you do think that competition could help you to engage your people, please let us know your thoughts and ideas even if they’re not very polished. We will be building a tool for you to use and it would be great to build one that fits your needs and the needs of your people. And as always, please get in touch if you’d like to be more involved!


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Adam (Cardiff Council) on 17th October 2014 at 8:46 a.m.

We have previously ran campaigns on schools to "switch off" for a fortnight. These have been particularly successful in reducing energy in those schools by at least 10%. This has merely been from school children interrogating their site's energy usage and getting hands on with actually turning things off, and getting an understanding of how energy is used in their schools.

What's key for me is that these campaigns come closer to a "fix and forget" solution. Following campaigns we find that energy creeps up, so key to this would be an ongoing energy reduction. similar to losing weight, instead of a diet we need a lifestyle change with respect to energy management and a tool to help us do / report this.

With respect to targets, I suppose this doesn't really matter as energy is intrinsically linked to cost. We are setting our new carbon reduction Routemap for the next 7 years so from my perspective carbon would be suitable.

I believe the reporting element of a tool needs to be flexible; at the lowest levels buildings within directorates need to be able to compete against each other, while directorates themselves also need to compete. Then arguably, authorities versus authorities. The tool needs to be scalable.

Metrics for comparing buildings is difficult. Ideally if all buildings had DECs then this could well be the measure. However, not all buildings do and we also have non building supplies on Carbon Culture. I would suggest a perfect solution for this won't be achieved straight away and should be an iterative learning process to get towards the correct metric to use. For a start a simple intensity kwh/floor area would be interesting, then no doubt those buildings with large process energy could be somehow treated differently. Another option could be to ask the user to come up with their baseline or their targets then compare against this. most authorities / large organisations will no doubt have this. If not at a granular building level then this tool could be used to allow them to do this.

I wouldn't play down the importance of financial incentives, especially in public sector. If an owner can show; "hey, we saved our department £1000 this year just by turning our PCs off" these can become bottom line savings. There could of course be the "softer" recognition of these initiatives such as recognition in newsletters, website and also carbon culture's stories of course. There could well be a fund of vouchers for high street retailers available to those who make the greatest savings in a given time period. This has worked well in other campaigns.

I'm unsure who could own the competition but in local authority there certainly needs to be senior management involvement. I would also suggest this needs to be aligned / included in corporate targets / plans.

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