Project Design and Methods

The project was structured around three main empirical phases of fieldwork.

An initial phase of interviews and discussions was conducted with case site representatives to elicit detailed contextual information for each case site. This included general history and social context as well as past, current and planned energy interventions. These interviews also helped to facilitate engagement with those who may find the research useful at the very start of the project, as well as informing the development of the participant sampling frames, and potential local dissemination routes.

We have undertaken several major phases of fieldwork with a diverse range of people across our case areas (Ely and Caerau; Peterston-Super-Ely; Lammas Tir y Gafel ecovillage; and the Royal Free Hospital, London).

First, we used individual and couple interviews to access peoples’ narratives and stories regarding their use of energy and energy practices, and how this relates to the different communities with which they identify. The interviews encouraged participants to revisit key moments of their life histories (e.g. transition to adulthood) and aspects of their everyday life (e.g. established routines) to prompt an awareness of their personal investments in energy use. The interviews also encouraged participants to discuss their own evaluations of existing energy reduction interventions in their own particular location.

Second, a subset of participants from the first round of interviews were invited to engage in an extended period of more in-depth qualitative longitudinal research incorporating repeat interviews after a further 6 and 12 months. The aim of this approach is to allow us to create more complex and realistic understandings of how and why individual’s energy biographies develop as they do, as well as the unintended and intended consequences of energy demand reduction interventions.

Between interviews 1 and 2 participants were asked to take photographs of things they felt were relevant to energy use in relation to four main themes; home and garden; out and about (including work); having fun; and travel. We chose not to have a separate category for paid work as a number of our participants were not in employment. The themes were introduced to sustain participants’ interest and engagement in the task, which took place over several months. Discussion of these images formed the basis of interview 2, where participants were asked to talk through the photographs they had taken. This provided more freedom for them to raise issues they felt were important, rather than this being determined by the researcher. They were also asked for further reflections on themes that had emerged in interviews 1; frugality, guilt and waste.

The second task, between interviews 2 and 3 involved participants taking pictures in response to a text message prompt. Participants across all case sites were sent text messages on the same days and times, asking them to take a picture of what they were doing at that moment and to return this to the researcher. Images for each individual were then collated and taken back for discussion in interview 3. The aim of this task was to make visible everyday energy use, which may otherwise not be spoken about, and to provide an element of comparison across the different case site areas. In interview 3 participants were asked to reflect on their collated photographs as a representation of their daily life, and we discussed how they thought things might be different in the short and longer-term future. To prompt further discussion on future energy use, participants were shown two videos representing homes of the future and were asked to consider how they felt about this as a depiction of future living and what, if anything, they would like to be different.