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Social Power Project

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Recent energy and climate policy in Switzerland calls for a step change in how individuals consume energy. This is especially true for the residential sector, which covers 29% of the national energy consumption. The attainment of such long-term social change is, however, difficult: people are seldom aware of the amount of energy they use and of the difference they could make by changing day-to-day behaviour or by investing in efficiency measures.

Nevertheless, long-term behaviour and social norm change is more likely to occur when in line with the person’s values and, by extension, the values of her/his social network (friends, family, colleagues, friends of friends and other consumers). Hence, bottom-up participatory processes lead by social media technology emerge as a possible success factor for promoting more sustainable long-term energy-saving habits. At the same time, gamification - the use of game design techniques and game mechanics in a real-world context - provides an extraordinary, engaging, self-reinforcing context in which to raise policy and management issues from a fresh perspective and motivate, educate and train end-users in regards to collective behavioural change goals. Building on prompts typically used in games, such as competition, awards, countdowns, incentives/penalties, goal-setting and progression, personalisation, problem-solving, social connection and team work, it is possible to raise people\'s intrinsic motivation and to foster community collaboration and produce creative solutions.

In this context, the Social Power Project (SPP) proposes the creation of a social mobile application using game mechanics (competition and cooperation) to motivate neighbourhood teams to work together and strive for collective energy reduction goals. Thanks to the provision of an online social platform, the smartphone application will allow end-users to interact socially, share contents and cooperate to build a common, creative understanding of how to save energy at home. The smartphone application, as well as the online social platform, will be inserted as a real case into the demand-side management (DSM) programme of two local Swiss electricity utilities (AEM and StWW) that have recently invested into smart metering technology. The project will explore the role of social interaction in triggering active participation in energy conservation and behavioural change over time. This will be done by a field experiment that launches both intra-group collaborations as well as a cross-cultural “energy contest” between the cities of Massagno and Winterthur in neighbourhood energy-saving.

SPP aims to foster participative, community-based social innovation in the field of sustainable energy consumption of households. In particular, it aims to accompany and complement the technological innovation process of smart meter roll-out initiated by the two partner energy utilities AEM and StWW. Like other eco-innovations, smart meters require the action of people and communities to ensure cultural and social acceptance for ultimate success.

As such, SPP acts as an integrated ‘fun’ communication tool between energy providers and end-users to  drive both technological and social innovation. On one hand it helps to contextualize energy data, making real-time energy data more accessible to the end-user through a mobile software application. On the other, it provides a participative arena, where teams of people create, develop and diffuse adaptive and flexible solutions for home energy-saving practices. Above all, as it is the end-users themselves that will instigate behavior change inside the team as they strive for collective energy reduction goals, SPP presents an innovative model of social learning which occurs by means of an exchange of experiences shared on a social platform, instead of the provision of one-way traditional information to raise people’s awareness on energy-saving matters. In this way it is hoped that innovation will be more deep rooted and likely to be successful and endure.

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