Gain from citizens’ involvement (rather than social acceptance)

Powerful examples show us how communication with the end-users can make the difference in success or failure of sustainable projects. Early dialogue avoids a mismatch between the design of technology solutions and citizens’ needs, and saves costs.

One mayor in Belgium recently said that ‘we need to look behind us every now and then, to see if people are following.’ In the same Smart City discussion a technology company talked about social acceptance. Tricky. While it’s clear that citizens are the key players in cities, they are quite often not involved in sustainable city projects before the implementation phase. Why not? Probably because citizens are not considered to be of added value to traditional business models. Human behaviour is also complex and hard to predict or steer.

 

Assumptions like ‘People will get used to it’ proved false

 

Powerful examples show us how communication with the end-users from the very first beginning can make the difference in success or failure of projects. And save money. For example, research carried out in European sustainable districts showed  a huge mismatch between the design of technology solutions in the buildings and what residents actually needed. The author Gaby Abdalla from BAM Techniek interviewed the owners of the houses in six promising sustainable neighbourhoods for his PhD Sustainable Residential Districts – the residents’ role in project success (2012).

Despite awareness of lower energy consumption and costs (the intended benefits), residents preferred more thermal comfort over the intended benefits promoted by the project developers. Assumptions like ‘’Residents will get used to it” or “Behaviour will change once they understand the technology” proved false. Expected behaviour did not match reality.

The more successful projects were those where the end-users experienced more inclusion in terms of planning, design and knowledge transfer along the way. Gaby Abdalla also stresses the need for communication afterwards, to learn from the end-users. This is hardly done because of costs. But what about the costs for reparation, adjustments and compensation measures? At the same time, a lack of proper evaluation is stifling innovation in the long-run.

 

 

 

 


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