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Researching the importance of energy advice at Energy Saving Trust

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In 2019, George Warren completed a two-month secondment through the Energy-PIECES project at Energy Saving Trust. The main aim of the project was to provide opportunities for Early Career Researchers (ECRs) in Social Sciences and Humanities to engage with policy makers, independent organisations and practitioners on energy. The result of his secondment was the 'Better' domestic energy advice in England report into the importance of energy advice. Here's his account of his experience.

by George Warren

In January 2019, I started on a two-month secondment at Energy Saving Trust. My task was to provide insights into the role of energy advice in transitioning towards a low-carbon, decentralised energy system with low levels of fuel poverty.

You might think that’s quite a broad topic to be studying – and you’d be right. In the end, the report I wrote focuses on three broad areas:

  • first, the history of energy advice policy in the UK;
  • second, a review of the contested merits for providing energy advice in the academic literature;
  • and third, if we agree that there are merits to providing energy advice, a review of what should be considered to provide more effective advice to householders.

If you would like to find out more about the report, including recommendations for funding agencies, advice providers, and researchers, you can find the full report here.

As a PhD student studying perceptions of climate change and domestic energy use behaviours, I was very excited not only to conduct this review, but to learn more about the advice landscape in the UK and the work that Energy Saving Trust does. Integrating into the Policy Team at Energy Saving Trust was very beneficial to me, and I hope to them too: the openness and respect given to me as an ECR meant that we had many honest and constructive two-way discussions. Being able to visit an advice centre in Scotland and listen in on calls was a particular highlight. Talking to the advisors afterwards about their experiences and their intent on a better customer experience was truly motivating. To see the real-life impact of work that the Policy Team and I were doing on energy advice play out in these situations was really inspirational.

Being embedded within an organisation like  Energy Saving Trust over the course of a few months was an incredible learning experience in terms of policy knowledge, and relationship building both within the institution and with external contacts. Being invited to various meetings, signposted to other workshops, and filled in on policy developments has made me feel even more part of the energy advice community, and opened doors to contacts I never would have imagined personally knowing before this experience. Although this was not necessarily related to the report writing itself, understanding the background context and the key players’ thoughts on energy advice helped me in formulating potential next steps in my career and research agenda.

An in-depth induction into the organisation you’re seconded to can really help the conversations you have and the speed of getting to grips with organisational and intra-organisational politics and power relations. This aids in broadening understanding of the context within which the report sits, and I was very pleased that I was given a lot of time by many people at  Energy Saving Trust, both through formal and informal conversations. Being given a space at a shared working desk every day was a key element to promoting organic conversations with people doing somewhat related work that aided both the context of the report and in planning potential future research I may do in the advice area.

Recommendations to Early Career Researchers

I will finish this post with a few recommendations to early career Researchers who are considering going on secondments, whether in organisations such as Energy Saving Trust, policy makers, or private business:

  1. Just do it! As I’ve already said, the experience itself was incredibly useful both as a learning and research experience. If you feel like you need to connect your research findings on energy advice to organisations who roll it out on the ground, contact them.
  2. Frank, honest discussions at the start of the secondment to determine scope, positionality as a researcher, and expectations can really help to set you up for success. Being open and honest about what is possible is always the best way to go – you can’t do it all.
  3. The respect organisations like  Energy Saving Trust have for researchers, including ECRs, should not be underestimated. You are valued, and valuable. I was surprised by the time Energy Saving Trust and other organisations, even policy makers, gave me as an ECR. Have confidence in your findings and advice to your host organisation, even if it means telling some hard truths.

Overall, my experience as a secondee to Energy Saving Trust was incredibly thought-provoking and useful in bringing together research on energy advice. Thanks go to the entirety of Energy Saving Trust, but especially the Policy Team and David Weatherall in particular for this incredible opportunity.

You can download George’s full report here.

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