Before getting underway, we wanted to set up a few really accessible ways to connect with the project. Energy and carbon is all too often presented as a technically demanding topic, which can make some people feel excluded. To help everybody to feel comfortable with the project, we wanted to create some easy ways for people to ‘touch’ the subject that would feel open and welcoming.

Borrowing a word from advertising, we created ‘touchpoints’ for CarbonCulture at DECC. In advertising, a touchpoint is just a way that a campaign connects with a person, for example through TV or print advertisement, a website, or an on-pack promotion, with the ultimate aim of generating a purchase decision. In our case, we aimed to create the set of touchpoints that would best enable sustainable behaviour changes, as well as introducing ourselves to the audience.

The first thing was to invite people in. For that, we designed a ‘Postcard’ wall. This was a simple way of asking what the users thought could be done and pledges that they themselves would do. This resulted in a number of impressive pledges: one senior civil servant pledged not to fly at all (for business or pleasure) and kept to this claim until he moved to a job where business travel was essential.

We also asked people for their concerns about the project, and this gave us some critical input. Some people told us that they were worried about social pressure to do things they would find hard — for example users with less visible disabilities who could not use stairs told us they already felt pressure not to use the lifts, and did not want this to get worse.

People reacted really well to the postcard wall. We received over 300 responses out of a total population of around 1000 people, which was much higher than expected, and as much as ten times higher than achieved with ‘pledge walls’ with different designs that were tried in other Government departments around the same time. We used fun, playful and colourful imagery with illustrations of our CarbonCulture ‘peeps’ to make the tone friendly, and we noticed that some people had taken the cards and pinned them up in their workspaces. At times large crowds of people gathered around the postcards, reading what others had written and starting new conversations with each other about energy and carbon.

We followed this up with another exercise designed to get people thinking about what they could do, which was deliberately timed to follow the abstract suggestions of the postcard wall. Called ‘Arrows’, we kicked this off by walking throughout the building giving staff brightly coloured arrows and prompting them to identify carbon and energy saving opportunities and stick some of these arrows up, providing a highly visible precedent for others to join in with. An important aspect of the scalability of this approach was to demonstrate that this process was not entirely run by the CarbonCulture team, but rather that we could get the ball rolling, and the building occupiers could carry on and expand this process of identifying carbon and energy saving opportunities. As such, after a brief walk around the building, we left the brightly coloured arrows in common areas (kitchens) of each floor at 3-8 Whitehall Place.

The extremely bright and distinctively shaped arrows with hand-written notes on them drew people’s attention, and started more conversations about energy and carbon. While we were careful with the materials and processes used throughout the project, in this case we compromised and used a fluorescent dye that was oil-based (still on 100% recycled board), as we could not source a vegetable ink that would produce the visual impact that was required, and — if successful — could lead to greater savings through awareness than the savings made if we used a different type of dye.

The final piece of this foundation was setting up a way for people to see the impact of the changes that they were making. Real time feedback mechanisms (which are just ways of seeing the impact of your actions at the time you do them) are extremely important for learning. This is how we learn every physical skill we have. Therefore, we built a system that shows how the building uses energy every five seconds, and put it on a display in the lobby, on the DECC intranet homepage, and on the DECC public website homepage. This system is now in use across a range of Whitehall Departments, like Cabinet Office and a number of Corporates are in the process of setting it up too.

This display was carefully designed to be attractive and informative, using some of the same friendly visual language from the postcards and arrows. This proved to be very valuable for helping to create recognition for the project. Although we did not specifically ask for feedback on it at this early stage — intending it more to provide context — it quickly attracted attention from staff and the general public, and people used the feedback facilities we had built to provide us with comments, questions and suggestions about the energy use in the buildings. We worked with the Sustainability and Estates team at DECC to respond to these, and to create some answers to ‘frequently asked questions’ on the DECC CarbonCulture page.

These initial activities provided a grounding for the beginning of the user-centred design process that would form the basis of the rest of the project.

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