Energy Users


We believe that there is a significant percentage of the human population who could be regarded as “hard-to-reach”. These are the people policymakers, utility programme managers and research experts are failing to engage with despite our many efforts to change behaviours around energy-efficient technology uptake and management, as well as energy consumption. This audience segment becomes even larger once we expand from hard-to-reach individuals and groups in the residential, to those in the commercial sector – especially if we look across all fuels and energy services, including mobility. This, potentially very large energy user segment is the focus of this new Users TCP Annex.

What defines a “hard-to-reach” energy user?

As there are many different, sometimes conflicting definitions of what constitutes a “hard-to-reach” energy user, we have created this broad working definition as a starting point for our research: 

In this Task, a hard-to-reach energy user is an energy user from the residential and commercial sectors who uses any type of energy, fuel and energy services, including mobility, and who is typically either hard-to-reach physically, underserved, or hard to engage or motivate, for a variety of reasons. These could include lack of access to information, lack of government or industry policies and programmes targeting such user groups, lack of financial means, lack of confidence, vulnerability, or being a new type of user (e.g. new technology owner) who has not yet been identified or engaged by the relevant Behaviour Changer.”

Introduction to the ‘hard-to-reach’ energy users

Many of our behaviour change efforts concentrate on the uptake of energy-efficient technologies in developed countries and so-called “green consumption” efforts. Much of our focus is on technology choice per se, with a lot less on the cognitive, motivational and contextual factors that are affecting those choices (e.g. Rotmann and Mourik, 2013). Relatively speaking, behavioural-oriented policy initiatives are rather limited, and often confined to experimental settings, and utility-driven programmes (e.g. Rotmann and Ashby, 2019). Our Swedish National Expert (Mundaca et al, 2018) undertook a global review of policy efforts (at the national and city level) addressing low-carbon energy technologies. Results show a clear orientation towards technology market development (mostly subsidies) and market failures (particularly, information asymmetries). In fact, policy efforts addressing behavioural anomalies explicitly, are the exception. This has led to the continued energy efficiency gap – the difference between the cost-minimising level of energy efficiency and the level of energy efficiency actually realised. 

In addition, so-called “Behaviour Changers” (those tasked to change energy user behaviours via policies, programmes or pilots) often have a blind spot when it comes to tackling the most difficult issues – like hard-to-reach energy users. All up, this has led to continued increases in our energy consumption and related greenhouse gas emissions, with the associated consequences on runaway climate change, ecosystem breakdown and social inequality.



The highly successful Task 24: Behaviour Change in DSM – Phase I and Phase II showed, over a 7+ year research period, how to successfully apply behaviour change interventions both in theory and practice (for a summary Toolbox for Behaviour Changers, see Rotmann, 2018). It was a global research collaboration of more than 400 behaviour change experts from 20+ countries. 

Rather than picking a specific disciplinary approach or model of understanding behaviour, the Task showed that facilitating multi-stakeholder collaboration and visualising the socio-ecology of a given energy system could lead to highly successful behavioural interventions (e.g. Cowan et al, 2018). What this Task also showed, however, is that most interventions focused on generic audiences, like “households”. They often failed in determining detailed audience profiles based on their relevant contexts, barriers and needs. In addition, there was limited identification which specific behaviours could and should actually best changed, in what way, and how to measure impact. 

This international research collaboration focuses on a very distinctive audience segment, the hard-to-reach (HTR) energy users, and how to better motivate and engage them in energy efficiency and demand-side interventions.

Overarching Objectives


This research will provide country participants with the opportunity to learn and share successful approaches how to identify and engage HTR energy users. The research will facilitate the development of robust social science-based process for designing policies and programmes (e.g. national, municipal, utility-driven) that are better tailored to specific HTR audiences and specific behaviours.

The main objective of this research is to undertake wide-ranging empirical research and field pilots on hard-to-reach energy users to allow Behaviour Changers (from government, industry, research, the service and the third sectors) to:

Partake in a global research collaboration under the umbrella of the Users TCP (Subtask 0);

Engage in, and have access to, an international expert network (Subtask 1);

Define HTR energy users in the residential and commercial sectors, collect & analyse case studies highlighting past and current work to better engage this user group (Subtask 2);

Develop an international publication with participating and interested countries, including those outside the OECD, that attempts to analyse the proportion of energy users that would fall under the hard-to-reach category and identifies some of the distinct groups and subgroups beneath the broader HTR umbrella (Subtask 2a);

Use and test the tools highlighted in the Task 24 Toolbox for Behaviour Changers, including the ABCDE Building Blocks of Behaviour Change to discover, define, design and deploy better interventions geared at the HTR energy users identified in Subtask 2 (Subtask 3);

Identify and, where possible, undertake voluntary field research pilots to take the theoretical learnings into practice (Subtask 4).

Motivation and Research Questions


The motivation for this new work comes from five directions:

1) To build on IEA DSM Task 24 behaviour change expertise and global expert network. Research Question: How can the toolbox for Behaviour Changers developed by Task 24 be used to support better interventions targeted at HTR energy users?

2) To explore the many differing definitions of what constitutes a “Hard-to-Reach” (and thus motivate and engage) energy user or customer, in the residential and commercial sectors and to assess different approaches and barriers when targeting these users. Research Questions: Who are HTR energy users in each participating country? How can they be defined and described? How materially are these HTR markets underserved? 

3) To test the hypothesis that this underserved user group may entail a large number of energy users (>30%) which also means there is a large potential for energy-efficiency and conservation improvements. Research QuestionsBased on country statistics and expert opinions, what is the approximate, estimated size of the HTR user group in each participating country? Based on implemented pilots and case studies in each participating country, what is the potential effectiveness (or effect size) that one can expect from behavioural-oriented policy intervention on this group?

4) This Task aims at collecting insights into best practice and shared learnings about what type of interventions have the greatest potential to motivate and engage the HTR, and which were less successful (and why). Research Questions: What type of policy and behaviour change programmes have the potential to motivate and engage HTR users to use energy more effectively and efficiently? What is the level of public acceptability of such policy interventions in each participating country? What are the ethical challenges associated to them?

5) To explore opportunities to develop and test field research pilots for HTR energy users based on robust social science process. Research QuestionCan we use field research pilots to prove that a robust, internationally-validated, standardised process for behavioural interventions on the HTR is a better approach than the current one?



Multi-stakeholder and trans-disciplinary collaboration

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Technology Collaboration Programmes (TCPs) highlight, in their name, the importance of research and technology collaborations. Over 6000 scientists partake in the 38 TCPs. We believe that IEA DSM Task 24 has created one of the most extensive and engaged expert collaborations, extending its reach to all sciences studying behaviour and other “Behaviour Changers” from government, industry, the community and service sectors. The entire premise of the Task 24 “Behaviour Changer Framework” (Rotmann, 2016) is based on facilitating multi-stakeholder collaborations. We will utilise and build on these networks (Subtask 1) and collaboration tools in this Task. We will specifically aim to co-create and -test an internationally-validated, standardised research process in this Task (see Subtask 3).

Task aims and research process

The primary aim of the Task is to enable participating countries to improve policy, industry, research and community outcomes focusing on hard-to-reach energy users, by applying insights and lessons learned from collaboration with other countries and global experts. 

Our Project Partner See Change Institute (SCI) has developed a process to identify and test programme variables as the “building blocks of behaviour change” helping policymakers and programme managers to design, implement, and evaluate such programmes. This process, which we will utilise for case study analyses and recommend for any pilots to be developed as part of the Task, contains the following elements:


Diagram of the See Change Institute Process


To summarise our research process (see diagram above): Each phase includes both qualitative and quantitative research to marry inductive and deductive strategies of learning. First, the overarching programme or policy goals must be discovered in the context of the existing landscape of work and the mandates of key stakeholders.

Second, the target audience and behaviours are defined through mixed-methods customer research and modelling. Then, the programme can be designed to address audience and behavioural needs and key content and delivery variables can be “pretotyped” via experimental and usability testing. Finally, once the programme has been optimised based on empirical data, it can be deployed and evaluated in a pilot study, using both process and impact evaluation to determine not only whether it worked but how it can be continuously improved over time.  


Storytelling will continue to be our overarching language and method of ‘translation’ between different countries, sectors, and disciplinary jargons. We will continue to explore the power of storytelling in its many forms, as outlined in our 2015 eceee summer study paper and our Special Issue in Energy Research and Social Sciences called ‘Storytelling and narratives in energy and climate change research’ (see Rotmann, 2017). Task 24 has also published an ‘A-Z of storytelling’ report (Rotmann, 2018). In addition, we are collaborating with Dr. Rick Davies on assessing ParEvo, a web-assisted participatory scenario planning process that is based on storytelling methods. 

Benefits for Participants


Benefits for Behaviour Changers and co-funders to join this Task

Non-state actors who are in active development of a behaviour change programme or intervention focusing on the hard-to-reach will be invited to join the project as “implementation” partners. These Behaviour Changers will work closely with the Annex researchers (OA, NEs, PhD students and Project Partner/son the field pilots determined in Subtask 4. At the end, they will have conducted a new (or evaluated a current) behavioural field pilot and will have completed formative, summative, outcome and process evaluations with guidance on how to replicate and / or scale-up their pilot. 


In addition, all experts joining this Task (formally, or in-kind) will partake in the following benefits: 

Opportunities for Global Networking and Collaboration

They will become part of the combined expert platforms with 100s of experts from many different countries, research disciplines and sectors;

They will gain access to global dissemination and cross-country case study comparisons via the highly-reputable IEA TCP network;

They will gain access to, and participate in the IEA DSM University including developing and disseminating their field pilots in promoted webinars, peer-reviewed publications and technical reports;

Reducing duplication of efforts by learning from real-life field research so we can move from individually-focused, programme-level approaches to collaborations aimed at the common goal of achieving systemic, societal changes.

 Access to Cutting-Edge Tools and Resources

Behaviour Changers can learn from and share best practice, case studies, and research methodologies;

They can get access to, and expert support for, the validated, standardised, robust research process developed and tested in this Annex;

They will get expert facilitation and backbone support to roll out and evaluate field research pilots.






Countries and Contacts


Financially-participating countries:

  • New Zealand (Lead Country)

Operating Agent: Dr Sea Rotmann, drsearotmann@gmail.com

National Expert: Dr. Kim O’Sullivan, kimberley.osullivan@otago.ac.nz

  • Sweden

National Expert: Dr. Luis Mundaca, luis.mundaca@iiiee.lu.se

  • USA

National Expert: Kira Ashby, kashby@cee1.org

  • United Kingdom

National Expert and Chief Science Advisor: Dr. Aimee Ambrose, A.Ambrose@shu.ac.uk


Project Partners:

Subtask 3 – See Change Process

Experts: Drs. Beth Karlin, Philip Ehret, Lisa Zaval, Hale Forster

Subtask 2 – Case studies

Experts: Drs. Aimee Ambrose, Danielle Butler



Subtask 0 – Admin

Task Workplan

Task Kick-off: HTR survey of eceee Summer Study participants

1st Task Status Report, Melbourne October 2019


Subtask 1 – Expert Platform & Dissemination

Task Flyer

eceee column by Dr. Sea Rotmann: How to Reach the Hard-to-Reach?


Subtask 2 – HTR Definition and Case Study Analysis


Subtask 2a – International Publication


Subtask 3 – Research process 


Subtask 4 – Field Research Pilots