A behavioural conundrum & the sense of agency

09 November 2022 - Published by Deirdre Buist
Why do we do what we do…and why do we not do what we know we should be doing? This behavioural conundrum is at the heart of much economic, sociological, and psychological research. Such studies can inspire Stronghouse’s efforts to keep homeowners interested in energy renovation and provide them with a sense of ‘agency’.

Neoclassical economics, for instance, look at actors such as homeowners through the lens of agency. Assuming that homeowners are autonomous decision-makers, basing their decisions on usefulness, preferences and rationality, it is important to demonstrate why they will benefit from energy renovation, how it can fit with their personal priorities and why renovating now is a rational choice.

Analysing decision-making

The Stronghouse project includes a number of research partners who analyse decision-making practices from the perspective of behavioural economics. The consortium benefits greatly from their shared knowledge. Researchers at Linnaeus University in Sweden, for instance, studied the impacts of  a series of personal, contextual and external factors on an individual’s decision to retrofit his/her home.

Our Danish partners at iNudgeyou take a similar behavioural economic approach, but the emphasise is more on nudging homeowners by reducing the perceived effort to renovate (also financially).

Behavioural Economics, Psychology & Sociology

Behavioural economics sees that individual behaviour is not only determined by utility. Homeowners not only look at the most cost-effective, most profitable option for them, but also take non-economic factors such as benefits to the environment into account. So, when looking at the triggering event or action, homeowners may not only consider the most cost-effective, profitable option (return on investment), but also non-economic factors, such as environmental benefits, or moral aspects One way or the other, homeowners are more likely to renovate if they believe the consequences will be positive.

Origins of behaviour

Psychology looks less at the decision and incentives to renovate, but more at the origins and antecedents of behaviour. It also looks at the norms and morals: the moral obligation of homeowners to act or the need to conform to the behaviour of their peer group (family, neighbourhood etc). Psychology also looks at affect: positive emotions enable focus on goals, needs and values.

Finally, sociology looks less at the agency of the individual homeowner and more at the structure in which the homeowners’ actions are embedded, such as social class, for instance. Investing in energy renovation can be the result of the desire to imitate a ‘higher class’ and  to gain a perceived status.‘Keeping up with the Jones’s’ means  the investment needs to be visible.

Focussing on personas

Stronghouse  practices  have, often implicitly, been based on these different theoretical perspectives. All Stronghouse partners emphasise the value and rationality of energy renovation throughout the Customer Journey. By focussing on specific target groups – illustrated by ‘personas’ – the environmental benefits, socially acceptable action, neighbourhood norms and positive emotions are integrated in the project’s awareness campaigns and support mechanisms.

Driving the message home

Human behaviour is a fascinating subject. A sense of control, of agency can be a strong motivator when navigating the current energy challenges. Would you like to learn more about this subject? Stronghouse offers real support during the energy transition, including an E-Learning Course.

Read the Stronghouse document on Agency or access the E-learning course, developed by atene KOM with input from the consortium.

The Stronghouse E-learning Course Stage 3 is now online! This section deals with driving the message home by interested homeowners.

Being aware and having information about energy renovation is one thing. Becoming interested is often a next step. We all know how difficult it can be to take action - there's always something else distracting us.  The Stronghouse challenge is to keep the homeowners’ attention and  encourage their heightened interest in energy renovation.