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Sounding Board online dialogue project informs Committee on Climate Change thinking on low-carbon heat technologies

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In February 2016, Sciencewise ran a second pilot project to test an online Sounding Board model of public dialogue that could be established more quickly than the usual face-to-face workshop approach. This project was undertaken in partnership with the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an independent statutory body tasked with advising the government on how to reduce carbon emissions. The focus of the dialogue was the non-financial barriers that may affect the uptake of low-carbon heat technologies, such as heat pumps and heat networks, as well as the solutions to those barriers.

The project started in mid-December 2015; headline findings were reported on 12 February (nine weeks after the start). The full report was drafted and completed by end of March 2016. A light touch evaluation was also completed and published by end of March 2016.

Generally, the CCC felt that the Sounding Board had not identified any big issues that they had missed before, but there were a number of useful insights from the sessions including:

•       engaging with a cross-section of people and seeing how reactions changed and developed with additional information

•       people generally wanted more communication of the direction of travel from Government, and for Government to lead by example

•       more emphasis than expected on the practicalities of the technologies, including maintenance (who would do it etc) and disruption – and how important it was to have a whole package around the technology;

•       what kind of information people want and need when considering taking up a low carbon technology;

•       a divergence of views on the benefits and disadvantages of collective neighbourhood schemes: some were very positive about the benefits including lower costs, others distrusted centralised schemes and were reluctant to give up personal choice even if there was a cost saving.

The feedback on the value and impacts of the project from the CCC analysts involved was generally positive, but with caveats about the small number of participants. It is still too early to identify more specific policy impacts, although the CCC were clear about how they would use the results:

“The value will be in feeding into our thinking over the next nine months on the policy recommendations we are making to DECC later in the year on what needs to be taken forward to increase the take-up of energy efficiency options and low carbon heat options. Hopefully we will make better recommendations as a result and hopefully that will inform DECC and others in government. This will feed into that process and will help ensure that we have identified correctly the right issues and the relative strengths and importance of the issues for members of the public.” (CCC analyst)

“The key issue is that this is only a small number of people. You just have to accept that is a limitation of this kind of approach. It means that we will be very careful with the way we use the results. For us internally it is more useful for checking that we are considering the right kinds of issues as we develop the work in future.” (CCC analyst)

Impacts were felt to be most likely to be “around shaping thinking and feeding into ideas generation … to test out some of our thinking and also to ensure that we haven’t missed out anything obvious(CCC analyst).

Both CCC analysts involved said they would use the Sounding Board approach again. Although they identified that the online process had less depth and was less flowing than it would have been in a room together, there was genuinely useful input from participants, and attending the sessions took far less time than travelling.

Public views on low-carbon heat technologies. Report of the Sciencewise Sounding Board pilot. Sciencewise March 2016.

Evaluation of the Sounding Board dialogue on low-carbon heat technologies. Summary Report, by Diane Warburton. Sciencewise March 2016.