(De)constructing and transforming workplace practices: Feedback as an intervention

Change log
Dantsiou, Dimitra 

Little empirical work has been conducted on workplace practices in university settings. Meanwhile, the impact of feedback on changing consumption patterns has been mainly studied through individualistic approaches. The academic workplace with its variety of users offers a setting that could provide a range of insights as to how practices form and change under the impact of efficiency interventions and, in turn, how relevant policies could be formed.

This research looks at workplace practices related to the regulation of indoor temperature and the use of office equipment. It examines the potential of reducing energy usage in the workplace through a case study on the understanding of and interventions in practices using consumption feedback. A framework based on social practice theory is applied where daily practices are configured by routines, technologies, knowledge and meanings.

The research takes place in a UK university building, where the provision of real-time consumption feedback through a display is employed to raise energy awareness. It follows a case study approach featuring three different office typologies and associated user groups: the shared, enclosed administrative office; the PhD open-plan office, and the post-doctoral cellular office. The study begins with an examination of the thermal characteristics and comfort preferences in the case study offices. It then examines how users shape their practices in the workplace. Finally, it observes the impact of feedback through real-time displays on the reduction of energy consumption. A mixed methods approach is employed combining qualitative and quantitative data. Semi- structured interviews and on-site observations are cross-related to environmental conditions monitoring, electricity audits and thermal comfort diaries. Data collection takes place in two phases— (February 2014 and July 2014) —to capture differences in practices between the winter and summer as well as before and after the installation of real-time displays.

By exploring the empirical evidence through a practice theory framework, this research shows how social dynamics, the difference between the notion of comfort at home and work, and striving for productivity can prefigure ‘passive’ thermal comfort practices in the workplace. The real-time displays did not trigger change despite the fact electricity audits revealed a savings potential related to high standby use. The inadequacy of building maintenance structures, significant installation delays and the type of projected information were the main factors restricting change. The use of a practice approach advanced the understanding as to why it is so difficult to save energy at work and use feedback as a successful intervention. The combination of qualitative enquiry and energy audits meanwhile indicated the potential source of savings.

Sunikka-Blank, Minna
Workplace, Practices, Social Practice Theory, Thermal comfort, Energy use, Non-domestic, Feedback, Mixed methodology
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
This research was made possible through the financial support of the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). I would also like to thankfully acknowledge the support and input from the Living Laboratory for Sustainability of the University of Cambridge.