Energy Communication

Communicating Material Cultures of Energy

Human energy consumption and its direct link to global climate change is among the most defining and challenging issues of our time. The original Material Cultures of Energy project (MCE, conducted in 2014–2017) examined how copiously consumed energy transformed daily life during the 20th century. This project successfully revealed the crucial role that consumers played in past energy transitions. The MCE project found, for example, that consumer practices and expectations have contributed to deciding the course of energy development. Consumers have shaped the diverse patterns of energy consumption in accordance with distinctively local, regional and national energy cultures. Thus, to comprehend how energy users’ behaviours have developed into the ways they are today, energy cultures must be understood.

The follow-on project ‘Communicating Material Cultures of Energy’ will build on the successes of MCE and its intervention into today’s energy issues by directly engaging with the process of communicating energy-related knowledge and information. Here, we are targeting energy communicators (such as museum curators, public relations officers, and the community across cultural institutions, businesses, government, NGOs, community energy groups, and research and educational institutions) for communicative intervention because these people facilitate energy-related information flow into society. This approach presents a unique opportunity for arts and humanities research to directly influence professional practices that have important bearings on energy users’ behaviour, knowledge and attitude.

To achieve this overall aim, this project has core activities designed to create a sustained dialogue and collaboration among researchers and energy communicators through discussing and addressing Five Challenges, which are:

Challenge 1. Object-based communication
Challenge 2. Behavioural intervention
Challenge 3. Visual media communication
Challenge 4. Participatory communication
Challenge 5. Community engagement

These Five Challenges partly emerged from MCE’s research and engagement activities, and a recent literature survey that found them conducive to cultivating cross-field collaboration and knowledge exchange, where such efforts are currently lacking.

Through its public engagement activities, this follow-on project is expected to activate a dialogue across different fields of energy communication in a concerted effort to tackle these important challenges. Here, the project addresses the Challenges by combining the historical insights and case study information gained from the MCE project with the first-hand experiences of our partners.

The project will be delivered through five interrelated activities, including:

– knowledge exchange (KE) sessions to initiate a dialogue on energy communication with a multidisciplinary group of energy communicators working in research and practice;
– interactive events at science festivals to convey the knowledge and insights generated by both the MCE project and the co-creation process of the KE sessions to the public;
– a multidisciplinary conference to engage a wider community of communication experts and provide an opportunity for trial and demonstration of some innovative methods of engagement, such as an object handling session and visual media display;
– creation of an online network to establish and perpetuate close working relationships between researchers, communication practitioners and energy communicators;
– develop an open-access digital/print publication intended as both a reference guide and learning material for communication experts and students to make available the collective knowledge and insights of energy communicators.

Report on the knowledge exchange session on Visual Communication
Report on the knowledge exchange session on Participatory Communication

The project’s partners are:
Behavioural Insights Team
Birkbeck College, University of London
Carbon Co-op
Community Energy England
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)EDF Energy
Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem)
Salford University
Science Museum Group


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