Digital energy futures (DEF) pilot fieldwork
The Digital Energy Futures (DEF) pilot fieldwork took place last month, with ethnographic home visits in the Melbourne metro region. Pilot research participants volunteered their time to enable the DEF researcher’s to trial their social-science led conceptual approaches.
Dr Kari Dahlgren prompts an imagined future with a research participant of the Digital Energy Futures (DEF) project
Ethnographic home tours took place, where research participants walked the team through their everyday routines related to energy and technology usage. The researchers worked with participants to prompt them into thinking about how these practices might change in their immediate and long-term future.
Traditionally, future predictions for digital technology and energy technology haven’t been ‘speaking’ to each other. The DEF research team is putting them together for the first time to see how they complicate each other, bringing predictions to life with some practical examples of what those digital energy futures look like and what the problems with them might be.
In order to probe future imaginations, the DEF team trialled an innovative non-predictive futures methodology using digitally illustrated comic strip scenarios. These scenarios were informed by a comprehensive content analysis of industry, consultancy and government reports on digital and energy futures. The analysis explored perceptions of heating and cooling; the future of work; caring from home; digital entertainment and smart home technologies; transport; and energy management practices.
Inspired by the visions and narratives of the content analysis, each digitally illustrated scenario presented a story around a particular mode of stay at home life, including automated technology and smart homes; working from home and telecommuting technologies; virtual reality and entertainment; high tech futures for an aging population; and electric vehicle usage, distributed energy resources (DER) and energy management futures.
Participants were shown the scenarios and encouraged to speculate on how they see their lifestyle fitting into the future that industry and government are predicting for them. So far, research participants have responded to these scenario prompts with insightful reflections on both the exciting potentials and possible limitations of mainstream future visions.
These preliminary pilots are helping the Monash Research Team perfect their ethnographic techniques and trial innovative and speculative methods to better understand how emerging technologies are shaping the way people live – and ultimately, the future energy needs of Australian households.
COVID-19 Update: The Digital Energy Futures (DEF) team have been changing the way we work to protect the health and welfare of our people and to ensure the project adapts to the new limitations presented to us. We have a policy of ethical, responsible and safe research practice. Because our fieldwork involves home visits across NSW and Victoria, we have suspended all of our face-to-face ethnographic research until further notice.
The research discussed was supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Projects funding Scheme (‘Digital Energy Futures’ project number LP180100203) in partnership with Monash University, Ausgrid, AusNet Services and Energy Consumers Australia.