T1 - Motivating Sustainability through Social Networks

(PI UMa: Ian Oakley, Co-PIs CMU: John Zimmerman/Jen Mankoff)

Starting Date: 1 Jan. 2009, Duration: 36 months, Person * month in this task: 62


This WP will use social networks as a motivational framework to support sustainable behaviors in individuals and communities. It will investigate the influence of group information exchange, reflection on the outcome of actions, competition and group collaboration and the social construct of citizenship to intentionally increase sustainable behaviors and practices. The output of this work package will be a robust range of carefully designed, well understood and thoroughly evaluated social network services that motivate sustainable practices.

A number of complimentary techniques will be explored and evaluated:

· Group goal setting: Groups exhibit powerful motivational forces, such as competition, which are otherwise unavailable. This project will explore how these can be deployed to constructively motivate sustainable behaviors.

· Consumer behavior: People meet social needs through consumptive behaviors, defining themselves through the products and services they select and avoid. This project will investigate how these social needs can be met sustainably, through reflecting on monitoring data and interaction in social networks. The goal is replace a current activity with a sustainable one which has an equal or greater social worth.

· Visualization: Understanding the environmental consequences of consumptive choices is complex due to uncertainty and ambiguity in the calculation of impact (of, say, carbon footprints). Capturing, collating, processing and eventually presenting this information in the context of a community offers a way to render it more actionable. Through ongoing social discourse, community members can understand the impact of their behaviors and effectively transition to more sustainable ones.

· Prediction: Understanding the implications of a potential change in behavior is a key to enabling sustainable practices and capturing and sharing information in a social network can achieve this. For example, questions about the impact of changing commuting practices or of installing insulation or a solar panel are best informed by the experiences of others in similar situations.

· Community scientists: Traditional approaches to sustainability are through top down policy. However, there is no universal solution, and individuals are often best placed to understand the problems and solutions that affect them. This proposal will develop decision support tools to enable citizens to systematically explore the sustainability issues that concern and affect them and their communities. This will enable community action on sustainability.

Evaluation of these techniques will be multi-faceted and customized to particular circumstances. It will include subjective sessions, objective lab studies and observational techniques as required. During long term studies, metrics for success include reductions in resources consumed and changes in attitude relating to sustainability.


This WP uses the data generated in WP 2 and 3 as source material, the fabric of its social net. Its contribution is the design, development and testing of motivational approaches leveraging these rich data sources to encourage people to act sustainably. It will involve the development of several distinct approaches during the 3 year project, following a typical cyclical research pattern of development, testing and integration of the results into the next generation of prototypes. A detailed description of the work in the first 12 months is provided below.

Collective consumption monitoring

This work will explore home energy consumption in a community of users (WP T2). Activities include:

· Group goal setting: Users will be able to communicate their energy consumption patterns to one another. This will be evaluated observationally to establish natural behavior patterns in such situations.

· Consumer behavior: Users will be able to create and share a “digital self” in their social networking profile that helps them define an autonomous identity and form and express affiliations with other community members. The expression will revolve around the social history of meaningful artifacts such as precious books, tools or gifts.

· Visualization: A detailed “dash-board” home energy display will be iteratively designed and evaluated. The design will extend the state of the art by focusing on information overload, visualization density and by reflecting the use of a community of connected users. Two full iterations will be produced. Evaluations will be in both the lab and field to determine whether the system is both effectively designed and genuinely motivates users to change their day to day energy consumption practices.

· Prediction: The dashboard will support interaction with predictive systems, enabling users to ask simple “what if I did” questions about their behavior as simply as possible.

· Community Scientists: The system will also support more advanced explorations examining best practices in a community: “what if everybody behaves like this?” Comparing the performance of communities is a long-term project goal.

This will involve the following tasks:

Initiating and seeding an online social networking site using CMU’s StepGreen (www.stepgreen.org) with WP T2.

Develop data integration with WP T2, including automatic logging of sensor data and manual annotating of activities. This will later integrate with WP 3.

Design and develop collective visualizations for monitoring, comparison, and prediction scenarios.

Evaluate visualizations, including both lab and real world studies.

To provide context, we will also conduct an extensive survey of 1000 citizens and exploring their awareness of the impact of consumption behavior on the environment. The analytical methodology used will be structural equation models with latent variables. The study is an extension of the “Environmental Transparency” project between CMU’s DEPP and FCEE-Catolica.