UCL Energy Institute


Occupant behaviour and energy use in buildings – sparking data sharing with a common framework

28 November 2019

UCL editor and co-authors in first open collection of data on occupant behaviour in buildings structured following the same data ontology, encouraging data sharing for researchers studying occupant behaviour in buildings

Office workers in lit building

Energy use in buildings is not only determined by their characteristics, but by the needs and actions of humans within them. To explore the complexities of how we shape energy usage this special collection ‘Occupant Behaviour in Buildings’ in Nature Scientific Data has collected a number of papers in what is believed to be the first open collection of data on occupant behaviour in buildings structured following the same data ontology.

The Special Collection was edited by Gesche Huebner of UCL Energy Institute. Gesche led the introductory comment that discussed how sharing data can help researchers build on the work of others, bring about greater analysis power by combining multiple data sets, and perform meta analyses. However, when it comes to studies on building occupant’s energy use there are many barriers. Some lie in the data protection or agreements with industrial partners. Other issues are founded by the wide variety of methods and data ontologies used. 

In this special collection all submissions were requested to map their data onto a proposed ontology from Mahdavi et al. Beyond encouraging streamlined reporting, the hope is using a common framework will allow future users to see the synergies between various data descriptors. The authors welcome future contributions to this body of work, with the hope of establishing a common process for data reporting that over time could have wide use across the research community. 

Gesche also co-authored one of the papers in the Special Collection, The Scales Project, a cross-national dataset on the interpretation of thermal perception scales. Farhang Tahmasebi of the UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering co-authored another paper, Monitored data on occupants’ presence and actions in an office building.

Reflections on gender diversity

In addition to the collection, Gesche also authoured a behind the scenes blog ‘Great Special Collection on ‘Occupant Behaviour in Buildings’ but gender diversity of authors rather unbalanced’. The thought-provoking piece reflected on the gender composition of the authors. Within it she recognised that whilst the international research community on this topic is generally still biased towards males, this was particularly pronounced in this Special Collection where all data descriptors were led by male authors. Whilst the decisions made were unconsciously, she reflects on the need to make conscious decisions and check them for biases in all aspects of academic endeavour as a first step towards better gender representation in the communi