UCL Energy Institute


From social and technical to socio-technical: integrated research on domestic energy efficiency


1 October 2015

Research understanding energy consumption is usually approached from either an engineering or social science perspective. The result is either understanding technologies and materials or understanding people. Yet energy consumption is clearly an interaction between people, materials and technologies. So understanding them with separate studies or data that miss this interaction fails to grasp the socio-technical nature of energy consumption. Multidisciplinary studies that currently collect both social and technical data normally gather each type of data with distinct spatio-temporal properties. Typically, researchers then exploit these data streams separately at analysis stage.

However, there is no discussion of the problems arising when attempting to combine data streams from such different approaches to create interdisciplinary, integrated socio-technical research. We explore these problems across three cases of research on energy use to illustrate what happens when social and technical data are analysed together in different research contexts. Issues include the possibility of Type I errors, the incommensurability of social versus technical data and the spatio-temporal alignment of data streams. We examine how and why standard multidisciplinary approaches can be problematic, and go on to examine possible solutions to address these problems including a proposed approach to designing interdisciplinary, integrated socio-technical research in energy use.

From social and technical to socio-technical: integrated research on domestic energy efficiency. Indoor and Built Environment.


Love, J., Cooper, A.C.G. (2015)

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