Exploring ways towards societal Consensus

Acknowledging and integrating the specific perspectives of individuals in their dual roles, consumer and citizen, in energy policymaking might lead to a more inclusive, consensual and effective energy policy.

  • Project description (completed research project)

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    Energy policy measures targeted at changing patterns of consumption face a special challenge with a view to their acceptance in society: in their citizen role, individuals have to consent to them and to support their implementation, and in their consumer role they have to adopt and implement them.

  • Aim

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    The research project addressed the following issues:

    • Examine how individuals assess energy policy measures in their role as consumers and in their role as citizens.
    • Explore whether the method "Futures Wheel" could be a suitable method to explore the effects and the evaluation of energy policy options and thus to explore their acceptability in advance.
    • Investigate the potential of educational activities to facilitate the societal debate about energy policy options.
  • Results

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    Individuals perceive and evaluate energy policy measures differently in their role as consumers and in their role as citizens. They are able to provide nuanced information about their perceptions and concerns by anticipating such measures in advance. In reflecting on energy policy measures from a consumer's perspective, individuals consider many different areas in their lives, their quality of life, the resources at their disposal and their emotions. In assessing future energy policy measures from a citizen's perspective, individuals are primarily driven by concerns about how measures affect the wellbeing of others, whether they are just, how effective they are in protecting the natural environment, and how effective they are in changing human behaviour. Individuals in their role as citizens are able to participate in debates about future energy policy, because they do not primarily think in dimensions of self-interest. Thus, both as consumers and as citizens, individuals are stakeholders with a specific perspective that complements other perspectives, such as those of politicians, experts or governmental bodies.

    The "Futures Wheel" method (mgu.unibas.ch/de/futureswheel) is an accessible and powerful tool to uncover the perceptions and concerns of individuals in their consumer role.

    People living in Switzerland do not necessarily feel that they are a part of societal decision-making, and they do not necessarily feel invited to contribute to energy policy in their role as citizens. The ability of individuals to participate in debates about future energy policy in their role as citizens has to be nurtured by promoting citizen competence in adults. It is possible to design educational activities focusing on the promotion of citizen competence in adults that are, despite their brevity, effective. Such activities are well received and appealing if they focus on individual and mutual learning, on exchange and deliberation.

    Issues related to quality of life and justice are important for both the consumer perspective and the citizen perspective. Hence, in designing environmental policies and in seeking policy support and acceptance of policy measures, quality of life should be considered.

  • Relevance

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    Implications for research

    This project provides knowledge about the difference between the two perspectives, consumer and citizen. It reinforces evidence about the importance of the notion of a good life (quality of life) in energy policymaking, and it shows that the (often advocated) suggestion to provide environmental literacy (or energy literacy) does not adequately engage with the concerns and values of citizens and of consumers. It generates knowledge about adult education with a view to sustainable consumption that focuses on citizen competence.

    Implications for practice

    • Energy policymaking should encompass deliberative and participative processes of policy design including individuals in both roles, consumer and citizen. An inclusive approach to energy policy might facilitate societal debate and make it easier to find a consensus on energy policy, and it might lead to more effective and accepted policy measures.
    • The "Futures Wheel" method could be a useful tool to evoke and capture the narratives of consumers and to integrate them into policy design and policymaking.
    • With a view to a deliberative and consensus-oriented energy policy, individuals should be strengthened in their citizen role. This should happen by providing educational activities that nurture citizen competence, and such activities should be provided by a 'neutral' actor, not by political parties.
  • Original title

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    Towards societal consensus - Influencing the perception and evaluation of energy policy measures by means of self-reflection and information