The question of how to bring policy makers and social scientists into closer collaboration
was discussed extensively during the workshop, both in the breakout sessions and
informally throughout the two days of panel discussions. Synthesizing these discussions,
the workshop steering group identified five broad strategies that can aid in bridging
the gap between energy policy makers and the social science research community.
These strategies are briefly described in this chapter. Included are examples (drawn
from suggestions made in the course of the workshop) of specific policies or programs
for executing each strategy.
Although each of these five strategies will be critical for addressing the behavioral
and regulatory barriers to the adoption of new technologies, the steering group
strongly suggests the immediate adoption of the steps described under strategies
1 and 2. These steps have the potential to yield rapid results and insights that
will demonstrate the value of behavioral research and possible applications within
existing programs and build a foundation for the other three strategies, which will
require longer-term efforts.
Strategy 1: Demonstrate the value of social and behavioral research for enhancing
the effectiveness of energy policy and transforming the energy system.
Because energy policy makers are largely unfamiliar with the tools of social science,
they are often unaware of the value of those tools for policy development. On the
other hand, much excellent social science research has not been translated into
practical lessons or “off the shelf” tools. Practical demonstration
of how the social sciences can make energy policy more effective is therefore an
important first step in creating a demand for further collaboration.
Fortunately, several opportunities exist to create such demonstrations in the near term, either by documenting work already done or by applying well-known social science tools to current energy policy issues. Actors at all levels of government should be enabled to use these tools conveniently. For instance, social scientists understand how to design productive public participation programs, but this knowledge is often not incorporated into such programs or is integrated into the process at too late a stage to be useful.
- DOE should commission a set of discrete policy papers that summarize the
existing research in the priority areas outlined in chapter 3 of this report and
that demonstrate how this knowledge could be applied within specific DOE programs.
This effort could be undertaken in collaboration with an outside agency such as
the National Science Foundation (NSF) or the National Research Council.
- DOE should conduct pilot demonstrations to test the application of social
science within existing energy programs. Rather than trying to change underlying
attitudes and motivations, these demonstrations should focus on influencing actions
that people are already taking or are willing to take. Many potential social science
applications can be found within existing federal energy programs, including:
- the application of behavioral research to smart meter programs and to the effective
design of informational labels on energy use by appliances and vehicles;
application of established public participation approaches in the design process
for new energy supply technologies to identify and address public concerns and human
- the incorporation of behavioral data into the construction of energy-economic models
to examine the potential impact of alternative policies; and
- comparative policy analysis to examine the effectiveness of existing policies.
- Policy makers and program managers should draw on the experience of other
governments and agencies. Particular attention should be paid to scaling
up lessons from individual states and municipalities (see the sidebars in chapter
2 for examples). Similarly, other countries have practical experience in applying
interdisciplinary social science research to energy policy development that could
be useful for this effort. Federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) and the Bureau of Land Management have enacted guidelines for using
social science expertise in siting decisions, and these guidelines could serve as
a model for developing best practices for other agencies.
Strategy 2: Encourage the use of interdisciplinary social science research within
DOE has little experience in introducing social sciences into its technology programs
or policy development. Even if this capacity existed, individual program managers
lack the proper incentives to make use of it. A useful way to encourage the application
of social science expertise to energy programs is to evaluate how well those programs
are working and to identify how social sciences could contribute to improved effectiveness.
- Government agencies should require periodic studies of adoption potential
for each energy technology being developed. These studies should be undertaken
throughout the research, development, demonstration, and adoption process, perhaps
in preparation for the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) proposed in a 2010 report
from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).1 These adoption studies would consider in an integrated way technical and economic
barriers, public acceptance, human behavior, and other issues that might constitute
obstacles to the adoption of the technology. The studies would also be used to inform
design of the technologies with adoption in mind. This strategy would facilitate
the integration of social and behavioral science into the technology design process,
especially with the hiring of relevant social science expertise.
- DOE and NSF, along with the American Academy, should create or support a
forum for ongoing dialogue among policy makers, the private sector, and social science
researchers to share expertise on innovation and on technology adoption at the individual
and community levels. The private sector is the principal actor in diffusing
new technology and practices in the energy sector, and its experience will be crucial
for identifying societal obstacles to diffusion and for implementing social science
methods to remove them. For example, industry experience in using marketing techniques
to promote technology adoption could be readily applied to government programs.
Private sector experience with innovation also offers lessons for the creation of
regulatory frameworks that are adaptive and encourage innovation. Conversely, existing
social science research on innovation and on community-based approaches to technology
deployment will be useful to both companies and government agencies. This step is
also consistent with the intent of the QER.
- The design and outcomes of energy programs and policies should be evaluated to determine
both their policy and cost effectiveness and the underlying reasons for these results,
including the roles of behavioral and regulatory barriers. To facilitate
this effort, DOE should develop a common framework for evaluating pilot programs
for technology adoption, including not only experiments sponsored by DOE but experiments
sponsored by utilities and other private institutions. Relevant topics for study
include the effect of policy framing on the success of outreach efforts and the
efficacy of informational, educational, or behavioral interventions as compared
to regulatory interventions.
Strategy 3: Build capacity for connecting the energy policy and social science
Despite decades of awareness of the societal issues related to energy,
energy policy makers and social scientists do not have a history of close collaboration.
Bringing these communities together on substantive issues will build the bridges
necessary to make effective use of the social sciences over the long haul. Meeting
this objective will involve the previous two strategies because the policy and research
and development communities will first need to be persuaded that the social sciences,
and especially the behavioral sciences, hold value for policy and technology development.
Needed is both more research that is useful to energy policy and an increased human
capacity to conduct and apply social science research. Lines of communication must
be developed between researchers and the audience for this research, including industry,
private foundations, and state and federal policy makers. A major barrier to academic
research on energy issues is the lack of rewards for applied social science research.
A widespread perception among the academic social science community is that applied
research is not valued in promotion decisions, including tenure decisions.
- DOE should enhance its organizational capacity to adopt social science knowledge
within energy programs. Although creation of a dedicated “office
of social science” within DOE might be possible, such an office is unlikely
to be politically sustainable, and thus other avenues should be explored. A critical
step will be to employ behavioral scientists who are familiar with the research
literature and best practices and can thus identify the most productive research
directions and policy and program applications.
- DOE and NSF should establish a collaborative research program based on the
priority research questions described in chapter 3. Priority research areas
should include effective design of labels and standards, the effects of social networks
on shaping social
norms, dynamic pricing and adoption of smart grid technologies, policy evaluation,
and understanding the bases for individual and household decisions as they relate
to energy use. Also needed is more research on how to create durable energy policies
and effective polycentric governance mechanisms and more research on the role of
government in the U.S. energy innovation system.
- Agencies should sponsor pre- and/or postdoctoral fellowships to examine
the societal obstacles to new energy technologies. For instance, DOE might
fund postdoctoral researchers to work with social scientists from NSF on energy
issues. Establishment of an interdisciplinary research and training program, as
recommended by PCAST in 2010, would be an excellent step forward. DOE could also
provide funding for social scientists from NSF to work with energy researchers from
DOE or for DOE staff to work with university researchers on social science questions.
- Interdisciplinary teams of technical and behavioral experts should be organized
to work on high-payoff issues. These include facility siting, the design
of consumer-oriented labels, and smart meter deployment programs.
DOE should sponsor annual conferences or summer sessions for researchers, perhaps
in collaboration with other agencies such as NSF. These meetings would
be primarily for the research community rather than for practitioners and would
facilitate communication among social science disciplines. They would also provide
an opportunity for policy makers to learn about the most current social science
Strategy 4: Incorporate social science into federal energy policy analysis.
Workshop participants emphasized the need to incorporate behavioral considerations
into energy economic modeling efforts and offered suggestions for modeling the human
dimensions of energy use. Because of the expense and time required to develop new
models, participants generally agreed that modelers should focus on modifying existing
models to account for incomplete policy compliance and the nonrationality of individual
- The energy modeling communities in government, academia, and industry should rethink
the role of economic models in policy development. First, the energy modeling
communities should develop capabilities to gain insights from complementary models
that more accurately reflect behavioral considerations. Second, more attention should
be paid to incorporating behavioral considerations other than price- and income-driven
behavior into economic models, while avoiding making models overly complex.
- The Energy Information Administration (EIA) should collect and organize
data useful for social science. This effort would be facilitated by the
creation of a social science advisory group to advise EIA on how to include behavioral
data in its energy surveys and how to format technical data on energy so they are
useful to social scientist researchers. Because the available information on the
technical potential of behavioral interventions is often scattered across many sources,
particular attention should be paid to increasing the availability of these data.
Strategy 5: Engage state and local governments
and regulatory communities.
Many efforts to promote the spread of innovative policies and technologies
take place at the regional, state, and local levels. Not only does each level of
government have considerable experience on which to build, but engaging each level
will be essential to any mechanism for scaling social science tools to design more-effective
energy policies. Regulatory commissions can direct the entire electric utility sector
to undertake certain actions, but traditional forms of oversight and the makeup
of commissions (e.g., the rapid turnover of public utility commission chairs) inhibit
commissions from taking a proactive approach to energy policy. Commission staffs
are generally stable, however. Staff training should thus include training on behavioral
A particularly relevant social science research question for the state and local
sectors, and one needing further research, is how to guide consumer choices. What
motivates consumers, and how can policies and regulations reinforce these motivations?
When researching consumer motivations, attitudes, and behavior, an important consideration
is the impact of regional, socioeconomic, and educational differences.
- State public utility commissioners should require utilities to use social science
research when deploying new technologies, such as smart meters, whose success depends
on public acceptance or active effort on the part of individuals. The National
Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners could work with social scientists
to identify lessons that could be applied to technology deployment programs. Other
communities that should be approached include developers, builders, planning commissioners,
and real estate appraisers.
- Public utility commissions should
perform evaluations of the behavioral and regulatory barriers to technology deployment
programs. These evaluations would be similar to those recommended for federal
agencies under strategy 2.
- Utilities should work with state regulators
and behavioral experts to conduct field experiments on how to most effectively engage
consumers on dynamic pricing.
- DOE should work with the National Governors
Association (NGA) and others to analyze model programs and adapt their lessons to
the circumstances of individual states. NGA has performed pilot studies
that could be a useful starting point for examining regional and socioeconomic differences
in consumer behavior and how policies and regulations can affect consumer decision