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Neighborhood Scoreboards [neighbourhoodscoreboards.com] aims to include some healthy social competition in the monitoring of household energy consumption. Instead of keeping energy monitors private and within the confines of the family living room, Neighborhood Scoreboards exposed the energy consumption of several households on the facade of the respective houses, for everyone to see.

Equipped with only a limited financial budget and the wish to keep a self-imposed requirement to develop a 'public display' that is itself sustainable, robust but cheap, it became rapidly clear that an electronic 'screen' was not feasible. Instead, the project chose to use a light-weight, weather-resistant board material that was fully recyclable, conveyed the visual aesthetic of chalkboard, and could be regularly updated. Accordingly, a set of 5 boards were mounted on different neighboring houses in a Sydney suburb. Each board featured distinct information graphics to divulge the household's energy consumption performance, and included several persuasive mechanisms to encourage positive behavior changes. For a period of more than 7 weeks, the researchers went through the painstaking work of manually updating each of these displays, with the help of a set of commercial energy usage monitors, some pens with liquid chalk, and of course, a long, strong ladder.

The design of the chalkboard consisted of 5 distinct parts: an historical timeline showing relative changes in energy usage (a graph which became overdrawn in different color each week), a simple ranking score revealing one's performance versus those of others, a numerical readout showing exactly one's daily change in energy consumption in terms of percentage (to be able to compare different kinds of households fairly), and a daily 'smiley' reward that became increasingly positive if low energy consumption behavior was sustained over a longer period of time.

Subsequently, the researchers performed a small, 7-week in-situ investigation to compare the energy consumption behavior of people with such a public display against those without, while all living in the same neighborhood. The preliminary results of this exploratory case study can be discovered here (PDF).

Disclaimer: Together with several other valuable contributors, the author of this blog was very closely involved in this project, while working at his previous employer, the University of Sydney. We are also looking for opportunities to develop this concept further.