Starting in 2016, the Smart Energy Cities programme (SmEC) kicked off with financial support from the Ministries of Economic Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and municipal governments. The goal is to develop an integrated approach to support municipalities in making residences more sustainable using a neighbourhood-focused approach. In other words: to support residents in implementing energy-saving measures. In total, 16 neighbourhoods in 10 municipalities (including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Groningen, Eindhoven, ‘s Hertogenbosch, and Maastricht) have completed projects with a team of service designers and technical innovation experts. Ideate has been actively involved in the projects in Enschede, Eindhoven, ‘s Hertogenbosch, and Apeldoorn.

A model has been developed for SmEC (see also, along with a series of tools to design integrated scenarios. The figure below shows the model and the tools used as part of the resident-centric route; the so-called ‘social route’. Residents were categorised into groups such as renters (mainly via housing corporations), private homeowners in homeowner associations, and private homeowners on their own land. The mechanisms for making decisions on measures to be implemented are different for each group. The main challenge was related to private homeowners on their own land, as the majority of the housing stock – especially for homes built between the 1960s and 1980s – were built according to criteria other than energy efficiency.


The approach began with gathering insights about the neighbourhood. This included municipal data, enriched with a stakeholder map and neighbourhood indicators such as the degree of social cohesion, common activities, interest in the issue, etc. Further information was gained through context mapping to gather insights into residents’ housing preferences, energy measures, budget allocation, and the household context of communal decision-making. This illustrated the behavioural aspects of the issue. The focus of the project was on the conscious choice of measures, and not on the behaviour at home (heating, showers) or so-called ‘rebound effects’. We mainly studied the way that household partners think about, and decide on, energy-related measures. To which category do they allocate expenses (‘mental accounting’)? Does this involve negotiation and exchanges? Are there differences between the roles of men and women? To what degree are decisions dependent on the social context (neighbours, neighbourhood pioneers)?

Insights and results

Social comparison (‘people like us and houses like ours’) is a powerful mechanism to motivate people and get them to act.

The researchers observed differences between ‘gender practices’ based on the household roles that are still divided among men and women with regard to behaviour and decision criteria. For example, ‘cosiness’ is an important motivation. This is also important for the way that energy consultants advise residents: there is considerable room for improvement in this area both in terms of language as for the excessive amount of attention paid to technology.

Certain moments in residents’ life cycles, such as the purchase of a house, children moving into their own room, empty nest, present excellent opportunities to initiate a discussion about energy-related measures.

It is difficult to make choices, as the consequences and the relationship between measures (‘no regrets’) are far from clear for many residents. This argues in favour of a step-by-step approach, in which small, easy-to-understand steps can be made. Nudging techniques can support this process.

Governments are often too prone to think in terms of ‘roll-out’, as if it were a simple technical project. True community involvement is based on equality, openness, and respect for residents’ autonomy. Designing participation and coordinating communications to facilitate participation with a long-term perspective can serve as a sound foundation.

The energy transition will only be successful if we can find the right mix of clear ambitions, such as gasless neighbourhoods, and an integrated process of technical and social scenarios based on a thorough insight into residents’ behaviour.


Onno van der Veen (Ideate)


Spreekt dit project of de aanpak ervan u aan en wilt U er meer weten? Aarzel dan niet en neem contact met ons op. We vertellen u er graag meer over of kijken naar de mogelijkheden om samen een nieuw project te starten.

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