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Open Access Designing Real-World Laboratories for the Reduction of Residential Energy Use: Articulating Theories of Change

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This article is Open Access under the terms of the Creative Commons CC BY licence.

Real-world laboratories (RwLs) hold potential for transdisciplinary research that considers the context of changing households’ energy practices. Taking into account stakeholders’ understandings of what would work where, how and why helps to recognize the contextual conditions for the transferability of RwL results.

Reducing residential energy use and carbon dioxide emissions is a policy concern across Europe. One of the approaches to address this problem, real-world laboratories (RwLs), has recently gained prominence as a means to generate both sustainability change and social knowledge. Yet RwLs are context-bound, and transferability is an issue for scaling up change. Drawing on Realistic Evaluation (RE) and Theories of Change (ToC), this paper analyses researchers’ and practitioners’ views on the role of contexts and change mechanisms in the outcomes of interventions targeting residential energy use. The results show that extracting the underlying logic of RwL designs could help to identify where and when these designs are likely to be transferrable. This contribution has implications for the design of future RwLs, given that RwLs have until now rarely articulated their ToC.
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Keywords: Theories of Change; context dependence; real-world laboratory; residential energy use; transferability

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2018

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  • GAIA is a peer-reviewed inter- and transdisciplinary journal for scientists and other interested parties concerned with the causes and analyses of environmental and sustainability problems and their solutions.

    Environmental problems cannot be solved by one academic discipline. The complex natures of these problems require cooperation across disciplinary boundaries. Since 1991, GAIA has offered a well-balanced and practice-oriented forum for transdisciplinary research. GAIA offers first-hand information on state of the art environmental research and on current solutions to environmental problems. Well-known editors, advisors, and authors work to ensure the high quality of the contributions found in GAIA and a unique transdisciplinary dialogue – in a comprehensible style.

    GAIA is an ISI-journal, listed in the Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Science Citation Index and in Current Contents/Social and Behavioral Sciences.

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