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Citizen-centred Collaboration for Energy Efficiency

EnerGuide Prototype

A first of its kind (in our context), cross-jurisdictional partnership between three levels of government to research, co-design and test prototypes with citizens to inform and improve the experience and uptake of home energy efficiency labeling and reporting.

The core team was comprised of representatives from Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE), the Province of Alberta’s CoLab, and the City of Edmonton with service design support from Situ Strategy.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Among other things, the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change commits partners to advance energy labeling and reporting in buildings to make energy use visible and inform energy efficient actions, like retrofits. In addition to Canada’s policy agenda, the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Declaration on Public Sector Innovation recognizes that governments need to “[seek] out and [apply] new insights, ideas, tools and technologies to complex problems by working within and across governments to continuously improve policies, programs and services.”

Representatives from the Province of Alberta’s CoLab (Dr. Alex Ryan) and NRCan’s OEE Social Innovation UnLab (SIU) worked our networks to explore opportunities to advance an energy efficiency priority that would benefit from collaboration and a citizen-centred approach. We knew that the City of Edmonton had completed its well-respected and inclusive Energy Transition Strategy to realize an energy sustainable city. Related to that, we discovered that the City was gearing up its Spot the Difference residential labeling program using the EnerGuide labeling and reporting system, a federal tool implemented by municipalities, provinces, and territories across the country.

Approximately 6 percent of Edmonton homes had energy labels so understanding the opportunities and barriers to label adoption could inform service innovation opportunities for all parties involved. After a number of exploratory meetings, exchanges on an on-line platform, and maybe a few thoughts of doubt that we’d achieve alignment on a project, our common challenge emerged: how might we improve the residential labeling and reporting service experience and uptake to improve energy efficiency in homes?

In 2016–17, we brought the team and other partners and stakeholders on board, including a service design consultant (Situ Strategy) and a home energy advisor, to deliver a project that used citizen-centred design methods and approaches focusing on:
• Energy efficiency behaviours and motivations of homeowners;
• EnerGuide service and tools: home energy evaluation, labeling, and the renovation (aka retrofit) process; and
• Behavioural aspects of message framing.

A series of prototypes were co-designed and tested including:
• Messaging - Alternative Messaging and Framing through brochures or Google Ads
• Energy Efficiency Block Party - Work with neighbourhoods or community leagues to raise energy literacy and awareness.
• The EnerGuide Report - Create a redesigned EnerGuide report to address issues identified in our codesign workshops.

The project is an example of a "social research and development" approach in a policy and service context that included a multi-jurisdictional partnership, user research, co-sensing, and prototyping and testing directly with users to inform an energy efficiency program design, funding proposal, and launch at the municipal level using federal tools (EnerGuide).

This work was inspired by a previous OEE SIU collaboration with designers in what was then called the Privy Council Office Central Innovation Hub, where we used service design methods to understand energy use in the home from homeowners perspectives, analyze qualitative data, generate insights and ideas, and then 'pretotypes' to test. Dr. Alex Ryan heard about the project and got in touch to discuss possibilities, which led to this collaboration.

OEE SIU's work is also inspired by Dr. Dan Lockton's work on human behaviour and interactions, research and design, and sustainable energy futures.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

This project is an example of a policy and service innovation because of the manner in which implicated governments, citizens, and other stakeholders collaborated to generate shared learning and impacts that have informed service delivery innovations and improvements to the benefit the users of the EnerGuide service, including all levels of government, service organizations, and homeowners.

It also represents a social research and development model applied to a policy and service context that informed a municipal energy labeling program design, funding proposal, and two-year funding commitment. This type of model is being explored for possible scaling to other priority areas within the OEE and beyond.

What is the current status of your innovation?

Informed by this work, the City of Edmonton submitted a proposal, which was funded by NRCan to support the City's Spot the Difference home labeling and reporting program launch and delivery over a two-year period currently underway. The program includes furthering the service design and experimentation work as part of the overall delivery. Lessons learned and impacts will be shared in 2018-2019 to disseminate knowledge and scale innovations where applicable.

The insights from the work continue to inform policy and service innovation opportunities at the OEE, including its participation in the Government of Canada's Experimentation Works initiative, where two experiments are being delivered focusing on the user experience of the EnerGuide residential label and message framing to encourage energy efficiency retrofits.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

The core team was comprised of representatives from NRCan's OEE, the Alberta CoLab, and the City of Edmonton with service design support from Situ Strategy. The team executed the project, including user research, sense-making, prototyping and testing, and reporting.

Team designers engaged homeowners during and after their home energy evaluation to understand EnerGuide experiences. Citizens and municipal sustainability leaders were also engaged during prototype testing.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

Homeowners were engaged during and after their EnerGuide home evaluations to understand experiences and inform innovation opportunities. Citizens and municipal sustainability leaders were also engaged during prototype testing.

Government officials were engaged at various points throughout the process. The City generated tested actions to inform its program design and launch. Alberta CoLab engaged Albertans directly. NRCan's OEE received evidence to inform improvements and opportunities.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

Our project operated on a separate, but interrelated, track alongside the City’s overall Spot the Difference program ramp up to inform its design and rollout.

It provided NRCan and partners with an example of how collaboration across jurisdictions and upfront user research can inform opportunities to design, test and scale improvements directly with citizens and stakeholders.

In 2017–18, the City of Edmonton and its partners submitted an evidence-based proposal and acquired NRCan funding through a Call for Proposals process that is supporting further experimentation and delivery over two years. Learning and results will be monitored and shared.

Federally, the OEE has implemented improvements to the EnerGuide home evaluation report to make it more reader-friendly and action-oriented, and we have identified a number of EnerGuide service innovation opportunities for further research, design and testing.

Challenges and Failures

We ran into a few user-centred design skeptics. There are people in government who genuinely believe they know the solutions, don't need user research, and just want to "get on with it" and deliver. Sometimes good is good enough as long as the can we're kicking down the road isn't filled with worms or preventable surprises.

Working collaboratively from a distance was challenging at times. A shared understanding of roles and responsibilities was critical. In retrospect, I can see how the partnership achieved alignment and that each partner brought people and assets to the table that the other partners valued. I can also see areas where we can strengthen capacity for effective partnership support from start to finish.

At one point, the capacity of one of the partners was stretched so the team adapted to the shifting realities to keep the project moving. At another point, we had technical difficulties with the messaging prototypes so shifted towards other means of learning and testing.

Conditions for Success

The following were critical for our collective learning and results:

  1. Aligned autonomy: this was a bottom-up partnership aligned with a federal-provincial-territorial policy priority and service innovation opportunity;
  2. Collaboration across jurisdictions and onsite: connecting government reps got us focused on delivery across the energy labeling policy-service continuum, and being onsite for the workshops demonstrated commitment and advanced collective learning and action;
  3. Direct citizen engagement and co-design: behavioural field research, co-design workshops with citizens, and prototyping enabled us to explore and generate hypotheses informed by insights and needs, which we can be validated over time;
  4. Clear roles and responsibilities: A shared understanding of who was responsible for what and how we would work together was critical; and
  5. Being adaptable to evolving contexts: shifting realities and capacities required us to be nimble and open to change.


This project has informed the OEE SIU's work with partners in other areas to conduct user research and inform possibilities to test. We're also considering what a more structured and systematic policy and service "research and development" model might look like at scale which could inform funding priorities, policy development, and service innovations.

This type of collaboration across jurisdictions is possible and likely relevant to other government departments. It requires capacity and willingness to partner effectively to engage the users of policies and services and prototype and test interventions as a means of learning.

Lessons Learned

When it comes to innovation, the public sector tends to put a lot of emphasis on ideas. Policy and service innovation is about insights and learning too.

If we value learning and capture it effectively as we're working to deliver projects then the insights that emerge can inform future work that may not yet be imagined. We ran into some technical hurdles and had to put the "messaging" prototype on hold for future consideration and testing. On the one hand, we failed to test the prototype. On the other, we captured the learning and its now informing an experiment that OEE's SIU is delivering via Carrot Rewards under the Government of Canada's Experimentation Works initiative.

Sometimes, we may not feel like we're positioned to design and test an innovation. We hear "it's not our jurisdiction" a lot in government. If you're designing any intervention that has an intended audience, data, and touch points with your users then there are likely opportunities to improve and possibly innovate, if needed.

When we're open to partnering with other departments, jurisdictions and sectors, windows of opportunity and assets reveal themselves.

Year: 2016
Level of Government: National/Federal government


  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
Call for Innovations Call for Innovations
This case was submitted as part of the Call for Innovations, an annual partnership initiative between OPSI and the UAE Mohammed Bin Rashid Center for Government Innovation (MBRCGI)

Innovation provided by:


Date Published:

6 November 2016

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