Group discussions on energy transition
Energy network company Alliander asked the VISA Skills Lab to lead group discussions on the great changes occurring in our energy sector: How do stakeholders feel about energy saving and the energy transition to wind and sun power? Institute for Management Research researcher and discussion leader Vincent de Gooyert brought the different parties closer together. After the discussion participants realized that there is more than one way to look at the problem and at solutions.
When you ask the employees of Alliander what needs to be done to make a success out of energy transition, they will tell you about fatter cables and better energy storage facilities. They are accustomed to technical problems and so they think in technical solutions. In eight group model building sessions at the VISA skills lab, the energy company entered into discussions with around one hundred stakeholders, including researchers, energy consultants, council members, bankers and lawyers. During these meetings, led by Vincent de Gooyert, it also became clear that there are financial, social, economic and political restrictions. De Gooyert: “We talked about the desire to create more autonomy in the field of energy supply, but also about lowering energy bills as well as reducing the power of government and the big energy suppliers.”
De Gooyert: “The success of this project can be summarized in the words of one participant: ‘I never thought someone else could possibly have a totally different view on energy transition, let alone imagine what that different view could look like.’ Our added value in society is to enable people and organizations to step out of their own parameters and be open to how other people see things. I find it invariably motivating to contribute to increasing the empathic ability of participants. Everyone is trapped in their own mental models and it would appear we are successful in breaking through that.”
The Alliander project also led to new scientific insights. De Gooyert is combining technical studies with sociological studies and so is particularly interested in sociological innovations in a technological context. He has developed a way to measure to what extent the participants actually change their opinions in his group model building sessions.
“We asked the participants to indicate which themes they find important in energy transition. They were given a long list with subjects like ‘solar panels’, ‘tax exemption’ and ‘autonomy’. The result surprised us: the most successful sessions were those with the greatest diversity of stakeholders and viewpoints. In those sessions stakeholders turned out to listen to each other better and therefore were more prepared to modify their viewpoints. In the less successful sessions, opinions lay closer together prior to the session: people would try to convince the others of the superiority of their opinion, and were less prepared to modify their own opinion.”
Alliander is interested in continued cooperation. De Gooyert: “There will always be blind spots. When you have worked in the same department or organization for years, you sometimes miss the information that others have. In our sessions people suddenly become aware of the many different ways in which you can view the reality.”
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