Case Study ISEIF/Institute of Cultural Affairs

The Client

Illinois stands poised to lead in the field of smart, clean energy – and CiTTA Partnership has been part of the journey. The Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act put the state on the path towards upgrading to a smart grid and smart meter technology in the majority of Illinois homes by 2020. In order to get there, a private nonprofit organization was created called the Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation (ISEIF), which grants awards to community organizations empowering consumer education on the smart grid.

With ISEIF funding, the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) embarked on an ambitious project aimed at improving equitable access to education around smart grid and sustainable energy technologies. The goal was to educate low-income residents, senior citizens, and new immigrants on how to participate in new smart grid electricity programs that save them money, benefit the environment and stabilize the grid.

The Challenge
ICA and its partners had a big task ahead of them – not only were they looking to educate three hard-to-reach consumer segments, but they were also working in three very distinct communities. They knew they wanted to pose a common question: what would encourage these consumers to adopt energy efficient practices related to smart grid technology?

Yet with consumers clustered across a Chinese-American community in Chinatown, an African-American community in Bronzeville, and a Spanish-speaking majority in the Chicago Lawn/Gage Park area, they had a particular challenge. They needed to be able to ask the question in culturally resonant ways – and rigorously analyze a variety of different responses.

This was why ICA engaged CiTTA Partnership as program evaluator. They needed to find out if their outreach efforts in each community resonated, and then compare how engaged the communities were with the program. CiTTA’s multilingual ability and multi-cultural background uniquely positioned us to deliver the report Preparing for Rainy Days (未雨綢繆): Culturally-Inspired Smart Grid Education in 3 Communities.

The CiTTA Difference
Our extensive research background and data-driven approach meant an ability to effectively utilize both surveys and interviews to collect insights. Using our language skills, we designed a Chinese version of the survey and conducted interviews in Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese Chinese and engaged a partner to translate the survey into Spanish.

This on-the-ground, culturally-sensitive approach resulted in a robust understanding of community values and the important drivers for their use of energy, motivation to save energy, and the unique barriers they face to taking action in this area.

CiTTA was also able to develop diverse outreach models tailored to each culture.  For instance, we proposed one model based on the importance of one on one engagement for the Chinese community, and another based on communicating a clear connection to STEM-based education and jobs in energy in the African-American community.

These insights were compiled into lessons learned and best practices for effective outreach and education on the smart grid.  CiTTA is always proud to move innovative, environmentally sound practices forward.
The toolkit and evaluation CiTTA delivered can be read here.