Covid-19 has created barriers across the user research industry, but it has also been the catalyst for new, innovative approaches and helped to bring forward much needed investment in key areas.

The new world reality of Covid-19 has altered plans and turned lives upside down. For Our Healthy Living in Low Carbon Homes Team, this has created challenges and opportunities alike.

A new approach

We were well placed to overcome these challenges. Having established an expert panel and advisory board early in the project, we were able to continue to stimulate public involvement. This has ensured that we continue to deliver research rigour and capture the diverse perspectives inherent in user research.

Our panel and board have been great. We have been able to pivot our research approach to incorporate greater input from them, ensuring the programme continues to move forward. They have supported us in reviewing the evolving research methods, survey instruments, marketing materials and new ways of working, such as video conferencing and alternative online mechanisms for data gathering. 

More challenges, more opportunities

Other factors beyond our control (including delays to building works) have meant a change to our initial pilot site. But where one door closes, another opens… we now have an opportunity to accelerate the retrofit agenda and deliver improved user insight to ensure we understand the wellbeing impacts of building retrofit interventions.

Researching the retrofit challenge

The Minister for Housing and Local Government launched the Optimised Retrofit Programme scheme to local authorities and registered social landlords in Wales on 19th Aug 2020.

Our Healthy Living in Low Carbon Homes Team is now delivering research in this area designed to address some of the occupants’ pressing questions. Our focus will be on discovering home occupiers’ motivations to join such schemes; is it to make fuel bill savings, help reduce harmful emissions, improve the comfort of their home or a combination of these? We will also explore how behaviours may be adapted to newly installed technologies when their homes are retrofitted. 

A shared understanding of “retrofit”

Some key questions that have been raised by our panel and board so far include: 

“Are we talking about low carbon or low energy homes?” 

“What exactly does retrofit mean?” 

These, and other questions need to be clarified to ensure a shared understanding of what these interventions mean.  

The scale and depth of the socio-economic work package on the Active Building Centre Research Programme means that we will need to prioritise these questions. 

We are finding some fascinating possibilities emerging that need to be explored further. These present opportunities for new funding to support future research into the new areas that we are discovering and help us expand our understanding of the human impact of such projects.

These insights will be fundamental to ensuring that we are able to establish a sustainable, long-term demand for retrofitting Active Building and Low Carbon Home interventions.