OEE Social Innovation UnLab
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)
The OEE established a Social Innovation "UnLab" (SIU) to test an embedded innovation model and amplify energy efficiency policy and service impacts in Canada. The SIU creates value for energy efficiency stakeholders in three ways:
- Building relationships and capacity for energy efficiency policy and service innovation;
- Generating evidence and collective learning by co-creating and testing insights and interventions;
- Amplifying impacts by scaling learning and implementing what works.
Energy efficiency is no longer a nice to have, it’s necessary. Significantly increasing energy efficiency in terms of fuels and vehicles, heating and cooling, and building and industrial energy use is paramount to Canada achieving its climate commitments under the Pan-Canadian Framework and realizing new energy futures.
Digitalization—from AI to the internet of things to new and emerging business models—holds incredible potential for energy savings. However, without smart policies to catalyze and shape the impacts of the digitalization of energy, we could lose out on their potential or, worse, end up with unintended consequences. Furthermore, in the era of individual step-counting apps, automated smart thermostats, and personally-tailored investment platforms—people have come to expect a higher level of customization in their service experiences. To innovate in this rapidly evolving landscape it will be critical to find ways to design, test and evaluate interventions directly with Canadians, organizations, and communities on an ongoing basis.
OEE’s Social Innovation “UnLab” (SIU) helps OEE navigate this shifting terrain and create value for stakeholders and users in three interrelated ways:
- Building relationships and capacities for energy efficiency policy and service innovation;
- Generating evidence and collective learning by co-creating and testing insights and interventions; and
- Scaling learning and impacts by implementing what works through service redesigns and new policy directions.
We work in a lab-like way and are inspired by public and social innovation labs, like MindLab (RIP), Alberta CoLab, and MaRS Solutions Lab. We characterize ourselves as an "unlab" in part because of the connotations that "lab" brings for fellow public servants. Some, for example, assume that it's the lab's responsibility alone to innovate. That's not our mindset and approach. We work in cubicles just like our colleagues. We turned the one office we have access to into an "unOffice". For us, it’s not just about stepping out of the lab and into government. It’s about turning the lab inside out and meeting colleagues, citizens and stakeholders where they’re at. It’s about weaving innovation into the fabric and culture of the OEE and beyond, together.
To demonstrate what that looks and feels like, we’re working with partners in and out of government to put innovation and experimentation in practice via a series of projects and a mixed methods approach, including service design, lean, behavioural insights, foresight, randomized control trials, and multi-sectoral partnerships.
In this context, the SIU is adapting and scaling our model to better align systematic learning and experimentation to strategic opportunities or challenges that require innovation. In our experience, the OEE is not going to transform a service or change a complex system via one experiment or pilot. It's more likely that we'll need a series of interventions, including those delivered by external stakeholders, over time and space to learn, build on, and implement what works.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
We put a premium on purpose-driven relationships and shared learning. The OEE SIU is an embedded model so we work side-by-side with our colleagues responsible for developing policy and delivering services. This ongoing collaboration builds capacity for change with the OEE’s teams and stakeholders. It’s a deliberate design choice because—in our view—innovation can’t take root in a vacuum or from a distance. It has to relate to the people who are ultimately on the frontlines of government, our partners, and stakeholders. When innovation is part of the fabric of an organization it changes and reflects the way we think and work. It's not a one-off thing.
The SIU adapts and applies methods to reflect the context and needs of the challenge at hand. We're applying emergent approaches as a means of exploring and generating hypotheses prior to validating them, where applicable. Some say that people and organizations in a bureaucracy can't work in this way. We're proving them wrong.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Our first two years focused on exploring and generating hypotheses by conducting user research and prototyping interventions related to OEE's EnerGuide service and tools. We also launched our Energy Efficiency Rewards pilot working with Carrot Insights. Our foresight and scanning efforts have improved OEE's understanding of how digitalization and other change drivers might influence Canada's energy system and how the assumptions underpinning energy efficiency policies and services could be challenged. Across all of our projects, we've generated insights to inform experimentation.
We're currently working with partners to level up OEE's service innovation capacity through a series of experiments, including two that will be delivered under the Government of Canada's Experimentation Works initiative. We're also co-creating OEE's Digital Services Strategy and the design of medium-term policy directions and proposals that are informed by foresight and user research insights.
Collaborations & Partnerships
A 2015 evaluation of the OEE's programs, which included stakeholder engagement, shed light on opportunities to create and demonstrate service value, improve our reach and impact, and work in a more coordinated way across, within and beyond the organization (e.g. as "one team").
The SIU was created in that light and works directly with government colleagues at all levels, service design firms, public and social innovation labs, social enterprises, citizens, and companies to deliver our service.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
OEE colleagues appreciate opportunities to collaborate on policy and service innovation projects. Our work together has strengthened relationships within and beyond the OEE, informed and demonstrated new ways to engage the users of our services and tools, and inform innovation opportunities.
External stakeholders and users have expressed appreciation for the openness we exhibit in hearing their views and experiences. We start by listening and sensing, not directing or pushing.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Building Relationships and Capacity for Energy Efficiency Policy and Service Innovation
- Reaching 400K Canadians via Carrot Rewards
- Partnering on 5 community energy mapping sessions
- 3 levels of gov collaborating on EnerGuide for Homes
- Co-creating the Sentinels OEE Scanning Club.
Generating Evidence and Learning by Co-Creating and Testing Insights and Interventions
- 2 user research projects on EnerGuide for Homes and Vehicles
- 6 EnerGuide for Homes prototypes designed, 3 tested
- 8 insights on digitalization and energy efficiency
- 1 Energy Futures Hackathon, 6 teams and so many insights
- 6-8 experiments in the pipeline.
Amplifying Impacts by Scaling Learning and Implementing What Works
- 300K/380K of Generation Energy participants via Carrot Rewards
- Scaling EE Rewards pilot
- 8 partnership projects co-funded
- Co-creating new policy directions
- Kickstarting OEE's Digital Service Strategy
- Adapting and scaling our model to priority areas.
Challenges and Failures
Sometimes, we're confronted with perspectives that view new ways of working as a threat to how things are currently done and the need to deliver on current commitments. Innovation can be seen as a nice to have, but not the priority.
We relate policy and service innovation to what OEE is trying to do and accomplish both in terms of our current suite of services and tools, but also in creating the new.
There's also a strong pressure to jump to ideas and "solutions" immediately prior to understanding the context and needs beyond our own perspectives. SIU team members are typically the people in room asking, "can we take a step back for a minute?" Taking a step back is not always possible though, which is why we're introducing agile methods of designing and delivering policies and services. This is not easy, so we focus on demonstrating what it looks and feels like in practice working with colleagues and building from there.
Conditions for Success
Policy and service innovation for energy efficiency impacts requires:
- An alignment of people, purpose and priorities;
- An openness at all levels to improve existing service delivery and chart out new policy directions;
- A continuous learning mindset with the motivations and opportunities to understand what works and when to let go;
- Quantitative and qualitative research to generate insights that inform ideas and actions;
- Direct engagement with the stakeholders and users of our policies, services and tools to prototype and test improvements and new directions.
We're moving from isolated pilot projects towards a more systematic approach that better aligns and embeds policy and service innovation and experimentation to priority areas. This requires engaging at all levels and stakeholders to identify strategic directions, mobilizing interdisciplinary teams across and within jurisdictions and sectors to deliver projects and experiments, and scaling the learning and results.
We attempt to align every project, workshop and meeting to either a learning opportunity and/or as a means to inform subsequent action to advance policy and service innovation. Service design projects related to home energy efficiency are seen by other teams in our organization and create opportunities to adapt and apply similar approaches on other challenges. Participatory workshops with one group of stakeholders plant seeds in participants' minds for possible future use in other areas. Our scanning and foresight model is informing other government departments efforts.
Another thing that is scalable across the public service, which isn't happening nearly enough, is building the capacity to apply innovation methods and approaches by starting from where we're at and trying to accomplish, and working with the right people to make learning and practical action happen. That needs to scale more broadly and deeply across the public service in our humble opinions.
The OEE has a mandate to advance energy efficiency in Canada. It's not surprising that we see things through the lens of energy use and efficiency. The people who we're attempting to reach and work with may not see things the same way though. That means adapting our perspective, not assuming users will adopt ours.
Government can often work in transactional ways. We hear a lot of rhetoric about the need to partner and collaborate. That desire for collaboration must be matched with an openness by individuals and teams to work together. With the creation of the SIU, the OEE is signalling and strengthening its capacity for partnerships across and beyond our organization. We help enable, broker, and catalyze collaboration...when we have willing partners.
Working at the federal level, we can sometimes feel far-removed from citizens and other stakeholders. In many cases, the OEE develops and makes available services and tools that other jurisdictions and service organizations are invited to adopt and implement. Identifying opportunities to innovate requires working directly with implicated users to 'join up' the service continuum and prototype and test possible innovations with them. The same can be said about the policy development and service delivery on the ground. This takes capacity and a lot of work that isn't necessarily 'shiny' or attention getting. If and how we do it matters though and can effect the scale and impact of innovation.
We can create opportunities for reflection and engagement with users to assess how things are going with our existing services and ways of working. We need to treat policy and service innovation differently, but at the same time, involve the right people at the right time to design and deliver impactful solutions.
Policy and service innovation that supports broader transformation at scale will not happen via an isolated pilot project. We need to link up and scale learning and action across relevant policy and service experiments.
In this example, we're sharing a model that has been introduced by NRCan's OEE as an innovation. We'll share other projects and impacts in greater detail via other submissions. For example:
- Energy Efficiency Rewards: Getting Canadians into the Game. Engaging Canadians on their smartphones via Carrot Rewards and offering points-based incentives to boost energy efficiency awareness and actions.
- EnerGuide for Homes: Engaging “Resident” Experts. Improving the user experience of EnerGuide for Homes service and tools uptake and impacts.
- EnerGuide for Vehicles: Driving Better Choices. Improving our understanding of consumer behaviour and how auto manufacturers perceive fuel efficiency to inform service innovation.
- The Sentinels Foresight & Scanning Club: Seeing Ahead of the Curve. Exploring how change drivers and enablers affecting energy use might challenge our outdated assumptions and generating insights to inform policy and service innovation opportunities.