Research 4 Consumer Archetypes

Citizens Oriented Initiatives: 4 Archetypes

Research 4 Consumer Archetypes
Research 4 Consumer Archetypes

This research report from a group of TU Delft Students shows four citizens archetypes, which can be considered in advantage of your smart grid project or during the process.






  • Know citizens motivation
  • provide the right incentives
  • Communication
  • Share knowledge and information
  • Show and publicize results
  • Maybe some extra fundings/triggers will help
  • Work as a team
  • Be careful with policies

By offering this classification as a set of new values, thoughts, it
is expected that new solution spaces open up for the realization
of an energy transition based on collaboration.

4 types of initiatives & the interaction with citizens

During their research, the team recognized 4 types of smart grid initiatives

  1. Cooperative
  2. Behaviorial
  3. Third Party
  4. Self Organized

1. Cooperatives

Receiving benefits requires effort and acceptance of rules; no free lunch!

The benefits are all monetary, governmental subsidies. To profit from these monetary incentives, the initiative must abide to the rules put forward by the government.

Especially for the cooperatives, this costs a lot of resources, because they have to do everything by themselves. There is usually no big company/organization that aids them in doing this.

Of all the statements that are relevant for this subject, two are specifically relevant for the cooperatives:

  1. acquiring ANBI status
  2. the postcoderoos subsidy

both of them provide significant monetary incentives for the cooperatives.

Professionalizing and cooperation is the key to success

Because they have to acquire the resources they need by themselves, working together could provide the cooperatives the momentum that they need to have a real impact on the energy transition.

Complementary, they should engage with professionals and researchers for the execution of their projects.

The best possibility for realizing this might be through the involvement of a big organization.

Unique mechanics of cooperation, benefit or disadvantage?

Cooperatives have a different legal form than other initiatives. This shows mainly in the fact that the share of investors determine the goals and actions of the cooperation. How should a cooperation deal with this?

  1. First, they should put up a maximum investment, giving each investor an equal vote
    In this way the decision power cannot be bought with money.
  2. They should also think really carefully about their basic principles, to discourage differences of opinion between the investors.
    What works for them in the current system, is that crowdfunding is doing really well right now, and this is exactly the same system as the cooperatives.

If they want to create a vigorous and robust cooperation, they should (and can) use these mechanisms for their benefit, instead of letting them turn into disadvantages.

2. Behavioral Initiatives

Behavioral initiatives are meant to change small aspects of everyday citizen behavior.

No strings attached!

Behavioral initiatives are not mandatory, have no consequences or way to be enforced. There is no way to make sure they are followed so they are mainly based on trust.

Small tweaks here and there….

Behavioral initiatives target small aspects of everyday life that can accumulate for a bigger impact.

They are based in repetitive, small, quotidian tasks that require little effort, but since they are not how citizens normally act, so they require getting used to, and commitment

Less is not more!

As they are based on behavioral changes, the magnitude of individual impact is small.

They rely on numbers for their impact to be considerable and it is also with numbers that a true societal behavioral change will be visible, so basically the aim is to reach as much people as possible.

As a consequence, exposure and constant efforts to be visible to new adopters are crucial elements of this type of initiative.

Can you say that again?

Communication will also increase the likelihood of involvement. These initiatives will be more effecting in changing citizen behavior if they constantly remind the public about it.

Repetitiveness will create routine for new adopters.

Puppets and puppeteers

Behavioral initiatives are started by third party entities, not the citizens. They respond to the third party agenda (whatever that is), which serves to promote their own vision of human behavior, to which citizens will or will not abide by, depending their interests and beliefs.

3. Third Party Initiatives

There is an entity (government/company or else) that has an interest in developing the initiative and requires the involvement of citizens. The bigger commitment/interest falls on a “third party” and not directly on the citizen. The biggest interest of this initiative to thrive, in on the third party.

Aimed for everyone, but will help engage the kind of citizens that need to be told what to do.


Citizen engagement is the limiting variable for third-party initiatives. This does not mean that other factors such as monetary funds cannot limit the success of a third-party initiatives. There are 2 characteristics of third-party initiatives that support this argument.

  1. First, a third-party has in comparison to other initiatives more resources available, and the interest is not in being profitable, but in understanding mechanisms and behavior.
  2. Secondly, citizens usually find third-parties less trustworthy (because e.g. it is obvious you do not feel emphatic for the company that sends you a bill each month), so the initiative has to put in much effort to engage the citizen.


There are a few possibilities how a third-party initiative might overcome this problem:

  • Constantly reaching out to new target groups
  • Creating social capital from the first moment of initiation
  • Be transparent to the citizen in everything you do
    • organize meetings
    • be open toward the opinion of the citizen
    • increase your legitimacy!

No free lunch!

Receiving benefits requires effort and acceptance to rules; no free lunch!

The benefits are all monetary, governmental subsidies. To profit from these subsidies, the initiative must abide to the rules put forward by the government.

  • Third-party initiatives might be better off here than other initiatives, because they have the organizational resources to be able to fully exploit these benefits.
  • Another thing to take into account is that growing as an initiative, involves the disappearance of some positive incentives that are normally only provided small initiatives.

As an individual small-scale energy user, generating more energy than you consume does not render regular payment for the extra energy generated.

Initiative collaboration leads to gains in success

Multiple qualities of initiatives can be boosted through collaboration; with other initiatives and external parties.

  • Lobby power is positively correlated with inter-initiative collaboration
  • Teaming up research and initiatives for mutual benefit. Enhancing scientific knowledge and applying this to boost the initiative.


A characteristic of third parties is that they usually initiate more than one initiative.

This gives them a head-start, they can themselves quite easily act as the organization that unites these initiatives,

so lessons learned can be applied across the range of initiatives involved.

4. Self-Organization Initiatives

Energy initiatives that can be characterized as self-organization start out with a small group of engaged citizens that initiate an energy project that engages citizens in their neighborhood.

While starting out with a few people on a small and local scale, the project could have potential to be implemented on a larger scale either through scaling up or by taking on a different type such as becoming a third party initiative or cooperative.

Self-organized initiatives start with an engaged citizen with an idea, but the organization happens in different ways.

Get your ass off the couch!

Since the main character is the citizen, it is important to emphasize the incentives citizens are sensitive to. In this manner, initiatives can use those incentives to involve the citizen.

  • Citizens will respond well to financial benefits. They will be happy if they can save or make some money on the side. Initiatives that can provide this for them, are generally more attractive.
  • Other incentives are much less easy to “tap on”, since they can be much more subjective than and not as straightforward as saving or earning money.

Make the impact visible

Initiatives should be fun and it should be easy to participate in them; this can be accomplished for instance by making the impact visible, with tactics like

  • organizing a party when a milestone has been reached
  • or through the involvement of the neighborhood in community workshops.

Of course an intrinsically motivated citizen, like one with a deep concern for the environment, is more likely to join or participate in initiatives, however, this is not something initiatives can influence or relay on. Hence, they should focus on incentivizing citizens regardless of their pre-existent motivation.

To conclude, in order for citizens to get involved, the perceived benefits need to outweigh the costs.

Speak in a language I can understand!

A sense of community is relevant for every citizen, tapping into this fact will help initiatives attract citizen’s attention.

As a citizen, if friends and neighbors join and are positively impressed by an initiative, your interest in the initiative will increase.

As a part of embracing communities, initiatives should pay attention to the citizen’s background, culture, and environment.
Take into account that every community is different in this regard. Initiatives should be weary of this fact and make a point of embracing the community rather than imposing their own views.

Speaking “the same language” will bring initiatives a lot closer to the community.

We mean closeness in a very literal sense of the word, proximity to project sites and communities, is very relevant for initiatives. Reducing or eliminating spatial barriers, is relevant for initiatives that deal with citizens.

Can you say that again?

Citizens need to understand the importance of these initiatives and how relevant their participation is. Decisions about energy consumption are not easy decisions or perceived as interesting enough to capture immediate attention.

Constant flow of information from initiatives to citizens is key to reaffirm the urgency of involvement in citizens, to highlight the benefits they bring and dissipate any doubts citizens may have.

However, communication is not one sided, initiatives have a lot to benefit from listening to the citizen.

Being open and creating channels for information flow will render useful for the initiative.

Sharing is caring

Beyond communicating to and with the public, information sharing with external entities is important.

Do not reinvent the wheel yourself; rather use the lessons learned from other initiatives. Help each other out.

This is not a definite trait, meaning some choose to share and are transparent about lessons learnt, but others are more reserved.

Whatever the case, “no initiative is an island” and there is much to gain from learning from other experiences, finding new approaches, and reaching out to industry experts and scholars.

Although initiatives should strive to learn from each other and share their information, they should definitely keep into account that this is not always the preferred action. The data from citizens is delicate and they are not always open to the sharing of this information.

The initiative as a showroom for inspiration

Another aspect of communication is how you make your initiative visible, and the multifold benefits you can get out of doing this. Visibility can be achieved using different methods, usually by including some form of media:

  • making a movie
  • using a crowdfunding platform
  • publish in the local newspaper

Most of the consequences of these methods shall have an indirect effect on the initiatives; an inspired society that is open to change, and creating more incentives for politics and businesses to change.

On the other hand, it can also have a direct influence on the initiative; the initiators/leaders of the initiatives shall be more incentivized to do invest their time if their work receives public attention.

This influence should not be underestimated; even very enthusiastic citizens will become discouraged if their efforts are not encouraged.

The positive influence on the society has another angle towards it. Besides bottom-up initiative visibility, top-down politics can enforce the same effect, through sanctioning and subsidies.

It’s the law…

Initiatives are landmarked by Dutch energy policy and legislation. It goes without saying that they need to abide to Dutch law in every aspect of their organization.

However, emerging initiatives can generate situations for which there is no existing legal framework or where the existing framework blocks their growth.

The law, as it is, can either block or facilitate the growth of an initiative and it is generally recognized that a legal backing will give legitimacy and a smoother work environment for these initiatives.

External parties can be involved, but pick the right one!

They have their own strategies and agendas, but sometimes it is not that hard to find some overlap with the initiatives.

Especially the DSOs and the municipality might adapt their strategy in favor of the initiative.

This engagement could lead to the external parties becoming invested in the outcome of the initiative, which brings a lot of resources towards the initiatives.

In contrast, property developers and installation companies usually do not care about the initiatives. Initiatives should take this into account when dealing with these entities.

What everyone wants!

Some general good qualities of initiatives can be:

  • The board of the initiative should consist of a stable group of people that have the same goal
  • Having a leader (leaders) is crucial; they stick out their neck are the heart of the initiative
  • The goals of the initiative should be simple, clear and easily communicated
  • Initiatives need funding; this can originate for a lot of sources, third-parties, citizens, subsidies and more.
  • But whatever the source is, initiatives require this funding to be viable.


The construction of the four types is helpful towards understanding the role of citizens in the energy transition, but it is paramount to maintain flexibility in our thinking and allow for updating of our mental models as we make new discoveries and the transition evolves through adaptive cycles.

Even though we have distinguished for unique types of
initiatives that can be understood and approached
differently, that does not mean the initiatives and their
organizers should operate in their own silos.


  1. Collaboration between the different types of initiatives will be crucial in a transition.
    While the cooperation and behavioral initiatives might be of a fundamentally different nature, they both involve citizens.

    1. The cooperation could learn from the behavioral initiative how to keep their members engaged in small ways that require effort.
    2. The behavioral initiative could learn from the cooperative how to take a more structured approach.
  2. It is thus important that we do not have separate “Nudge” events for behavioral initiatives and an annual ‘Hier Opgewekt event’ that attracts mainly cooperatives, third-party initiatives, and perhaps some self- organized initiatives.It is the synergy between initiatives of different types that gives rise to stronger initiatives, and perhaps, through cross-pollination, new types of initiatives emerge.

Student Hotel

The case-study of the Student Hotel Initiative offers an example of how it is possible to learn from the smart meter company with which it cooperates on how to analyze the data. In this manner the University of Wageningen can enhance the utilization of the smart meter company and can benefit from the research of citizen behavior. Such solutions can be applied to other initiatives, to both those of the same type as those of different initiative types.

Link to the report

Maybe you are also interested in this toolkit?

Toolkit participatie gebruikers voor Smart Grid Projecten

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