Responsive Organising for Low Emission Societies

Welcome to the website for the research project Responsive Organising for Low Emission Societies (ROLES). Funded through the Joint Programming Initiative Climate Joint Transnational Call on “Enabling Societal Transformation in the Face of Climate Change”, the project brings together partners in three countries:

  • The University of Bergen and University of Stavanger in Norway, where the project team focuses on smart mobility transitions in Bergen
  • The University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, where the project team focuses on solar neighbourhood transitions in Brighton
  • Eurac Research in Italy, where the project team focuses on smart meter transitions in Trento

Our collaboration centres on a common theme that runs across these cases: digitisation for deep decarbonisation in medium-sized European city-regions, with population size 100,000-300,000. From December 2020 to November 2023, our team of ten researchers is undertaking engaged study in the three cities where we live and work, to identify how one can enable socially inclusive digitisation of energy transition technologies in diverse contexts.

We co-produce knowledge with multiple stakeholders in our case cities, through local engagement in a series of events and extended individual interactions. To learn more about the project and to get involved, please write to siddharth.sareen@uis.no

Learn more about the JPI Climate SOLSTICE call and other projects here, which features this overview of ROLES:

Digitalisation of energy infrastructure – a transition to digital information flows in socio-technical energy systems – can enhance efficient, affordable energy use. It can enable electric mobility, smart charging, renewable energy integration and energy monitoring for low-carbon energy systems. But it poses risks to data protection and privacy, and to social trust between citizens, governments and businesses for democratic environmental governance. ROLES analyses how ongoing digitalisation of energy infrastructure in mid-sized European cityregions (population 100,000-300,000) intends to accelerate the decarbonisation of energy systems, and how this can be reformed to generate widespread societal benefits. It identifies pathways to Digitalise for Deep Decarbonisation (DDD): digitalise to radically decarbonise systems in socially just ways.

Despite citizen concern about our climate emergency, such DDD pathways face multiple structural constraints. Failure to address them is feeding a crisis of social accountability in climate governance. The accountability problem is pronounced in digitalising energy infrastructure due to characteristics that exacerbate social exclusion (the digital divide) and exploit extractive use of data (digital surveillance). This particularly affects vulnerable publics who demand climate action but lack political and economic power. E.g., systemic gains from smart meters and electric vehicles may benefit suppliers but not flow to energy poor users. Yet, citizen-oriented policies can ensure inclusive data use so that digitalisation yields public benefits like affordable, low-carbon mobility and energy use. Using three cases, ROLES aims to anticipate these accountability crises and develop customisable strategies for more responsive organising of citizen agency in the digitalisation of energy in city-regions.

Phase I identifies climate-friendly and pro-poor pathways to digitalise energy infrastructure for electric mobility hubs in Bergen, solar energy neighbourhoods in Brighton, and smart energy monitoring in Trento. Using expert interviews (n=3*30) with government, business, civil society, and marginalised groups, and multi-sited structured interviews with laypersons (n=3*30), it co-produces in-depth knowledge about digitalisation needs and initiatives in each city-region. This includes policy mixes and citizens’ modes of engagement and coping strategies during digitalisation of three different energy infrastructures. To identify DDD pathways, ROLES will catalogue how diverse stakeholders lobby, act, react, debate and manage, in relation to sectoral digitalisation policies.

Phase II identifies constraining and enabling conditions for rapid diffusion of the identified DDD pathways. To understand what institutional factors shape these pathways, ROLES will involve multi-stakeholders at regional public events to deliberate on how to accelerate DDD. We will use power cube analysis to identify political economic power dynamics for each pathway. This is an established technique for coproducingknowledge on both formal and informal workings of power with stakeholder groups in interactive, hands-on ways. It facilitatescollaboration and can work at various levels of abstraction.

Phase III delivers a stakeholder toolkit and scientific outputs on responsive organising to accelerate DDD pathways for diverse energy systems. Responsive organising constitutes customised strategies to channel citizen agency into diffusing policies and actions that enable DDD pathways. Scientific outputs will discuss these dynamics in and across sectoral cases and city-regions. Jointly, these outputs willconstitute actionable knowledge that (i) demonstrates how to identify climate-friendly and pro-poor pathways to digitalise energy systems,and (ii) co-produces strategies for how to make concrete advances towards electric mobility hubs, solar energy neighbourhoods and smartenergy monitoring in mid-sized European city-regions.

A shorter layperson summary is featured in the Research Council of Norway project bank.