A new addition to the EVALUATE project team is Neil Simcock, who is joining as a research associate over the next two years to undertake qualitative research with vulnerable households in the case study areas. In his first blog article, Neil discusses the key themes and aims of this section of EVALUATE.
Recent quantitative studies have shown the widespread nature of energy poverty across the EU, including in Central and Eastern Europe. Whilst such research is invaluable in showing broad trends and prevalence, there has been relatively little in-depth qualitative research that examines how such deprivation is actually experienced in everyday lives of households. Moreover, we need to know more about how household practices shape, and are shaped by, the wider social, cultural and material context, influencing the propensity for households to experience energy poverty. Research undertaken elsewhere, for example, suggests that ways of keeping warm and ideas of ‘comfort’ are culturally conditioned (e.g. Wilhite et al., 1996; Hitchings et al., 2015), and that households in the UK adopt a variety of so-called ‘coping strategies’ in response to unaffordable energy bills (Lambie-Mumford and Snell, 2015).
With these broader issues in mind, Neil has been recruited to EVALUATE to undertake and coordinate in-depth qualitative research with households in Gdańsk (Poland), Prague (Czech Republic), Budapest (Hungary) and Skopje (Republic of Macedonia). The work will encompass three semi-structured interviews with each participating household, alongside a personal diary detailing the householders’ winter warmth strategies and an ‘energy audit’ of each home. Some of the questions this aspect of the EVALUATE project will ask include:
- How do households experience domestic energy deprivation? How does this affect their lives and what coping strategies do they adopt?
- how are ways of using energy and keeping warm in the home shaped by cultural and material conditions?
- What are the driving factors underpinning energy vulnerability?
In line with the energy vulnerability framework utilised by EVALUATE, the research adopts a longitudinal design. Initial fieldwork will take place in winter 2016, with further interviews in summer 2016, allowing us to examine whether and how household energy vulnerability shifts over time.
This research will build on Neil’s recent work in DEMAND Centre at Lancaster University, which considered the variety of ways that domestic energy services are implicated achieving a ‘minimally-decent’ quality of life.