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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Importance of Feedback

We learn much quicker and more effectively when we receive feedback on our work.  All of us have most likely had experience with not receiving feedback on our performance.  The experience was likely fraught with confusion and frustration and areas of improvement were difficult to clearly identify.  Consider the example of turning in an essay draft as a college student.  You are given back the draft and asked to improve your work.  However, there are no additional notes, comments, or details on how and in which areas you can improve.  This is essentially what happens when you want someone to change their behavior without receiving feedback on their performance.

Perhaps the most relevant context for this issue is energy conservation.  Providing prompt and accurate feedback that communicates to users whether they are performing well or poorly is essential for any policy aimed at promoting environmentally conscious behavior. Human learning is closely guided by the amount and quality of feedback that is readily available and consumers who do not have access to feedback are very likely to make poor decisions and be confused about what choices are in their best interest. Experimental field data shows that when participants in households are given a goal, they are able to perform much better when consistent feedback is present. Furthermore, the frequency of the feedback matters as well. The more frequent the feedback is, the higher the performance levels are. Households that receive feedback more often conserve more energy than those that do not.

Studies with “smart meters,” which provide immediate and visual feedback of energy consumption further illustrate this point. With such devices, the costs (both monetary and potentially environmental) associated with energy use are made immediately available in a visual manner. The devices also give comparison data using past energy use levels, allowing users to detect consumption irregularities. Behavioral studies conclude that such devices are excellent tools for nudging and allowing consumers to be constantly aware of their energy usage. With the combination of feedback technologies such as smart meters and a way for consumers to compare themselves to other similar users, the potential for changing behavior could be very promising.


"Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness"

Beshears, John. "How Are Preferences Revealed?" Journal of Public Economics 92.8-9 (2008)

Abrahamse, Wokje, and Linda Steg. "A Review of Intervention Studies Aimed at Household Energy Conservation."

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