Training activities are a vital part of the ZenN dissemination work package. This task incorporates not only formal trainings and courses, but also more informal activities aimed at communication, cooperation and sharing and exchanging knowledge.
Why is training and communication important within the ZenN project?
For some members of the ZenN project teams, near-zero energy renovation at neighbourhood scale is not an established concept, making ongoing communication with building management, contractors and residents involved in the renovation a vital success factor. The diversity of stakeholders involved in each ZenN demonstration project results in various levels of knowledge and information. For example, some team members have established renovation skills but not the knowledge on technical aspects related to ZenN renovation (both skills are required and are necessary), or vice versa.
For some topics, involving specific expertise has shown to be a vital success factor for the demonstration projects, mainly solar installations, calculating energy targets and other technical issues related to the building. Research institutes and experts involved in the ZenN demonstration projects input to the demonstrators played an important role in closing the knowledge gap, which was necessary for the achieved of ZenN renovation. Through extensive communication, the demonstrators were learning from the experts involved and this learning was then integrated into the demonstration projects.
Means and purpose of specific training and communication activities in the ZenN projects
Throughout the ZenN project an open communication approach is used, where challenges and solutions experienced by the demonstrators are documented and disseminated to other internal and external stakeholders. This is done through a broad range of training and communication methods, for example through media and social media, academic and professional conferences, and journal article publications. The purpose of activities ranges from general information sharing and dissemination, awareness raising and knowledge exchange to technical training. The choice of method and purpose depends not only on the type of stakeholder in question, but also on the specific role (or roles) they play in the development process.
Selected stakeholder groups and training strategies
A good example for the way the specific role of the receiver influenced the training strategies is the case of residents. There are variations in addressing members of this group depending on their financial stake in the renovation; as well as whether they are considered to be end users. In Mogel (Spain), most of the residents own the apartments, and they initiated and partially financed the renovation process. Therefore, they were not only continuously informed about the different stages and development of the project, they were also actively involved in the decision making through meetings. In three out of the four ZenN demonstration projects, residents received training about the technical installations and general operation of the renovated buildings. These trainings emphasised the impact of user behaviour in the success of near zero energy renovation. In Økern, where the demonstration site serves as a nursing home, it was the staff who received this type of training rather than the residents.
Municipalities and policy makers
Another important factor determining differences in the design of communication was if the local municipality was treated as an internal or external stakeholder. If the municipality was not considered an integral part of the process, the main focus was on promotion, awareness raising and dissemination of the results and lessons learned in the ZenN projects. However, in the case of Mogel, the municipality financed 55 percent of the renovation costs. This financial support was dependent on fulfilling the energy reduction goals, which were significantly higher than what is common in Spain. Therefore, the results of the renovation were continuously communicated to municipal decision makers in order to demonstrate that the targets were reached.
Changes between the project stages
Communication strategies shift focus in terms of methods, aim and target groups depending on the different stages of the projects: the planning, implementation, and occupation stage. In the planning stage, the main focus was on informal training and communication activities, promoting of the project and facilitating collaboration within the project team. During the implementation, the purpose of informal activities shifted from the facilitation of collaboration even more toward promotion and dissemination. Besides this shift, formal training activities also became more central, allowing users (residents, staff, janitors and facility managers) to become familiar with the technical aspects and instalments, and ensuring optimal use of the renovated buildings. In the occupation stage, emphasis has been placed on formal training of end users and general dissemination and promotion of the near-zero energy renovation process and its achievements.
A important lesson: long term view on end user training
A lesson extracted from the experiences with training and communication in the demonstration projects is that while it is important to provide training to the end users during the implementation phase in order to ensure that they are sufficiently familiar with the technical instalments and other details of optimal operation of near zero energy buildings, it is also useful to provide training once the users are familiar with the building. This allows users to ask more informed questions, and trainers to address specific problems that the users encountered.
Involving residents in decisions of the renovation and making them part of the renovation team has had positive effects on convincing them of the goals of the ZenN project.
For more information: Eszter Juhasz-Nagy, NTNU, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org