A people- and stakeholder-centred approach to STREAM innovation process

While the energy system is traditionally viewed through the lens of its technological and economic characteristics, a substantial body of literature advocates for a more holistic approach, recognizing the energy system as a socio-technical system.

This perspective focuses on the interplay between society and technology, indicating a shift away from linear models of technological innovation. The socio-technical framework takes into account the complexity of the energy system, where technologies are entangled with people’s energy practices, needs, and values. This underscores the need for innovations within the energy transition to align the technological solutions (whether products or services) more closely with the needs and preferences of their intended users, as this supports their successful adoption and integration into existing daily practices. For energy technologies and systemic changes to be embraced as part of the energy transformation, they must be perceived as meaningful, desirable, and accessible to a diverse range of stakeholders.

In STREAM, we adopted a people-centred development (PCD) approach to ensure that the services developed in the project address the needs of the key target and stakeholder groups and are well integrated into their unique social or organisational contexts. A three-step approach, led by our partner IRI UL (Institute for Innovation and Development of the University of Ljubljana), was based on social science methods and anthropological research techniques and it guided the engagement strategy across our pilots in Finland, Italy, Slovenia, and Spain.

The activities implemented included stakeholder identification, characterisation of the pilots, outline of the research topics and questions, interviews and exploratory meetings with key stakeholders, and a co-design process, i.e., customised workshops and focus groups with end-users and stakeholders. Consequently, the approach shaped the definition of STREAM services, including the design of customer and technical services and an outline of the energy system services. It also generated knowledge that informed the definition of use cases. By actively involving stakeholders, our pilot partners could verify assumptions, refine strategies based on feedback, and optimise the approach to developing the local flexibility market.

The exchange with stakeholders and target groups were instrumental in closing the loop on the research process, ensuring that the insights gained were both comprehensive and aligned with stakeholder perspectives.