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Energy Use: The Human Dimension
to overcome resistance, so there are no ads containing ideas like those supported by the Canadian government.
Unlike many energy information efforts in the United States, the Canadian messages are characterized by vivid pictorial and graphic illustrations, appeals to a variety of motives (solving a national problem, saving money, preventing loss of personal funds to the oil companies, and so forth), and attention to particular behaviors likely to follow reading the ad. These features are likely to increase the effectiveness of the communications. Since no clear rationale has ever been offered for keeping government communications dull and narrowly focused, it may be politically easier to change the format of information than the content or medium of presentation. Indeed, after years of apparent inattention, the Department of Energy has begun to experiment with graphics to attract attention to fuel economy stickers on automobiles (Figure 7).
Still, energy information programs in the United States continue to operate under serious limitations. The society’s decision on whether to remove some of the present restrictions on information programs will depend in part on decisions about whether there is a public interest in increasing energy efficiency. It is important to recognize, however, that information programs that fail to present information in the most effective way, for whatever reason, will fall short of the hopes held out for them: information made available is not the same as information used.
The Value of Information Programs
For analytic purposes, it makes sense to judge information programs against the criterion of rational decision making that underlies them. An effective energy program would be one that leads energy users to take actions that minimize the total cost of the energy-related services they purchase—that is, to do what economically rational people theoretically do with full information.11 Of course, expectations of effectiveness must also reflect resources devoted to a program.
Our discussion clearly suggests that judged against this criterion, existing and past energy information programs are ineffective. However, relatively few energy information programs have been formally evaluated, and the available evaluations have been much less systematic than is desirable for drawing firm conclusions. True experimental studies of energy information programs are rare, so the evaluation research is plagued by problems of inference: because program participants are volunteers, they differ from nonparticipants, and it is difficult to tell how much of the change observed among participants might have occurred without a program. In addition, many evaluations rest on questionable assumptions about the validity of respondents’ self-reports of their behavior; about the actual behavior implied by survey responses, such as checking a box marked “insulated attic;”