Bottom-up communication: Identifying opportunities and limitations through an exploratory field-based evaluation

Caroline Wilson, Katherine N. Irvine

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    9 Citations (Scopus)


    Communication to promote behaviours like energy saving can use significant resources. What is less\nclear is the comparative value of different approaches\navailable to communicators. While it is generally agreed\nthat ‘bottom-up’ approaches, where individuals are actively\ninvolved rather than passive, are preferable to\n‘top-down’ authority-led projects, there is a dearth of\nevidence that verifies why this should be. Additionally,\nwhile the literature has examined the mechanics of the\ndifferent approaches, there has been less attention paid\nto the associated psychological implications. This paper\nreports on an exploratory comparative study that examined\nthe effects of six distinct communication activities.\nThe activities used different communication approaches,\nsome participative and others more top-down informational.\nTwo theories, from behavioural studies and communication,\nwere used to identify key variables for\nconsideration in this field-based evaluation. The evaluation\naimed to assess not just which activity might be\nmost successful, as this has limited generalisability, but\nto also gain insight into what psychological impacts\nmight contribute to success. Analysis found support for\nthe general hypothesis that bottom-up approaches have\nmore impact on behaviour change than top-down. The\nstudy also identified that, in this instance, the difference\nin reported behaviour across the activities related partly\nto the extent to which intentions to change behaviour\nwere implemented. One possible explanation for the\ndifference in reported behaviour change across the activities\nis that a bottom-up approach may offer a supportive\nenvironment where participants can discuss\nprogress with like-minded individuals. A further possible\nexplanation is that despite controlling for intention at\nan individual level, the pre-existence of strong intentions\nmay have an effect on group success. These suggestive\nfindings point toward the critical need for\nadditional and larger-scale studies. The challenges associated\nwith field-based evaluative research and the role\nof theory are discussed. The design approach and measures\nused in this study may be useful to other evaluations\nthat seek to compare different communicative\napproaches.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)91-104
    Number of pages14
    JournalEnergy Efficiency
    Issue number1
    Early online date7 Jun 2012
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013


    • Behaviour
    • Communication
    • Energy use
    • Participation
    • Stakeholder


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