5. A common vocabulary

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of this report the definition of a common vocabulary and language is useful to determine from the outset. Part of the value of this report is to provide the energy sector with a common working definition of key terms to increase levels of understanding of the field.

General Terms: Definitions


The American Psychological Association (APA) defines this in a way that emphasises the physical aspects of perception: "processes that organize information in the sensory image and interpret it as having been produced by properties of objects or events in the external, three-dimensional world."

To this we can add that there are also broader socio-cultural and psychological (i.e. cognitive and affective) interpretative processes at work when we perceive and make sense of our environment.


Definitions of 'values' are contested across spheres and disciplinary domains but most share an understanding of them as being guiding principles that people use in formulating their views and actions.

Rokeach [37] offers one broad definition: "Values transcend specific objects and specific situations: to say that a person 'has a value' is to say that they have an enduring belief that a particular mode of conduct, or that a particular end-state of existence, is personally and socially preferable to alternative modes of conduct or end-states of existence". Values in essence, then, refer to beliefs about how the world should be.

Values can be viewed as individually held or as shared cultural resources that people draw on in forming their perceptions and actions. They are linked to perceptions but where perceptions are malleable due to changing contexts or different frames of reference, values are much less so.

The receptiveness of public perceptions to change is particularly important when considering topics that may be of low salience to the public, are new and emergent or where views are not yet fully formed.


'Attitudes' are hypothetical constructs representing an individual's evaluation or judgement of an object. Attitudes are typically considered to have three main dimensions: a cognitive dimension, relating to beliefs; an affective dimension, relating to feelings; and a behavioural intention component, relating to how an individual states that they would behave in relation to an object.


'Behaviour' is defined in a number of different ways within academic literature. At a broad level, behaviour can be defined as the range of actions made by entities in conjunction with their environment, which includes the other systems or organisms around it, as well as the physical environment.

One example in the area of energy and sustainability comes from Stern [38] who defines behaviour as "an interactive product of personal sphere attitudinal variables and contextual factors". The term behaviour relates to particular ways of understanding social action and is often discussed in opposition to concepts of practice – see below.


'Persuasion' is defined as the "process in which communicators try to convince other people to change their attitudes or behaviours regarding an issue through the transfer of a message in an atmosphere of free choice" [39]. Thus, persuasion is a deliberate attempt to influence the attitudes and/ or behaviour of other people but, unlike coercion – which forces people to act in a particular way – persuasion operates in a context where people are ultimately still free to choose what to think and how to act.


The concept of 'public (or social) acceptance' has been extensively used as an umbrella for research aimed at better understanding the factors associated with public responses to energy technologies, and is also often used in policy and decision-making contexts.

New research by Batel et al. [40] has highlighted that 'acceptance' can also be seen as a particular type of response to energy infrastructures, distinct from others types such as 'support' or 'ambivalence'. Specifically, research found that 'acceptance' was more related to passivity and tolerance, with the implication that use of the concept can suggest a more top-down perspective on the deployment of energy infrastructures.

In consequence, Batel et al. [40] suggest that it is important to be cautious with concepts used in this area, both by researchers and decision-makers, and that it might be more important to focus on understanding public support for energy technologies than public acceptance.


'Participation' has come to mean the act of sharing in the activities of a civil society organisation, political party, or political process. Particularly exercises that give people an opportunity to be more actively involved in the development or amendment of policies and proposals.

Public support implies a more favourable position towards, and active engagement with, energy infrastructures; therefore arguably contributing to their deployment in a more sustainable way (see Batel et al., [40]). Can be distinguished from a more passive response of 'acceptance'.

Information deficit

'Information deficit' is a term used to describe a lack of knowledge and/or understanding, often on the part of the public. However, it is important not to assume that information provision will suffice to induce a change in attitude.

Value-action gap

The 'value-action gap' denotes an observation that people often do not act in ways congruent with their values. A significant amount of research has been dedicated to understanding both the reasons for the value-action gap and how it might be addressed.

Practice [41][42]

'Practice' is a term used to describe a broad theory of social action, which is sometimes posed in opposition to behavioural models and theories that view social action as rationally motivated and highly conscious.

Theories of practice suggest that individual actions are shaped by a framework of social structures (e.g. the family) and physical structures (e.g. road infrastructure), but this framework is itself created and modified by those actions; this is the theory of social action that is referenced when using the term practice.

Practices involve shared understandings of what it means to carry out a particular activity. They are durable social structures made up of a configuration of elements, including: ideas, emotions and meanings associated with the activity; mental and physical skills required to perform it; and materials and equipment needed.

This approach recognises the contextual, relational nature of thought and action, while simultaneously viewing individuals as active and creative, constantly re-interpreting social structures and norms within the changing contexts of their lives.


The term 'prosumer' was first mentioned in 1980 by Alvin Toffler in his book "The Third Wave" [43], describing the phenomena that consumers are not just merely consumers but becoming producers, too. Within the energy domain the term refers to individuals and communities that are becoming self-sufficient (e.g. micro-generation, community projects). These early adopting prosumer groups are increasingly well informed and proactive in seeking their own independent solutions.

Types of Engagement: Definitions

Stakeholder engagement

'Stakeholder engagement' is the process by which an organisation involves people who may be affected by the decisions it makes, or can influence the implementation of its decisions. They may support or oppose the decisions an organisation takes, be affected by those decisions in the long-term, be influential in the organisation or within the community in which it operates, or they may hold relevant positions in industry or government.

Public engagement

'Public engagement' is an umbrella term for any activity that engages in public dialogue. To be most effective public engagement activity should involve two-way aspects of listening and interaction.

Community engagement

'Community engagement' is the term for processes which help to build active and empowered communities; this includes public bodies involving citizens in influencing and carrying out public services. It can also involve enabling people to understand and exercise their powers and responsibilities as citizens; empowering them to organise groups which work for their common good.

Upstream engagement

'Upstream engagement' refers to the dialogue and deliberation amongst affected parties about a potentially controversial technological issue, at an early stage of the Research & Development process, and in advance of significant applications or social controversy.

Strategies for Engagement: Definitions


'Dialogue' is a conversation – or other form of discourse – between two or more individuals. In the context of public engagement, it often represents a two-way exchange of information in contrast with processes that are one-way, such as public education campaigns or those that are aimed at gathering social intelligence, such as focus groups.


'Consultation' is a process of dialogue or the gathering of information that contributes to a decision or change.


An 'incentive' is something that motivates an individual to perform an action. The study of incentive structures is central to the study of all economic activities (both in terms of individual decision-making and in terms of co-operation and competition within a larger institutional structure).

Nudges [44]

Nudges are ways of influencing choice without limiting the choice set or making alternatives appreciably more costly in terms of time, trouble, social sanctions, and so forth. They are called for because of flaws in individual decision-making, and they work by making use of those flaws.


Maven is originally a Hebrew word for 'one who understands'. In marketing, mavens are considered to be influential individuals with specialist knowledge of a product area, whose opinion is trusted. A Brook Lyndhurst study for DEFRA [45] concluded that these individuals also exist in the context of green marketing and that engaging with these individuals can assist in uptake.

Citizen jury

A citizens' jury is intended to supplement existing processes of representative democracy. The Jefferson Centre defines a citizens' jury as 'a randomly selected and demographically representative panel of citizens that meets for four or five days to carefully examine an issue of public significance'.

Citizen assembly

As with the citizens' jury, a citizens' assembly has a similar democratic motivation but usually refers to a larger, standing assembly of the public that may be self-organised or selected by government. As a standing body, it may consider a range of issues on an on-going basis.