Automated buildings, ethnography, and data mining – The Slovenian PEOPLE case study

  • PEOPLE project, smart building, Slovenian PEOPLE case study, ethnography, people-centred approaches, applied, energy information system, buildings, energy efficiency

The Slovenian PEOPLE case study is one of the four individual case studies that were implemented in the 1st PEOPLE Learning Cycle, which has just recently concluded with a two-day Co-Creation Camp in Amsterdam.

In each of the four partner countries, Slovenia, UK, the Netherlands, and Czech Republic, students of social sciences and humanities worked with academic (ZRC SAZU) and industry mentors (Metronik) on a real-life, industry-identified research and development project in the field of energy efficiency and sustainability. As you might already know, we have a partnership node – an alliance of a higher education or research organisation and an industry partner in each country (read more about the aims and goals of the PEOPLE project here and the Learning Cycles here).

The goal of the case studies was to involve students of anthropology, sociology, psychology, and related fields in (interdisciplinary) R&D teams and provide them with an opportunity to learn, test, and refine people-centred development and design approaches. In all four case studies, the students used qualitative and/or quantitative research methods to work on an industry or business challenge. The students also gained new skills, in particular by taking the learning process outside of the classroom and by working with the industry partners, engineers, and energy and sustainability experts.

We will share with you their short reflections on the case studies, which were published in the 3rd issue of our PEOPLE Newsletter in June 2018. We are starting off with the Slovenian team, which carried out an exciting case study of an energy information system (MePIS Energy) and the impact of technological solutions on energy efficiency and indoor environment in buildings. (Read our previous posts on the Slovenian case study here and here.)

But first, take a look at this short video, produced by the Slovenian PEOPLE students, and see what we were up to in the 1st Learning Cycle and how the Slovenian PEOPLE case study unfolded.


“We are researching the role and influence of smart technological solutions on energy efficient behaviour in buildings. Our case study is an energy information system, installed in one of the buildings managed by the University of Ljubljana. Our key question, widely defined, is how to make the building a people-friendly and sustainable place by improving existing and designing new solutions. We designed a questionnaire that was sent out to all building occupants and that focuses on their perception of the indoor environment and well-being in the building. We interviewed building occupants to gain feedback about the energy information system and energy use in general, so that we can learn more precisely what the problems are that we need to solve and to identify better solutions for. We also attended lectures at both Faculties housed in this building, so that we could experience the environment and interactions with the energy system first hand. One of our most innovative approaches, however, is combining qualitative research data with data gathered from sensors in a chosen set of rooms. Through data mining and statistical analyses we defined patterns of workplace behaviour, which we contrast with data from our interviews to address and explain the most interesting observations.”


“By analysing sensor data and pairing up with interviews, we discovered that there is a big difference in terms of room occupancy between the different types of rooms in the building (laboratories, cabinets and administration). Administration staff has the most regular behaviour, since their working time is primarily from 8am to 4pm. Cabinets are occupied erratically, mostly just filling the gaps of professors between meetings, lab work and lectures. Laboratories have extended occupancy hours, since working times of their members don’t overlap completely. They are also social spaces and professors spend quite a lot of their time in their respective laboratories, despite having cabinets to themselves.”


“There is a gap between what we would like to do and what is realistically possible. Industry is well aware of the technical and legal issues regarding workspace improvement and not all solutions that we think would work, can be realized. We have learned to approach the problem from both perspectives – what we want and what we can do. We also experienced that engineers and social scientists can sometimes have completely different views on what the most important thing is for the project, but we need both sides because one does not go without the other to make such a project work.”


“Before we started working on this project we didn’t know that a smart building like this can have such disadvantages and that it was built in a way that bothers many of its occupants, sometimes it is even frustrating them. Smart should make things easier, but often it just complicates things. People don’t want to have everything done for them, they don’t mind opening windows or adjusting shades. Smart in this sense should have some leeway for people to still adjust things manually – it gives them a sense of control over their environment. It was surprising to find out how much money is sometimes spent for making smart buildings that are pretty but could in fact be way more functional than they are.”


The Slovenian PEOPLE team in the 1st Learning Cycle were:

• Ajda Pretnar (University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts)
• Hana Uma Zagmajster (University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts)
• Manca Voje (University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts)
• Tilen Šoštarič (University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Social Sciences)