An Engineer’s Perspective on People-Centred Approaches: Interview with Peter op’t Veld

  • Kateřina Kaprová, photo, green building, CIRCL, Amsterdam, added value of people-centred development approaches

To get an engineer’s perspective on the added value of people-centred development approaches, we talked with Peter op ‘t Veld, senior consultant at Huygen Installatie Adviseurs and coordinator of the Horizon 2020 MOBISTYLE Project. Peter is an engineer with key qualifications in consulting and applied scientific research on renewable energy, indoor air quality, ventilation, building physics, acoustics, dissemination of knowledge, and building regulations. We asked him how people-centred development approaches can contribute towards understanding peoples’ needs when developing advanced technological solutions to motivate behavioural change. The interview was published in our 3rd PEOPLE Newsletter in June 2018.

Featured image photo by Kateřina Kaprová.


Why do you involve people-centred development approaches in your projects?

Through the last 15 years I have been involved in European research projects aiming to improve energy efficiency of buildings. A most common intervention to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions is to retrofit a building’s envelope. However, once these retrofitted buildings enter the operation phase, we can often see that despite realizing thermally well retrofitted buildings having efficient installations, these buildings are still consuming more energy than expected; thus,  frustrating climate and energy goals. Occupant behaviour is one of the major factors influencing building energy consumption and contributing to uncertainty in predicted and real energy use. What we experience when talking with building occupants is that often they are not aware that their behaviour results in wasteful energy use. This shows a need to educate users on how their daily actions affect a building’s energy consumption and how they can reach energy savings without hampering their comfort levels or well-being. The foundation for development of the new MOBISTYLE approach is understanding that for the building to work efficiently (as designed), all components in a building need to be equally assessed and mutually conscious. It is not enough to improve a building envelope to the higher thermal standard but also and most important to increase the awareness and understanding of the users on how to behave in such buildings. So, users feel encouraged to start interacting with buildings and feel that they are co-creators of their indoor environment. This is where the people-centred approach comes into play.


added value of people-centred development approaches, Peter op+t Veld, an engineer's perspective, anthropology, interdisciplinarity, Horizon 2020, MOBISTYLE project
Interview with Peter op’t Veld (Huygen Installatie Adviseurs) featured in PEOPLE Newsletter No. 3


What’s your experience of working alongside or hand-in-hand with anthropologists in the MOBISTYLE project?

We believe that social science related disciplines have been underappreciated and there should be more multidisciplinary projects in order to offer user-friendlier attractive solutions that encourage and lead to positive changes in a society on a long term. It is not an easy job to facilitate interdisciplinary work between engineers, ICT developers and social scientists as each of us speaks our own language but it’s definitely worth it and beneficial! We are already seeing how this change in thinking in MOBISTYLE can bring a high-impact on the project. It is not just due to the social sciences integrated in engineering area but more as a result of a mutual holistic collaboration of all these different disciplines. Despite the fact that MOBISTYLE project is only 1.5 years on its way and not many results have yet been produced, our technical partners (ICT developers, engineers) understand the importance of including human aspects in the development process and their effect on the later acceptance and usefulness of their products.

Do you think that engineers are aware of the positive impacts that people-centred development can produce?

If we just look at the market and at the strategies of successful high-technology companies and innovative start-ups, we can see that these companies (led by engineers and IT experts) are already aware of why it is smart to integrate social science methodologies in their business. They already experience the positive impacts of the people-centred approach. My advice based on the MOBISTYLE experience is that the implication of embedding anthropological insights and social sciences into ICT-engineering technical developments can ensure the effectiveness of the proposed innovative solutions, as through anthropological approach we are able to create trust and establish cooperation and acceptance of end users.

Which steps in people-centred development are most crucial and challenging from your perspective?

As every person is an individual, we need to be aware on how we do a segmentation of different user types – how we interpret results coming from a sample group (limited number of subjects) to have enough detailed, however, still accurate segmentation of user needs and wishes for different groups. Therefore, the interpretation step seems crucial. User behaviour is a complex process that is hard to analyse and interpret. We need to be aware that people-centred approach is not just another add-on to the technology process but provides a well-structured analysis method that allows us to analyse users’ behaviour and define the most influencing determinants of someone’s behaviour. Also, it is important to always go back to the users and ask them whether we are satisfying their needs – already during the development process.

Read more articles in the 3rd issue of the PEOPLE Newsletter here (PDF), where PEOPLE students present their case studies and research experiences, you can find out more about the industry perspective of our PEOPLE project team member Gerriëtte Mollink, consultant at Alliander, and a teacher’s perspective as we introduce Prof. Sandra Bell, Durham University. All issues of the PEOPLE Newsletter are available here.