Interview by: Patrick Rembe
As the Spanish saying goes, “El que espera desespera” (he who waits, despairs). This is exactly what Leonor Ruiz believes when it comes to sustainability and energy transition. Leonor is a design strategist at Soulsight, a strategic design consultancy, and partner in the ReDREAM project. She is convinced that it is up to everyone to push the transition of the energy sector toward a more sustainable industry. We need to cooperate to move forward. This is why she is working on keeping the consumer vision through ReDREAM, with the goal to empower consumers to influence the use of energy. She believes that this Horizon 2020 EU research project has the potential to change the way we think about energy. We would like to know in more detail what this means in their role at ReDREAM Project.
Hi Leonor, how are you? Have you changed anything about your energy use today?
Hi Patrick, I’m doing great. Yes, since I have been intensively dealing with the topic of energy and my personal approach to the use of this valuable resource through ReDREAM, I have been reflecting on my own behaviour much more intensively.
And how do you feel about your role on the project? What was your first thought when you heard about ReDREAM?
I was very excited. Especially because I’ve been working a lot in sustainability research and energy has a lot to do with sustainability. I also thought that it was a complex project to manage because there are a lot of countries and a lot of partners. This is why I thought it would be a challenge to get along and maintain a global vision.
You say that you’ve worked on sustainability before, did you have a special connection to this part of the energy sector?
I’m really self-aware of sustainability, and energy plays a fundamental role in new sustainable models. So I’ve read a lot about the energy sector and its transition toward a more sustainable model. And at Soulsight we’ve worked a lot with energy companies involved in cultural transformation and new business models.
And given this background, what were your first thoughts about what needs to be done in the early stages of a project like ReDREAM to get good research results?
It’s a simple answer; to organize things. During the first month and a half, we focused mainly on management. Like organizing sessions, organizing how we wanted to hold the meetings, what results in we expected to achieve… It was a lot of organization and planning. And then we started working.
And by working you mean researching consumers, right? What kind of tools do you use to get behind the mind of the consumers?
I would like to say that we use design thinking methodology, but I think in Soulsight after 15 years, we now have a mix of methodologies. We use design thinking, we use features design, a lot of qualitative techniques, ethnographic research…
And how necessary do you think it is to actually meet the people, to see the daily environment of the consumer?
It’s basic I think. And developing research in digital ways during the pandemic has been a challenge. Getting to talk to someone in their house, meet their family, and see how they live allows you to get to know the user in a much deeper way. And that’s really important.
What do you think are the biggest challenges that ReDREAM faces?
I think one of the challenges is that we are a lot of partners and we all want to do a lot of things. Given this, being capable of maintaining the user vision through all the partners and throughout the project is tricky. Ideally we should be able to tell a developer or a legal partner the way the user really wants to relate to their project. But this is a big challenge. I also think that there is a communication challenge. It’s complicated because the information is already there, and we have to be able to deliver it through the partners and all along the project.
Let’s say in six years, how far do you think ReDREAM can reach with its consumer-centric approach?
I think it could accomplish energy transition. I think ReDREAM is a really good tool for people to self-produce energy and to really transform the way things are now. I truly believe that we have to start living differently and this project is a tool for us to start testing what we could do to change our life.
And you are convinced that ReDREAM is the tool we need to change the way we use energy?
Absolutely, yes. If we get the user view until the end, it can be. I think that it can make people think of energy differently and think of how they use it in their daily lives.
So would you say that the vision of the project is realistic?
Well, I think it depends on us and how we see it through. I think we need to find a way to dream a lot and create something amazing, but at the same time, we also need to meet the needs of the market. And that can be a hard thing to do sometimes, to develop something amazing with the power to really transform but that adapts to today’s reality.
It sounds to me like pushing this type of change takes hard work and time. What drives you personally to keep doing the work and putting in the effort?
This is such a big question. I love people. I love hearing people’s stories and understanding how each person thinks differently. I believe that I learn something from every person that I meet. And this is why I love doing research with people, getting new information and learning things I didn’t know before. I truly think that this work has the power to transform and that is what keeps me motivated.
Inspiring. And how do you think your research results can influence the ReDREAM project?
I think the research results mainly influence the design and development aspects. But it can also affect dissemination and communication because our research tells us a lot about what people want to hear and how communities want to relate to the energy sector.
So the need for research is essential. Do you think you play a bigger role in the project than other partners?
I would say we all have a very important role in the project. I think the research is the beginning but if there’s no design, then the research makes no sense, and if there’s no research, then the design makes no sense. And it seems to me that the legal and political framework is also very important. So I wouldn’t say that research plays the most important role in the project.
Yes, that makes sense. Okay, the last question is about your personal vision regarding sustainability. Which are the next steps that you think need to be taken in this regard?
I’m really worried about renewable energy in general. I think we have to bet on it but I think we’re lacking a real holistic vision of where to put what type of energy. Sadly, I believe that we’ve destroyed a lot of other things in the name of renewables, like for example using natural parks for the development of this type of energy. This is why I think we have to find a way to take into account the context, biodiversity, and cultural aspects when taking decisions. And I think that in order to reach our goals we have to work together: organizations, universities, governments, and individuals. Because gas will end. Oil will end. And so we have to plan and design how we want to live the best we can.
I love it. Thank you very much.
Thank you Patrick.