Think and talk. Sometimes this is what we, smart beings, need to do in order to improve.
I started working for Carbon Coop in December 2015 and since then I got very involved in EcoHomeLab. A space for energy enthusiasts that, during the time I have taken part on it, has gone through different stages. And the same has happened with my feelings towards it; going from been very excited when the day is coming to scared because we haven't got anything clearly prepared, annoyed as I need to finish something else or proud after seen people deeply engaging with what has been done and discussed… So with all of this, sometimes it is good to look back and at the same time forward. And that is exactly what the last EcoHomeLab session was about.
What we do well and what not
This time we were 7 of the ones that are always there with 2 additions from CarbonCoop. Still a big group, but also cosy. We started having a round to say whatever we felt about EHL, what we think we are doing well and what not. This a summary of what came up:
- The history of EHL can be described as: the beginning was about building monitors and troubleshooting, then a period of presentations, more building sessions again and finally more presentations until now.
- So EHL is not as hands on as it was conceived. How has it evolved to the Presentations dynamic? This can be because a monthly meeting is not enough to make electronics unless people carry on working at home. This kind of projects require more dedication than just one evening a month.
- Presentations seem to have worked well to attract people but we wondered if they are too technical or not as this can be a reason why some people don't come back.
- The structure of the sessions is not clear. There is tension between having speakers and practical work but we want both to happen!
- Because of all these different reasons said above, it is difficult to know what people expect about EHL.
- Sometimes we lack ideas about what the presentations can be. Also we (sometimes 😉 leave it for last minute and there is always a bit of stress on the previous week. Luckily very clever people work with us and there is always something cool to tell.
- How can we measure our success? If it is by binding people, the same ones coming every month, we are not doing bad as some of us are always here. But also there are people who seemed to like a session very much but never came back.
- This is a space for people and projects that deal with house energy issues, but there are not many energy monitors users and sometimes no reference to energy monitoring at all. That is a shame.
- Sometimes we have people with completely different technical levels. It would be good to have something for everybody.
- There has been nothing about making emonCMS dashboards, we always focus on hardware or theory but never on the visualisations.
- We are supposed to help people fixing their OpenEnergyMonitors and they expect it. But we are not doing very well. It can be because we haven't got enough time at the end of the session, we haven't brought the right tools or somebody starts with the fix but not finish it and in the next session somebody else carries on making the whole process very messy.
Very good, at this point we had had a look at what we can improve, then we tried to decide how:
- Presentations shouldn't be less technical but shorter.
- We will prioritize presentations of people showing things they make, specially energy monitoring would be good.
- If we know that somebody will be coming to fix an energy monitor, we will assign the task to one of us beforehand, this way we ensure that somebody will put the time and resources on it.
- We shouldn't rely on Madlab's tools, we need our box (as we used to have).
- To keep the link to energy monitoring and make it accessible to non techies, we will have an energy monitoring exhibition in every session. This will be a monitor for Madlab or a table with OpenEnergyMonitor devices and a kettle (or similar) that we will set up for every session.
- We have to contact those who made monitors at EHL, check how they are doing and invite them back.
- We need more ideas for presentations and we commit to not leave organizing it for last minute.
- We need to specify a new structure for EHL
The New Structure
We will start with a drop in session for people how want some help with their OpenEnergyMonitors, followed by a presentation and finished with an open session for people to show/talk about their own projects. You can see the new structure in action in the meetup page for the next session.
To take into account:
- People who are in the presentation may want to stay longer and chat. If this is what happens, great!
- It must be very clear in the meetup page at what time each thing is happening. If it’s clearer what there will be and when, then expectations are managed and people who come will be more likely to come back.
- People who are not fixing and not engaged with the ongoing chatting may want information on the energy monitor display. We need somebody knowledgeable there.
Ideas for presentation and working sessions
At this point we did a brain storm:
- Learning more about temperature in the house.
- Air quality.
- Lorewan network.
- Once a new energy/temperature monitor is installed in Madlab, we can do a comparison with what was measured before they did the retrofit.
- Off grid living.
- Smart homes (oriented to energy and the environment), there is already a group in Madlab that does it so we could invite them.
- Privacy related to smart homes and monitoring.
- Energy suppliers. Bring somebody from Ecotricity, Good Energy or from one of the big suppliers.
- emonCMS dashboards.
- EcoHomeLab day trip to Mike Wilson's house to see his great set up with monitoring and control (and drink all his home-brew).
I love it, there is nothing like an open honest discussion to work out how to improve.
The best of it is that I like the people who were there very much and I think this was shared between all of us; that is what made this session possible. There was not embarrassment to do auto-critic and say what is not working or what we are doing wrong. Again: this is key to do things better.
Oh, this EcoHomeLab is such a great space!!
Next session will be at 17:30 on the 13th of April at Madlab, topic: Julian Tait from ThingsManchester, the crowdsourced IoT network for Manchester, will be talking to us about the potential for LoraWAN as a backplane for your sensor network. We'll be having a look at what areas of Manchester are covered, having a look at some hardware and seeing how we might interface with it.
Let us know you are coming on the meetup page.