Hero Stories and Learning Stories

Kathryn Janda and Marina Topouzi published an interesting paper at the 2013 Summer Study on Energy Efficiency sponsored by the European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ECEEE).  The title of their paper is “Closing the loop: using hero stories and learning stories to remake energy policy.”  Kathryn Janda spent a few years on the faculty at Oberlin College and refers to the College’s “trophy building” — the Adam Joseph Lewis Center as one of her examples.

Janda and Topouzi argue that “hero stories” describe something that is bigger than life and not realistic.  They draw parallels with narratives offered for energy efficient buildings and projects — the “stories” or claims are unrealistic and, all too-often, reality falls short of the promise.  In the end they argue that there is an interesting “learning story” in the reality — one that is all too-frequently left untold.

The paper is interesting and well-written — not at all like most scientific papers.  Rather than provide a poor summary of their paper let me provide this quotation from their abstract:

This hero story, where we are saved by clever technologies, is inspiring, positive, and familiar. In this story, we don’t need to do anything because the technology will do it for us. But how real is it? The counterpart to the hero story is the learning story, where things are not quite as simple as they first seemed. In a learning story, protagonists are normal people who need to rise to a challenge. They are not saved by Superman, they have to save themselves. The learning story in energy policy lies in the between the technical potential and what is achieved in practice.

The piece is a refreshing read.