Research Spotlight: Project Inspire on identifying vulnerability innovation

How do we know what good vulnerability innovation looks like? Francesca Moll and Zoe McLeod share some thoughts from our Project Inspire report

Sustainability First's Project Inspire was set up with the aim of improving service delivery and quality of life for customers in vulnerable situations, and to make sure that the benefits of innovation are shared with everyone.The bar for what good and innovative practice is, is constantly changing with rising customer expectations, changing needs and new opportunities, including as a result of new technology and changing behavioural norms.But only a minority of companies have mechanisms in place to proactively identify vulnerability innovation, especially from outside the energy sector, from consumer and disability groups or from overseas.

Our Project Inspire report, launched on 29 January 2018, identifies both standard and good practice of how companies identify innovative practice to support customers with additional needs and on low incomes. It encourages companies to think about how they, in line with Ofgem's requirements on the Priority Services Register, keep pace with technological and wider developments.

It found that a key barrier to greater sharing of vulnerability innovation was competition. Many energy suppliers felt that Ofgem and BEIS were giving them conflicting messages in this area – on the one hand proposing that competition will deliver for vulnerable customers e.g. those on smart prepay – on the other also expecting suppliers to cooperate 'on vulnerability' despite it not always being in their commercial interests to do so.

Even for distribution networks, especially electricity networks, sharing of what works, and communication of good practice, can be delayed by the competitive element of network incentives. This is less the case for gas where there are incentives to work together, and a particular history of cooperation on safety measures. The report also noted that there were difficulties sharing ideas within companies, where competition would not be expected to be a factor.

Sustainability First welcomes new initiatives to share innovation including by Energy UK, UKRN, Ofgem and Citizens advice, which have been catalysed by the discussion around Project Inspire. Sharing between energy companies is improving. Existing channels such as industry-led working groups (Energy UK's Vulnerability Group, Energy Networks Association's Safeguarding Customers Working Group) are particularly valued though recognised as limited in what they can achieve given the resources available.

You can download the full and summary Project Inspire Reports at the link above. As well as showcasing over 70 innovations, the Reports highlight the difference between standard practice – an 'ad-hoc' approach – and good practice – a more systematic and proactive approach.

If you are interested in the latest news and insights on Vulnerability Innovation and being involved with the next phase of Project Inspire contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.