Q & A with Amanda Dwelley!

Posted January 8, 2020

What is your role at ILLUME?

Director of Quantitative Research. I manage a variety of research studies, from small-scale, mixed-methods research to support pilots, to large quantitative survey efforts (e.g., for market characterization, thermostat behaviors, nonparticipant analysis), to billing analysis of behavioral programs. I started my career squarely on the analytics side, and am now an advocate for mixed-methods research to make sure we are really talking to people – not just in survey open-ends – to understand how energy fits into their lives, in their own words. If you run a big survey to find out your program has a satisfaction score of 8.2 on a 10-point scale – what then? Asking people what might improve the experience can be limiting – people aren’t great at imagining alternatives beyond our range of experience, and we have a deep bench of ethnographers and market researchers – from anthropology, linguistics, public health, and the social sciences – who know how to uncover people’s underlying needs, motivators, and preferences. My economist-brain has learned a lot from our team!

Where are you from and where do you live now?

I think of New England as one big state. I grew up in Southern New England and migrated to Northern New England after stints in California and North Carolina. I live in Maine now and love it every single day even when it’s coated in ice. Most days I can’t help exclaiming, “Oh this is glorious!” or “OMG so beautiful!” and spamming the ILLUME Slack channel with pictures of woods and harbors and sunrises in hope that the Tucson office might visit.

Sometimes I feel the need to say I’m “going through a rural phase” but I’m loving small-town life and running into people at the grocery store.

Who or what inspires you in your work?

I love learning why people do the things they do. Throughout my career in energy, I’ve worked on “behavioral programs” which are about habit and behavior change, and using small nudges or social influences to drive change. I was heavily influenced by behavioral economics theories/studies described Dan Ariely’s “Predictably Irrational” & Thaler & Sunstein’s “Nudge” that demonstrate how we are influenced by so many forces and factors beyond price. This interest has carried over into other areas of my life, and I love reading about habit formation and habit change (e.g., “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg), and talking to people about what habits they’re working on and what tools they are using.

Do you have any pets?

Yes, Butterscotch, a six-year-old pit bull who needs lots of walks and exploring. She usually gets two off-leash walks a day. If we miss one, the energy builds up exponentially and I lose her in the woods on the next walk, sometimes for up to an hour!

Recently when I was waiting for her in the woods, she popped out before me and right into the back of another person’s car, and wouldn’t get out! They ended up calling the police, and when I got to the trailhead, there was my dog panting in the back of this car with a circle of neighbors and the police around her.

What are your favorite hobbies?

I do yoga to keep me (relatively) calm. At least that’s what I’m getting from it now; it’s been an evolution and I’m sure it will change as I age. Since moving to Maine, I usually practice by myself because there are few practitioners of what I like to do (Ashtanga) in my area. Consequently, most vacations/trips are oriented around, “Where can I go for yoga?”

But right now, yoga is taking a backseat to designing a small house! It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to my energy efficiency and renewable energy ideas when they have price tags!

I also love (admire) pottery and ceramics, and should have a bumper sticker that says, “This car brakes for pottery!” because I’m known for veering off the road whenever I see a sign for someone’s home pottery studio.

What’s your favorite quote or motto?

From Once in a Lifetime by the Talking Heads: “And you may find yourself [fill in odd or precarious situation]… And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?” There are so many situations where this applies!

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Some of the dirty jobs I’ve done were actually kind of satisfying – I once cleaned a long length of a water filter in a quarry pond by peeling off inches of muck caked around this filter, and really enjoyed that. Similarly, I used to do catering jobs in the summer and one of the tasks was cleaning this unnecessary chocolate fountain which, over the course of the evening, bugs flew into and got coated in chocolate. I should have more compassion for dead bugs…

What is your superpower?

Packing U-Hauls and storage units efficiently. Seriously, call me if you need to Tetris-pack a 3-BR apartment into a 15’ U-Haul.

Runner-up: IKEA furniture assembly. Please pay in pizza.

If you could have chosen another career path, what would you be doing?

I went to grad school for urban planning because I wanted to research or influence “positive” development, and help us build places and spaces that foster more human connections, socialization, and health. When I learned more about real estate finance and saw how pro formas worked – the tally of income and expenses – and talked to developers, I learned that there was really no place for unquantifiable benefits like health, happiness, or connections in the spreadsheets…. at least not at that point. Hopefully in the future our development frameworks can hold a place for the human and psychological costs and benefits of certain decisions. I gave up on that path because I finished grad school right after the real estate market collapsed, and was lucky to find a path into energy research, and particularly, behavioral research, where the nuances of human behavior and motivation are considered and used to help us save energy.