research priorities for climate action (March 2010)

key forces for climate action: Future research agendas and the future climate movement

James Whelan, tCA Director
Written for the UTS ‘Key forces for climate action‘ forum, 5 March 2010.

How can we avert catastrophic climate change through a social transformation that is both rapid and just? What role can research and researchers play? The discussions today, along with my observations and experiences of climate movement research, suggest four defining attributes for climate movement research.

dynamic

The climate movement is evolving rapidly; asking and attempting to answer vexing questions with a sense of urgency. Activists are reflective, and theorise about their strategies and tactics, but in ways that may not look like research to academics accustomed to methods that move at a gradual pace over several years. Given the dynamic nature of the political opportunity structure that the movement operates within, the 24 hour media cycle and constantly-shifting focus of policy debate, activist learning occurs in short cycles: people experience challenges, reflect and generalise, generate and apply new information within days or weeks. Electronic communication facilitates spontaneous and global collaboration and information-seeking.

An important feature of this dynamic learning is catalysis. Climate movement research must be catalytic. Scientists often avoid research methods that influence the phenomena of interest. Action research, for instance, is sometimes labeled ‘manipulative’ as it ‘distorts’ the social landscape it seeks to understand. For climate movement research to be socially useful and worthy of activists’ involvement, however, it must be transformative.

inclusive

Research can be considered an abstract and remote business, and there are relatively few instances of sustained inquiry within Australia’s social movements beyond routine problem and policy analysis. Where are activists and researchers working together to address the big question: How can we effect social change to bring about social and environmental justice?

John Gaventa, former director of the Highlander Research and Education Centre in Tennessee, modeled research that engaged with social movements in the heat of their campaigns to build power. Gaventa extolled (1991, pp.121-122) a mode of social movement research that is “simultaneously a tool for the education and development of consciousness as well as mobilization for action.”

Patricia Maguire (1987:38-39) “Involving research subjects as partners in the entire research process also increases the potential to distribute the benefits of the research process more equitably.” In a similar vein, Randy Stoecker (1999, 2005), convenor of the excellent Comm-Org discussion list, identifies several ‘decision points’ for research collaboration. Climate activists and those motivated to facilitate research (including academics) must collaborate throughout the research cycle from the first steps of initiating inquiry and defining questions and research methods, through to gathering and interpreting data and developing and testing theories, then in the important stages of reporting and acting on research findings.

Climate movement research is a growth industry. Researchers are building their profiles on projects and publications that few activists will ever encounter written in language that activists are unlikely to find meaningful. This is neither just nor useful.

One important dimensions of this inclusivity will be internationalism. The social changes required to avert catastrophic climate change cannot be brought about exclusively by minority world activists in minority world locations. In the aftermath of the failed Copenhagen Conference of Parties, some activists have identified a key failing of their social movements. We have organised primarily at home and neglected to build relationship of solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the majority world. One consequence has been that their national leaders did not arrive in Copenhagen committed to an alternative consensus – a vision and path of action capable of standing as an alternative to the unilateral Chinese and United States positions. Another consequence, of course is the striking disparity between the resources and political capacity of social movements in the global north and south. As Ariel Salleh observed during today’s forum, activists and engaged academics often use the pronoun “we” in ways that exclude women, economically disadvantaged societies and the majority world.

listening

To answer questions that are genuinely useful to the movement, researchers and activists drawn to purposeful inquiry need to listen. What challenges are routinely identified in conversations such as climate summits and campaign evaluations? What vexing questions bubble to the surface in different settings? The climate movement needs research focused on these questions, not on themes developed in obscure academic journals.

The Change Agency’s ‘climate action research project’ has been guided by a series of strategic questions (Peavey, 1999) based on what we’ve heard in the movement: What would it take for Australia and Australians to play our part in averting catastrophic climate change? What kind of social movement will being this about? How do we build and support this kind of social movement? What role can online technologies and communication play? How will the movement strategise?

risky

Useful climate movement research will take place in the heart of conflict, in the tiger’s mouth. Researchers cannot understand the movement from a disengaged and dispassionate position. Meaningful research in this context grows from relationships between movement activists and action research facilitators: relationships of solidarity that entail taking sides. Researchers – both activists and academics – learn about climate change activism through building and exercising power. This will be risky for career-conscious academics.

references

Gaventa, J. (1993) ‘The Powerful, the Powerless, and the Experts: Knowledge Struggles in an Information Age’, pp. 21-40 in Peter Park, Mary Brydon-Miller, Budd Hall, and Ted Jackson (eds.) Voices of Change: Participatory Research in the United States and Canada, Westport, Connecticut: Bergin and Garvey.

Maguire, P. (1987) Doing Participatory Research: A Feminist Approach, Center for International Education, School of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass.

Peavey, F. (1999) Strategic Questioning Manual, Online: http://www.thechangeagency.org/01_cms/details.asp?ID=60

Stoecker, R. (2005) Research Methods for Community Change: A Project-Based Approach, Sage, Thousand Oaks, California.

Stoecker, R. (1999) “Are Academics Irrelevant?” Roles for Scholars in Participatory Research.” American Behavioral Scientist 42, pp. 840-854.

The Change Agency (2010) Climate Action Research Project, Available: http://www.thechangeagency.org/01_cms/details.asp?ID=73

What are people saying about us?

Peter Archer, World Vision

I have shared with my friends and family that this workshop was the most valuable training I have done. It came at a time when I had become aware of my passion for grassroots activism. The follow-up support equipped me quickly and powerfully to put my learning into practice and age my confidence a huge boost.
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T08:11:05+11:00
I have shared with my friends and family that this workshop was the most valuable training I have done. It came at a time when I had become aware of my passion for grassroots activism. The follow-up support equipped me quickly and powerfully to put my learning into practice and age my confidence a huge boost.
Denise Cauchi

Denise Cauchi, CEO, Doctors for the Environment 2020

The Change Agency helped us build the campaigning muscle of our members and develop concrete strategies. James worked closely with us to prepare the weekend workshop, making sure it was fine tuned to meet the needs of our organisation. He was great to work with and the workshop received very positive feedback.
The Change Agency
2020-02-25T11:27:45+11:00
Denise Cauchi
The Change Agency helped us build the campaigning muscle of our members and develop concrete strategies. James worked closely with us to prepare the weekend workshop, making sure it was fine tuned to meet the needs of our organisation. He was great to work with and the workshop received very positive feedback.
Stu Bowen

Stu Bowen, Environmental Manager (Australia & New Zealand) Patagonia International Inc.

James has helped me better appreciate my unique set of values and understand what inspires me to action, which is a great tool to recognise other stakeholder’s values and what motivates them to action. This growth allows me to communicate far more effectively with all my stakeholders, so we can all achieve greater positive environmental and social change.

 
The Change Agency
2015-04-29T18:23:01+10:00
Stu Bowen
James has helped me better appreciate my unique set of values and understand what inspires me to action, which is a great tool to recognise other stakeholder’s values and what motivates them to action. This growth allows me to communicate far more effectively with all my stakeholders, so we can all achieve greater positive environmental and social change.  

Anna Rose, ASEN Convenor and NUS National Environment Officer 2005

The Change Agency has contributed enormously to strengthening the student environment movement in Australia and helping us shift to a culture of strategic thinking, planning and reflection on our activism. The training and advice provided by the Change agency over the last twelve months has been invaluable to tens of campus environment collectives and we are already seeing tangible results in real wins in our Campus Clean Energy Camp. Thank you Change Agency!
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T07:37:22+11:00
The Change Agency has contributed enormously to strengthening the student environment movement in Australia and helping us shift to a culture of strategic thinking, planning and reflection on our activism. The training and advice provided by the Change agency over the last twelve months has been invaluable to tens of campus environment collectives and we are already seeing tangible results in real wins in our Campus Clean Energy Camp. Thank you Change Agency!

Simone van Hattem

The Community Organising Fellowship has given me effective organising skills and tools, and background information of the Australian environment and climate movements I need to develop strategy for campaigns, and provide training for other organisers and campaigners across Western Australia. The support I've been given through the ongoing mentorship and buddy program helps me stay connected with the wider movement, and stay on track to organise the people we need to defeat organised money. This program is a transformative experience, changing my work and the movement, and I'm so thankful to be part of it.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T21:04:17+11:00
The Community Organising Fellowship has given me effective organising skills and tools, and background information of the Australian environment and climate movements I need to develop strategy for campaigns, and provide training for other organisers and campaigners across Western Australia. The support I've been given through the ongoing mentorship and buddy program helps me stay connected with the wider movement, and stay on track to organise the people we need to defeat organised money. This program is a transformative experience, changing my work and the movement, and I'm so thankful to be part of it.

Josh Creaser, Frontline Projects Coordinator, 350.org

Most campaigners would probably shudder at the thought of spending ten whole days away from the frantic world of actions and meetings, to invest time in their own reflection and learning. The Community Organising Fellowship forces you to do just that – and what a gift and opportunity that time becomes.

 The Fellowship is a unique combination of ingredients. Time for pause and reflection. Discussion with leading thinkers. Connections to a wide array of campaigns. Guidance from experienced and caring facilitators. Bonds formed with 25 inspiring campaigners from across the country.

 These ingredients are brought together with carefully crafted methods. Thought-provoking stories. Challenging questions. Developing crucial skills. Applying new methods and tools. Preparing new plans for real world projects. 

 The result? Ten days that couldn’t have been better spent for someone that is looking to challenge their assumptions, deepen their understanding of why we organise in communities and feel ready to go forward with greater focus and vigour in their work.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T20:56:37+11:00
Most campaigners would probably shudder at the thought of spending ten whole days away from the frantic world of actions and meetings, to invest time in their own reflection and learning. The Community Organising Fellowship forces you to do just that – and what a gift and opportunity that time becomes.  The Fellowship is a unique combination of ingredients. Time for pause and reflection. Discussion with leading thinkers. Connections to a wide array of campaigns. Guidance from experienced and caring facilitators. Bonds formed with 25 inspiring campaigners from across the country.  These ingredients are brought together with carefully crafted methods. Thought-provoking stories. Challenging questions. Developing crucial skills. Applying new methods and tools. Preparing new plans for real world projects.   The result? Ten days that couldn’t have been better spent for someone that is looking to challenge their assumptions, deepen their understanding of why we organise in communities and feel ready to go forward with greater focus and vigour in their work.
Sophie Peer

Sophie Peer, ChilOut campaign director

The Change Agency is like a best friend in the drawer. As the only paid employee in a very small not for profit, it is fabulous to know there are trusted, well tested resources a click away. Whether it's workshop planning, strategic re-think, tactics - tCA is the chamomile tea to my campaigner-stress.
The Change Agency
2014-05-16T14:31:59+10:00
Sophie Peer
The Change Agency is like a best friend in the drawer. As the only paid employee in a very small not for profit, it is fabulous to know there are trusted, well tested resources a click away. Whether it's workshop planning, strategic re-think, tactics - tCA is the chamomile tea to my campaigner-stress.
Nic clyde

Nic Clyde, Climate team leader, Greenpeace Australia Pacific

Before coming into this cohort, my community organising ability was – at best – intuitive, with not much structure and theory... or ‘all hat and no horse’ (as the Texans say). This is starting to change. This fellowship has reinvigorated my thirst to become a better campaigner. It has built my skills in strategy and community organising. It has connected me with a mob who are passionate, connected and willing to help out in whatever way they can. Thanks!
The Change Agency
2014-05-23T16:40:41+10:00
Nic clyde
Before coming into this cohort, my community organising ability was – at best – intuitive, with not much structure and theory... or ‘all hat and no horse’ (as the Texans say). This is starting to change. This fellowship has reinvigorated my thirst to become a better campaigner. It has built my skills in strategy and community organising. It has connected me with a mob who are passionate, connected and willing to help out in whatever way they can. Thanks!
John Hepburn

John Hepburn, Outreach Manager, Greenpeace Australia Pacific

When you stop learning, you stop growing. For social movements and organisations to grow and develop, they need to learn from their successes and failures. The Change Agency have played a key role in helping Greenpeace to do this, to reflect on our work, to focus on what is effective, and to map out some exciting new strategic directions. They've supported our staff and volunteers with some great practical training on campaign strategy, and, of course, they've been a joy to work with.
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T07:35:05+11:00
John Hepburn
When you stop learning, you stop growing. For social movements and organisations to grow and develop, they need to learn from their successes and failures. The Change Agency have played a key role in helping Greenpeace to do this, to reflect on our work, to focus on what is effective, and to map out some exciting new strategic directions. They've supported our staff and volunteers with some great practical training on campaign strategy, and, of course, they've been a joy to work with.
Julie Lyford

Julie Lyford, Groundswell Gloucester

Such a long fight. Without you and the Change Agency we would be floundering. Thank you so much for your energy, passion, wisdom and guidance and for all that you do in changing the world.
The Change Agency
2016-09-30T13:24:47+10:00
Julie Lyford
Such a long fight. Without you and the Change Agency we would be floundering. Thank you so much for your energy, passion, wisdom and guidance and for all that you do in changing the world.
0
0
The Change Agency