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?

Cate-Faehrmann

Cate Faehrmann, Director, Nature Conservation Council NSW, 2005

We did a two-day workshop with The Change Agency early this year which provided our organisation with some much-needed tools for strategic campaigning and planning. There was nothing but positive feedback from our staff and board members about what they gained from the two days spent with James and Sam. The power mapping exercise was particularly insightful for staff and board members alike and as a result our campaigns are more pro-active - we are seeing results!
2014-03-30T07:51:49+00:00
Cate-Faehrmann
We did a two-day workshop with The Change Agency early this year which provided our organisation with some much-needed tools for strategic campaigning and planning. There was nothing but positive feedback from our staff and board members about what they gained from the two days spent with James and Sam. The power mapping exercise was...
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.
2014-03-30T07:35:05+00:00
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...
Bob Bingaman

Bob Bingaman, Sierra Club National Organizing Director

The fight to protect the environment is a fight of organized people against organized money.  For those in Australia who want to take on and be successful in this fight, the Community Organizing Fellowship provides the opportunity to learn, practice and implement strong grassroots organizing skills.

There is no better place to learn the craft of organizing, then immediately apply those learning to today’s most relevant climate and environmental campaigns, than the Community Organizing Fellowship.  The program is an in-depth immersion into the craft of grassroots organizing.  Going through this program will transform campaigners and how they think about and implement campaigns which build grassroots power to achieve significant environmental victories.
2014-05-29T13:00:49+00:00
Bob Bingaman
The fight to protect the environment is a fight of organized people against organized money.  For those in Australia who want to take on and be successful in this fight, the Community Organizing Fellowship provides the opportunity to learn, practice and implement strong grassroots organizing skills. There is no better place to learn the craft...
jason

Jason Lyddieth, Greenpeace

There are many learnings, skills, and tools I am keen to take back to my work to empower my teams and improve our campaigns. The people and the vibe at the trainings were amazing and truly inspiring. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to have been able to attend and privileged to be a recipient of such great learnings and in the company of such amazing people.
2014-05-10T21:48:34+00:00
jason
There are many learnings, skills, and tools I am keen to take back to my work to empower my teams and improve our campaigns. The people and the vibe at the trainings were amazing and truly inspiring. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to have been able to attend and privileged to be a...
Meghan and Lilly

Meghan Halverson, Queensland Koala Crusaders

I am so very grateful for the Change Agency’s perspective in helping to coordinate and inspire our group.  The weekend at Wild Mountains to begin to create the foundation of our national koala alliance will certainly be a highlight of 2014. The combination of your amazing resources and the collaborative facilitation helped to provide a cohesive, motivating structure for the path forward and a fresh new approach.
2014-05-06T00:41:31+00:00
Meghan and Lilly
I am so very grateful for the Change Agency’s perspective in helping to coordinate and inspire our group.  The weekend at Wild Mountains to begin to create the foundation of our national koala alliance will certainly be a highlight of 2014. The combination of your amazing resources and the collaborative facilitation helped to provide a...
Shani Tager

Shani Tager, Friends of the Earth

The fellowship has been really useful in helping me become more disciplined in the strategic planning process and able to clearly communicate why we’re doing what we’re doing. The facilitation team have been fantastic and having theory drawn out from our own experiences and then immediately applied to our campaigns means I’ll be returning to my team with a solid analysis of how we can be more effective.
2014-05-10T21:52:42+00:00
Shani Tager
The fellowship has been really useful in helping me become more disciplined in the strategic planning process and able to clearly communicate why we’re doing what we’re doing. The facilitation team have been fantastic and having theory drawn out from our own experiences and then immediately applied to our campaigns means I’ll be returning to...
kate

Kate Lardner, Doctors for the Environment Australia

During the Fellowship, I have embarked on an enormous learning curve that has resulted not only in exposure to concepts and skills, but knowledge of these things, through application of the teachings with leaders in their fields and the opportunity to be integrated into a real time campaign. I have been challenged creatively and analytically and been given the chance to create the openings and space to make my own opportunities arise.  
2015-03-17T20:53:26+00:00
kate
During the Fellowship, I have embarked on an enormous learning curve that has resulted not only in exposure to concepts and skills, but knowledge of these things, through application of the teachings with leaders in their fields and the opportunity to be integrated into a real time campaign. I have been challenged creatively and analytically and...
Jane Stabb

Jane Stabb, Community Organiser, Environment Victoria

The Community Organising Fellowship workshop was extraordinarily impactful for me. I had a chance to investigate the theory behind effective organising and campaigning tools that I can use in my practice every day but very rarely interrogate or reflect on.  I found new frameworks and structures that will improve my practice so much. I had the space and place to interrogate my campaign with the assistance of masters!  And I was given the opportunity to build relationships with leaders in my field, to be supported in my thinking by them and to support them by sharing our practice and experiences... 100% pure gold.
2014-05-23T16:45:53+00:00
Jane Stabb
The Community Organising Fellowship workshop was extraordinarily impactful for me. I had a chance to investigate the theory behind effective organising and campaigning tools that I can use in my practice every day but very rarely interrogate or reflect on.  I found new frameworks and structures that will improve my practice so much. I had...
toniwalkington

Toni Walkington, Secretary, Community Public Sector Union, WA

The Change Agency Campaign Workshop in Perth was a tremendous opportunity to learn skills and techniques to assist our campaigning work. I came away with a set of skills and techniques that are easily applied to our work. We often tackle big issues and are up against well resourced opponents. The tools I learnt at the campaign workshop means developing our campaign strategies is easier and we work in a structured way with clear objectives. Since participating in the workshop I have used many of the tools, particularly the critical path analysis – it’s really made a great difference!
2014-03-30T07:45:45+00:00
toniwalkington
The Change Agency Campaign Workshop in Perth was a tremendous opportunity to learn skills and techniques to assist our campaigning work. I came away with a set of skills and techniques that are easily applied to our work. We often tackle big issues and are up against well resourced opponents. The tools I learnt at...
hayley

Hayley Troupe, 350.org organiser

The community organising fellowship has expanded my theoretical and practical knowledge of how and why to organise. Through the Fellowship I have so far gained new skills to lead strategic, collaborative and powerful university divestment campaigns. I have learnt so much from the well-structured workshops and the inspiring sharing of experiences. I look forward to sharing my experiences and learnings with others involved in the university divestment movement.
2015-03-17T19:29:30+00:00
hayley
The community organising fellowship has expanded my theoretical and practical knowledge of how and why to organise. Through the Fellowship I have so far gained new skills to lead strategic, collaborative and powerful university divestment campaigns. I have learnt so much from the well-structured workshops and the inspiring sharing of experiences. I look forward to...