Looking back at the Acorn Study; Part 2: A background to the patterns

January 21, 2021

Almost every SenseMaker collection, no matter what it is, contains some garden-variety multiple-choice questions. These may appear simple, but they can often be deceptively tricky. They depend on multiple things, such as which categories are significant to our question (for example, might the patterns associated with children’s stories be different to those of adults?), or the balance of how many are too many. In return for our concern, these multiple-choice questions provide us with filters that allow us to look at the data from different perspectives (you will see that in future posts), as well as an at-a-glance setting for the stories collected. In this post, we will look at this high-level overview for the responses people gave to the question of recalling an action they have seen taken that will have an impact on climate change.

Who participated?

Starting with something simple, let’s take a look at who the 373 people who shared their actions and observations were:

  • More than half were men – 200 compared to 169 women.
  • More than half fell into the 36-55 age bracket, while 54 were between 56 and 65 and 43 between 31 and 35. Only 26 people were 29 or under.
  • They overwhelmingly came from Europe (190) with North America (73) and Oceania (63) following.
  • In their vast majority, they were highly educated, with 220 stories coming from people with postgraduate degrees. Only 21 people had just finished high school or a vocational group.

This overview gives us our first opportunity to pause and make an observation. Given the profile, and how frequent different categories are, we can see that this is a collection of experiences from a very particular context and not a globally representative sample. Looking at the picture that emerges, it might very well reflect more or less the profile of the readers and followers of Dave’s blog. As we move forward and start looking at patterns, we can keep in mind that we are not talking about a representative sample. This does not invalidate the experiences shared, especially since the experience’s specificity provides us with context beyond the (impossible) generalisation.

How did they feel?

People were asked how they felt about the lessons learnt from the example they shared. The following graph shows the feelings identified:

Perhaps connected with the sense of “having an impact” associated with people’s stories, the three most common feelings are positive: optimistic, empowered, and motivated. We are going to look deeper into all of those feelings in association with specific micro-narratives and the patterns of their interpretations by participants, but this in itself is an interesting trend to note. Interestingly, the next most common emotional association is despair, which is not just negative but very powerfully so. Quite literally, the distance from optimism to despair seems to be relatively small. A look at the unlisted (“other”) emotions experienced by participants shows a mix of positive and negative, with worried, hopeful, and impatient featuring in the mix.

What changes do people think individuals should make?

Presented here with minimal comment (we will take deeper dives on perceptions of effectiveness and the idea of individual or other scales of action later in the series), these are the areas in which changes were identified by participants as significant:

It is interesting to note how few people chose the “none” option, showing that they think there is at least some space for action. The “Other” choice often referred to collective, policy, or political changes, and ways of thinking and consuming made up important sub-themes there as well.

Next Series: Part 3: Small actions

Previous Series: Part 1: Introduction

In the next post, we are going to start exploring a series of themes, going across patterns and narratives. We will begin with the theme of small actions itself since it is so central to this project’s conception.

And as always, don’t forget our ongoing climate change MassSense.

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Looking back at the Acorn Study; Part 3: Small actions

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