Looking back at the Acorn Study; Part 6: Knowledge and information – always needing more?

February 25, 2021

As always, let’s start with one of the high-level patterns in our collection: the sources of knowledge or awareness in the actions or stories shared. The largest cluster of stories is at the top of the triad, showing that in most stories, knowledge came from social or mass media, with a secondary group at the centre of the triad, indicating a combination of all three sources of knowledge. There is a scatter of stories all over the rest of the triad. Notably, there are fewer indications that experts are a principal or primary source of information and awareness in stories. Given how common discussions on trust for expertise currently are, it is easy to be particularly sensitive to this pattern. Before we read too much into the pattern, it is useful to keep in mind how the prompt (the question) was phrased. People were not asked about their trusted or preferred sources of knowledge or information, just what the source of knowledge in the stories was. So we can interpret this as a pattern that has to do with prevalence (how common or widespread something is) but not as one of evaluation (which source is better than another). 

Interestingly, this pattern doesn’t seem to shift significantly with education – the pattern for those with postgraduate degrees is not very different from that of the general population. Unfortunately, it is hard to see if the reverse applies since few participants did not complete a college education. 

Age, however, might be a relevant factor. Again, there are too few people in this collection’s youngest age categories, but there is a difference in the higher age ranges. To the left, you can see the pattern for the same triad for participants who are over 56 years old. 

Finally, there are some interesting correlations between sources of knowledge in the stories and perceptions of responsibility. These are themselves associated with individual and communal scales of action (a theme which was explored over two posts in this series):

In stories where people rely on their own experiences for knowledge or awareness, responsibility coming from individual behaviour is also emphasised. Conversely, in stories where social and other media were the primary attractor in terms of knowledge and information, the pattern of responsibility shifts towards collective action. This can be interpreted as a two-way relationship. People might seek information in a way that matches their tendencies in other areas, but the source of information could in itself reinforce particular patterns of behaviour. Not only can we not identify which way a possible correlation flows, but it is, in fact, very likely not to be a one-way flow but a loop. 

Finally, let’s close with some of the participants’ own words when it came to the areas of knowledge and information:

 Currently doing a project that is looking to improve how the data collected about the environment for development activities can be contributed to the collective pool of knowledge in understanding the Australian environment.  A flow on effect is to make more of this environmental data open and accessible, thus increasing the transparency of the impact development activities have on the environment.  Because there is a lot of effort that goes into environmental survey’s as part of government regulations, making this data available and accessible for broader use can make a significant improvement to the quality of the data that is available for environmental impact assessment and management. 

As with many interventions, I experience some insecurity about not knowing enough in the field; wanting to be involved in educating more people and not wanting to disseminate flawed information. 

My partner has recently been coming home and sharing anti-climate change information that he is accessing through what I assume is mostly mainstream media. In thinking back it seems to have been occurring since the climate action protests encouraged by our rangatahi Greta.  He speaks significantly about people talking of the scaremongering happening in schools to our youth about climate change and climate action.  Some points he makes I understand and these relate to the use of large corporates such as insurance companies and banks who use these projected outcomes to generate forecasts based on risk to escalate prices on insurance, housing and policies and that these costs are being passed onto working-class people marginalising people’s access and power further. I am wondering where this information is also creating a sense of ignorance and disillusioning people into thinking that climate change is a conspiracy. That this will slow down the action and change more and that it is also a propaganda action from industry and business who also do not want the changes.  On the positive side I also see it as an opportunity for us to be more vigorous in how we support the wellbeing, the dispositions and aptitude in our people young and old for change, for uncertainty and for adaptability.  Pushing people out of their comfort zones in ways that people also sense actions for hauora as synomous with actions for hauora for others.

Politicians, in general, talking about climate change. This has not had a direct effect on climate change but it has definitely had an impact on on populations’ ability to be informed about it. Politicians are currently not generally trusted, and by extension, the information they give cannot be trusted. People who happen to be both good public speakers AND scientists should be informing us on the facts.

Next Series: Part 7: Hope, loss, and sacrifice

Previous Series: Part 5: Looking backwards, looking forwards 

The next part of this series is going to look at the ideas of sacrifice and letting go of things, an exploration that is an integral part of the questions we are asking of the climate change programme as a whole.

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


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