Blog Post 5—understanding the climate change debate through primary data

The Interview

Having completed extensive background research on the broad issue of climate change, and having myself narrowed down my focus area to the factors which influence any given person’s stance on the extent to which climate change is occurring, and whether or not humans are substantially involved, I discovered that in order to extend my understanding further I would need to begin the process of conducting ethnographic research in order to gather primary data which I can analyse and compare to data and facts which I find in scholarly sources.

The first form of ethnographic research that I undertook was a series of 2 interviews with fellow classmates, both with a basic level of knowledge about the issue, and both with firmly planted views regarding the extent of climate change. Undertaking this interview brought to the fore the fact that climate change is a topic in which people feel strongly either for or against, and the majority are very sure of their own personal view and unwilling to budge. This ties in to my scholarly research, and could be seen to demonstrate the extent to which values can inform a viewpoint more than knowledge.

In order to get the most out of the semi-structured interview as possible, I devised a series of 6 questions, as follows:

  1. What do you know about global warming?
  2. Where have you gathered most of your information on this issue from? How have these sources shaped your understanding/desire for action?
  3. Do you have a particular position on the issue?
  4. Are you willing to listen to other views on the issue or are you firmly positioned and reluctant to budge?
  5. How have the views of others around you influenced your own position on the issue? Do the people around you share a similar standpoint on the issue?
  6. Do you believe that the media sources you engage with are reliable indicators of the realities of the issue? Do you feel as though you are receiving balanced arguments or biased arguments?

There were several intriguing findings that came out of the interview process, and I found that even though the interviewees occasionally didn’t directly answer the question asked of them, they went on a tangent and ended up giving me new information that I had not considered before. I ended up gathering 2 important insights from this task:

Finding 1:

The most important piece of information that I gathered from the interview process, was the idea that people of my age are quite certain that climate change is a real issue, and also that they are generally quite well-educated on the issue. I was extremely interested to learn that one of my interviewees regularly engages with more reliable news sources than just mass media articles, including the National Geographic, TED talks, and some journal articles, and this showed me that there are people who do their research and make informed decisions on issues such as climate change. Before the interview, I had assumed that all my peers would simply engage with the issue on a coincidental basis, when they saw a post on Facebook with a link to an article, but this has been proven wrong, and is an insight to take away and consider when I am creating my design proposal.

Finding 2:

Another important insight I gained from the interview process was a more personal understanding of the role that cultural values may play in shaping a person’s views around climate change. Leading up to the interview, I had simply read about the possible links between a person’s position and their cultural values, but had not had a chance to engage with this idea personally. In the interview, I found that both my interviewees felt that they were influenced by their own personal experiences, from science classes to discussions with family and friends. This opens up for me the opportunity to explore the types of cultural influences and personal experiences that can affect a person’s standpoint on climate change, and indeed it informed the creation of my ‘probe’ kit.

The Probe

In designing my ‘probe’ kit, I wanted to ensure that I collected data that I would find useful in further unpacking my chosen focus area within the issue of climate change. Taking on board all the knowledge I had gathered both from my secondary research, scholarly research, and interview, I created a probe which utilised quadrant mapping. I felt that this data collection method would allow people the flexibility to really consider their positions in relation to each quadrant, whilst also providing me with valuable data. I decided on a quadrant mapping probe rather than a survey or questionnaire because I feel that these two methods are quite restrictive, both in the answers that can be given, as well as the data that is received. A quadrant map allows a lot more interpretation, and a wider range of applications are opened up for the data that is collected.

I devised a series of 4 quadrant maps, each with a different question, and a set of axes relating to the specific question. The data I received is as follows:

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 12.44.47 am
(Glasson 2016)
Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 12.45.48 am
(Glasson 2016)
Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 12.46.48 am
(Glasson 2016)
Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 12.47.25 am
(Glasson 2016)

Whilst my probe gave me interesting insights into the 4 different questions that I asked, I feel as though, looking back, I could have developed quadrant maps with more insightful and less prescriptive categories. Whilst at the time when I developed the probe I felt that it would provide me with the data I was looking for, I feel that upon receiving it, there are other questions I could have explored that would have helped to expand my knowledge further, rather than just reiterating things that I already have a level of understanding of.


The most interesting and useful finding that came out of the probe was the idea that all the participants felt more influenced in their climate change views by their knowledge than their values. This is ironic as all the sources I have been reading in relation to this focus area have suggested that values play an equally important if not more important role in shaping a person’s view than knowledge. It is also in contrast to my finding in my interview where the 2 respondents stated that personal experiences influenced their understanding of climate change. In justifying this surprising finding, I believe that people maybe do not fully understand what values means, so opted for knowledge which they do understand. Also, perhaps people are not aware of how much their values influence them, and perhaps mistake values for knowledge. This is a finding that I want to look into further, perhaps by going to each respondent and asking for clarification as to the nature of their response.

Five Point Summary

  1. Data you receive from an interview or probe may not always be as you expected.
  2. Allowing people flexibility within an interview or probe space is beneficial.
  3. Some people within my age range (and the age range for the design proposal), engage with more trustworthy sources than just mass media sources.
  4. People believe that their knowledge is more influential in their views of climate change than their values, contrary to the findingd in many scholarly sources.
  5. I have come to understand that a probe should seek to extend your current knowledge, and should also perhaps try to expand on knowledge gathered from an interview, rather than simply gathering similar data.

All images were created by Emilie Glasson as a visualisation of the collected probe data.

Emilie Glasson

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