How to engage parents in climate action – case study
This piece was written by David Powell and Nuri Syed Corser, with input from Maya Mailer and Rowan Ryrie
Parents are everywhere – from school gates to office blocks, oil rigs to old folks homes – and in theory should have a vested interest in preserving the planet for future generations. But is the identity of a ‘parent’ something that can inspire them to climate action? And if so, how can campaigners and advocates best do so? This case study looks back on what Climate Outreach learned from a partnership with two new grassroots groups seeking to do just that.
Our Climate Engagement Lab helps charity, community or campaigning organisations in the UK to understand how best they can help inspire people to take meaningful climate action. As part of this, the Lab runs ‘innovation partnerships’, working hands-on with groups that are looking to trial a new and potentially ground-breaking way to do this. Partnerships are all about learning and testing what happens in practice, and drawing lessons for the wider sector. Climate Outreach can help innovation partners in different ways, from conducting new research to advising on the fundamentals of engagement strategy.
In early 2021 the Lab partnered with two new grassroots organisations that aim to mobilise parents on climate change: Mothers Rise Up and Parents for Future UK. They wanted their communications to have the best chance of connecting meaningfully with parents.
Parents are everywhere, in every school, every community, every government, every business, every sphere of life. If you can start to get people to make that connection between the climate crisis and themselves as a parent, then you can find a lot of ways for them to engage.
- Rowan Ryrie, Parents For Future UK
As youth-led climate strikes spread across the world, many parents, carers and grandparents followed suit – often emphasising this identity in their calls for climate action. Parents For Future UK and Mothers Rise Up are two dynamic groups in this growing grassroots movement. They see huge potential both for mobilising parents at even greater scale, and also triggering increased climate consciousness in people in positions of power by appealing to them as parents. But parents are not monolithic, any more than the population at large. PFF/MRU wanted to understand the most effective language they could use to appeal to parents across society, as well as understanding which messages and messengers would best inspire different audiences.
What we did
In this partnership the Lab team started by conducting a short review of what is already known about effectively engaging parents on climate change, and analysed how PFF/MRU were already communicating with parents.
In collaboration with creative agency Glimpse, thanks to additional funding secured by Parents for Future UK*, the team then drew up four test narratives.
Narratives we tested
We love our kids and we’ll move mountains to protect them.
We’re learning how dangerous climate change will be to their young lives, so we’re taking practical steps as loving parents and carers to keep them safe.
If every generation works together, we can make a real difference on climate change and protect our shared home.
We’re mums and dads, aunties and grandparents who are rolling up our sleeves to fix this problem and restore the balance of nature.
We all want to leave our children a safe and healthy world. But climate change means they’ll inherit a more dangerous planet, through no fault of their own.
We’re working together as parents and carers to restore the balance of nature and leave things in a better place than we found them.
We all want to give our kids the best possible chances in their lives. Decisions made today will affect the opportunities they have tomorrow and we’re learning how climate change is putting many of these opportunities at risk.
We’re a group of parents and carers who are rolling up our sleeves to make sure that the next generation has the same chances we had.
An external consultant, working with the Lab team and the two organisations, delivered and analysed a YouGov online survey to see which of the above messages performed best with which audiences, supplemented with A/B testing. As a part of the analysis, the consultant segmented the findings against our Britain Talks Climate approach, grounded in More in Common’s Core Beliefs model (see graphic below).
What we learned
Being a parent is an identity but it’s not a value, and the way you parent is often a signifier of your underlying values. We’ve learnt that it’s not enough just to speak to people as parents, we also have to understand their other values and their identities and how they intersect. That’s been a really important learning that we’ve gained while talking to Climate Outreach.
- Maya Mailer, Mothers Rise Up
The partnership found that all of the messages were relatively well received across audiences, particularly (perhaps unsurprisingly) with parents – with twice as many people connecting to them as not at all. Beneath that, different ‘types’ of parent and grandparent responded differently to each message – underlining the importance of having a target audience in mind. Some of the findings were:
- Parents of younger children were most connected to the Protection and Inheritance frames, and all messages connected slightly more strongly with women than men
- The Protection and Chances frames were more polarising than the others – for some they were particularly inspiring, but for others much less so.
- Messages inspired different emotional responses: Protection and Inheritance elicited slightly higher feelings of concern, whereas Togetherness elicited slightly higher hope and motivation. None of the messages seemed to significantly trigger some of the negative emotions that can be caused by climate communication, including sadness, guilt and confusion
- The messages landed differently across segments, as we might expect. While the left-leaning Civic Pragmatists connected most strongly with the Togetherness and Inheritance frames, right-leaning Loyal Nationals favoured the Protection and Togetherness frames.
Reflecting on the partnership
What we took from it is that we can be challenging… but in a way that still maintains a unifying voice. We are much more mindful of how the language we use will resonate with different audiences. It was really interesting to find that a lot of the parents messaging resonated with Loyal Nationals, which isn’t a segment that we were actively trying to reach... We have run some campaigns which have relied heavily on that framing, language and appeals and they have had success.
- Maya Mailer, Mothers Rise Up
The Lab team and PFF and MRU learned a huge amount about how best to engage parents on climate action and what kind of messaging and messengers would appeal to which audiences. Our partnership validated its original hypothesis – that communication approaches focusing on the identity of ‘parents’ could inspire them to connect more meaningfully with climate action.
For the Lab, it was a great pleasure to work with two groups that were willing to ground their approach to engagement in social science principles and evidence, and to apply the framework of Britain Talks Climate to a particular identity and focus.
Interview with Maya Mailer (Mothers Rise Up) and Rowan Ryrie (Parents for Future UK)
* The Samworth Foundation provided funding to support Climate Outreach’s time in this innovation partnership. Additional funding was secured from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation by Parents for Future UK to support external polling work and creative copy development. We are grateful to both funders for their help and support.
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You’re doing a great job Man, Keep it up.
Amazing write up! Thanks for this post