Let’s talk about Climate Change differently.

Hello, it’s Team Climacated.
We are a group of enthusiastic learners, researchers, and designers who aspire to tackle the seemingly complicated challenge of climate change. We are all very excited to share our research journey throughout Sprint 2 at Digital Society School.


But before jumping into the Sprint 2 story, some recap might be helpful.

“Previously on team Climacated, the group fearlessly roamed through the jungle of the climate change debate…”

After researching how people speak about climate change, some elements became clear :

  1. With the rise of new social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, Climate Change morphed into an extensive and highly polarized topic, constantly shaped and reshaped by a wider range of social actors.
  2. A more structured approach of analysis is needed in order to obtain meaningful research within climate change communication.

In the previous sprint, we made use of a tool called “Instagram Scraper” to compile a list of visual languages used in climate change narratives. With the images collected we designed our first prototype: an interactive, modular “climate change collage-maker” which helped us to understand how our partners — specifically Climate Cleanup — position themselves in the heated debate about climate change.

The prototype served as an excellent conversation starter, and we were able to get a fuller perspective on our clients’ relationship with the topic, including insights into their style of messaging and their main audience. We also realized that Climate Cleanup was interested in identifying thought leaders, or knowledgable influencers within the climate change debate that propose a new narrative, alternative to the “doom-and-gloom” language that is often used in the mainstream media.

SPRINT 2: How to craft a compelling message about climate change

After the first sprint — and among potential paths forward — one question turned out to be of particular interest: how can one make a strong and simple story that is able to effectively convey his/her message to the intended audience?

Navigating in the climate change debate: how different narratives are used to contribute to the transformation towards desirable futures?

To answer this question, we decided to search for inspiring “thought leaders”, that is people who bring about alternative narratives within the climate change debate, in comparison to the mainstream doomsday stories. As discovered in our past research, we know for a fact that commonly used fear/guilt-inducing narrative about climate change (typical images are starving polar bears or melting ice sheets) is highly ineffective, leading to a so-called “apocalyptic fatigue” among the general public. It is proven that even well-intentioned people may start to avoid conversations around seeking solutions in the face of these overwhelmingly negative narratives.

The image of starving polar bears is an example of “framing” the debate, that one selects certain aspects of a given issue and makes them salient in the communication, however, in the case of polar bears it has not been engaging in terms of inspiring positive actions. The alternative narratives proposed by the thought leaders would provide powerful insights into reframing the debate and turn apocalypse fatigue into personal and societal action.

Our research journey

We then decided to plan out the sprint into two parts. Firstly, before looking into potential thought leaders, the term “thought leader” itself needed to be defined more clearly. We soon realized that the term is somewhat controversial as it could be interpreted in many different ways. Some define it as a “go-to expert” in a specific field, while others refer to it as an “influencer”. Based on the combination of various interpretations, we finally came to define a thought leader as

“an expert and performer socially recognized as someone who knows how to harness his or her personal and professional skills to offer a forward-thinking viewpoint or holistic solution to prominent issues in a specialized field.”

To add more flexibility to the definition, we decided that searching for “knowledgable influencers” would have been most relevant to our sprint goal.

We selected a list of thought leaders from different backgrounds, yet they all have one thing: a unique angle to approach the issue of climate change.

We identified a list of thought leaders and their audiences. To understand how they framed their message to be the most relevant and impactful for their audience, we then identified the key characteristics of proposed narratives by analyzing certain elements such as tones, word-use, sentiments, and ways of framing the issue.

Therefore, we conducted an in-depth text analysis based on available public statements (speech, interview, website) by the selected thought leaders, inspecting the elements mentioned above. Various methods and tools were used to complete the text-analysis for the fact that text analysis alone is thought to be arbitrary as it is a labour-intense and a lone-scholar type of work.

For example, we used a framework that helps to map the commonly used frames in environmental messages (Newman & Nisbet, 2015). Moreover, to reduce the human influence over the analysis, we used a tool to generate WordClouds that shows the preferences of word use, and a sentiment analysis tool that determines the emotional tone behind words.

Testing various outlooks of the prototype.

With this abundant results of the analysis at hand, we decided that we would design a prototype that can carry these insights from the thought leaders in an easy-to-understand way. Finally, the prototype was made, and we were ready to present to our partners.

We were very pleased to see that the tool we designed was of use to our clients. “This is great!” said our partner Ruurd from Climate Cleanup the first moment he saw the prototype. From there, a deep conversation around climate change communication was inspired. We discussed how Climate Cleanup positioned themselves within the climate change debate as well as potential strategies to further engage with the general public.

A sample of the prototype: thought leaders and analysis of their narratives.

We are more than happy to learn that our prototype is not merely a conversation starter, but can contribute to Climate Cleanup’s communication strategy.

In the moment of presenting the prototype to our partners.

Next steps

Using our previously gathered information, we will create a more structured approach to analyzing thought-leaders and their alternative narratives of climate change. We will map out their framing in more detail, using more data-driven research methods. This will strengthen our work by giving it more legitimacy to the methods used to collect data.

We will research meaningful ways in which we can visualize/digitalize the data so that we can make the results more accessible to a wider audience. Moreover, we will also look into ways to create more dialogues between the storytellers and the audiences.

All in all, we are proud to say that Team Climacated had a good sprint! Although during our journey this mighty jungle of climate change debate, we all experienced a certain level of “apocalyptic fatigue”, thankfully we are still very excited for what is waiting in front of us, and we can’t wait to share with you!

Till next sprint :)

The Digital Society School is a growing community of learners, creators and designers who create meaningful impact on society and its global digital transformation. Check us out at digitalsocietyschool.org.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store