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Research Process and Prioritization

Table of contents

This report last updated December 2021.

1. Introduction

There are well over a hundred organisations working to accelerate climate action in Australia. The Climate Action Network Australia alone has 125 member organisations. They range from large international non-government organisations (NGOs), through to small-scale local charities and community groups. Giving Green’s goal is to determine which of the organisations working to accelerate climate action in Australia stand to make the greatest impact with a marginal dollar donation.

To make the task feasible, it was necessary first to narrow the scope and sharpen our research focus on high-priority areas. For reasons discussed below, we settled on policy change. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t organisations doing great work beyond the policy sphere, but we will leave research into their effectiveness for another time.

Effective policy, both public and corporate, has consistently proven to be a key driver of technological, human, business and industry behaviour changes. In Australia, there has been a distinct lack of climate policy leadership at a federal level, particularly since the election of the Liberal-National Coalition Government in 2013.

In the absence of federal government leadership, many of Australia’s state and territory governments have forged ahead, supporting a dramatic expansion of Australia’s renewable energy industry, assisting other sectors, like transport, to decarbonise, and adopting significantly more ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets than the federal government.

Nevertheless, Australia remains a major emitter, and the world’s third largest fossil fuel exporter (and number one for coal and gas exports). Improving climate policy in Australia therefore remains a high priority, having potential to deliver globally significant emissions reduction benefits and accelerate international efforts to address the climate crisis.

There are a broad range of organisations working to deliver policy change in Australia. To narrow down the list and guide our research priorities, we undertook the process outlined below, centering on expert interviews, surveys, focus groups, desktop research, and ‘shallow dive’ and ‘deep dive’ analysis.

The world is complex. Policy change is non-linear and occurs within an ecosystem of organisations and methods. Each strategy deployed to affect change is interdependent on the other methods, and there are often overlaps between them. Regardless, we believe that applying a framework to help prioritise research and funding efforts is a useful exercise, especially when working with limited resources.

2. Our process

We undertook the following process to arrive at our recommendations:

1. Literature review and research theory. We surveyed the academic literature on advocacy and policy change, and qualitative research methods. We decided to rely heavily on interviews with experts in the field of climate policy, advocacy, and philanthropy to inform our research. We then decided to use Grounded Theory to inform our approach to the expert interview piece of our research.[1]

2. Expert interviews. We designed semi-structured interviews based around three topics: (1) barriers to improving climate policy in Australia, (2) strategies/methods to overcome those barriers, (3) effective climate organisations that would make the best use of a marginal dollar. We conducted hour-long interviews with 23 climate policy, advocacy, and philanthropy experts and practitioners (hereafter ‘experts’). The experts were drawn from a diversity of organisations, and included roughly even numbers of men (11) and women (12), two First Nations people, and two people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

3. Identification of key ‘approaches’ to policy change. The interviews were transcribed and coded using qualitative data analysis software, and analysed to uncover emergent themes. We synthesised the expert opinions into five archetypal barriers to improving climate policy in Australia and five key archetypal ‘approaches’ for overcoming those barriers. We sought and received written feedback on our early iterations of the barriers and approaches from 14 experts. We then finalised our lists of five key barriers and five key approaches. (For more on the barriers and approaches, see sections 6 and 7 below)

4. Use of the Importance, Tractability, and Neglectedness Framework to determine priority approaches. We surveyed 52 experts, asking them to: (1) order the barrier archetypes in terms of most to least important; (2) rank each approach according to the Importance, Tractability, Neglectedness (ITN) Framework; and (3) name their top three climate organisations that could make the best use of a marginal dollar. We also convened two expert focus groups to discuss the survey findings and discover if any positions or ITN rankings changed significantly through facilitated conversation. The focus groups comprised an even number of women and men and included one First Nations person, and one person from a CALD background. That process allowed us to identify ‘state capture by the fossil fuel industry’ and ‘the Liberal-National Coalition Government’ as the greatest barriers to improving climate policy in Australia, and ‘insider advocacy’, ‘outsider advocacy’ and ‘changing the story’ as the highest priority approaches for delivering policy change at present.

5. ‘Shallow dive’ analysis of longlisted organisations. In parallel with Step 4, we used the expert interview data from Step 2 to develop a longlist of fifteen organisations to investigate further through ‘shallow dives’. Each shallow dive drew on desk research and further insights from the expert consultations. Based on that initial assessment, we narrowed the list down to twelve organisations that were asked to complete a short survey focussed on the assessment criteria. Several organisations also participated in hour-long semi-structured interviews. The final twelve ‘shallow dives’ can be viewed here.

6. Shortlist of high potential organisations. We narrowed down our organisation longlist by first removing any organisations that did not have a major focus on the key approaches of ‘insider advocacy’, ‘outsider advocacy’ or ‘changing the story’. We narrowed the list further by considering which organisations could have the most impact with extra funding. In general, we believe that smaller organisations can make the most use of the marginal dollar, and therefore we excluded large organisations that we believed were effective but also well-funded. The shortlist of three organisations were identified based on the remaining organisations that received the highest number of nominations in our expert survey.[2] Those organisations were: Beyond Zero Emissions, Farmers for Climate Action, and Original Power.

7. ‘Deep dive’ analysis of shortlisted organisations. Our ‘deep dive’ analysis of the final three shortlisted organisations was undertaken based on the following elements:

  • Operational context

  • History of the organisation, structure, and budget

  • Activities, tactics and achievements

  • Room for additional funding

  • Theory of change analysis

  • Risks

Our assessment was informed by our ‘shallow dives’, and additional in-depth interviews and consultations with each organisation, expert interviews, and desktop research.

8. Final recommendations. Based on the deep dives, we developed final conclusions and recommendations.

3. Summary of literature review and research theory

a. Literature review

We draw our design from an emergent body of literature on policy advocacy evaluation and assessment, pairing insights from contemporary specialists with established social science methods. The literature on advocacy evaluation acknowledges the utility and attraction of quantitative methods, particularly for funders, yet also asserts the vital role played by qualitative methods.[3] Some experts argue that the field of advocacy evaluation is distinct from, and more complex than, other forms of service delivery evaluation given the often inexplicable dynamics of politics. In this field, cause and effect isn’t always clear, and certainly isn’t always quantifiable. Further, experts argue that sophisticated ‘scientific’ tools do not exist for advocacy evaluation: ‘Advocacy evaluation should be seen, therefore, as a form of trained judgment—a craft requiring judgment and tacit knowledge—rather than as a scientific method.’[4] The judgements of the evaluators themselves are highlighted as the central resources in navigating the complex, nebulous terrain of policy change. It is thus critical to develop an appropriate and robust methodology capable of capturing these subjective factors. Further, flexibility is highlighted as being particularly crucial in these evaluations, thus it will be important to give any methodological plans room to adapt.

b. Grounded theory

In operationalizing these particularities of policy change and advocacy assessment, we turned to a well established social science approach: grounded theory. Grounded theory informed all of our data streams: expert interviews, survey data and document analysis.[5] Grounded theory is a methodology by which insights are created by constant comparison, that is collecting and analysing data simultaneously, and ‘theoretical sampling’ where the nascent findings being generated drives decisions on what data is to be collected next.[6] This is particularly useful given the staged nature of the Giving Green research. For example, it allows the findings from expert interviews at Step 2, to shape the criteria and parameters for assessment in future steps such as refining the ITN framework and articulating archetypes.

Semi-structured interviews were chosen as a starting point for this research because they are compatible with grounded methods. Further, as a data collection tool, interviews are known to ‘yield both unexpected insights and candid revelations.’[7] As policy change and advocacy assessment seeks to trace networks and latent connections, semi-structured interviews provide the opportunity for these insights to emerge, where they may not be captured in more rigid data collection strategies. Further, it allows the interviews to flow and be tailored to the expertise of participants. The ‘snowball sampling’ technique was used to identify further interview participants beyond Giving Green’s own networks.[8]

Our selection criteria for recruitment was expertise in climate policy change, advocacy, and philanthropy. Grounded analysis was preferred over narrower, more prescriptive expert methods, such as the Delphi Method.[9] This responded to the literature on best practice on advocacy assessments, which argue that responsive and intuitive interactions with participants are key.[10]

c. Research tools

Our findings were generated through constant iterations and interactions between the data streams (interviews, survey and document analysis) and the evaluation team. For our expert interviews, we used a process of open coding, by which we broke down the interview data into textual sections and coded thematically.[11] These codes were then linked, compared and re-coded against other codes. This process was aided through the use of qualitative data analysis software (NVivo). This allowed us the opportunity to understand the policy change and advocacy dynamic deeper, and left open the potential for redefining our archetypes. We used Survey Monkey for our expert survey data collection and analysis.

4. The ITN framework

To rank methods and strategies for achieving policy change, our team leveraged the Importance, Tractability, and Neglectedness (ITN) framework. This framework is a commonly used evaluation approach in the Effective Altruism movement.

We start by describing the ITN process in general, and then speak about how we adapted it to prioritise strategies to influence Australian policy change.

How does the ITN framework work in general?

Broadly, the elements of the ITN framework are defined as follows:

  1. Importance: Impact if victory is achieved (How much good can be achieved if the strategy is successful?)

  2. Tractability: Solvable problem? (How likely is the strategy to be effective in solving the problem?)

  3. Neglectedness: Need for more funding? (Is this tactic ignored by major funders, such that we think a marginal dollar will be especially helpful?)

5. Adapting the ITN framework to climate policy

The ITN framework is a general framework with many applications. We were specifically interested in using the ITN framework to rank different methods to achieve similar final goals (policy change leading to reduced atmospheric GHGs). Climate policy change in a democracy requires a complex array of preconditions, but we found that the ITN framework (which is often used to compare distinct social issue areas) to still be a useful tool. In order meet the requirements of our exercise, we defined importance, tractability, and neglectedness as follows:

  1. Importance: What would be the impact if victory is achieved? (Impact is defined as reduced atmospheric GHGs.)

  2. Tractability: How easy and practical is this approach to achieving victory (Independent of funding constraints, this category captures structural barriers, institutional arrangements and difficulty of achieving victory even if funding is received.)

  3. Neglectedness: How much need is there for more funding to go towards this method? (This is meant to assess how much need there is for additional funding for the approach and is a function of existing funding. It asks: how useful would additional funds be to achieving victory as defined for this method?)

Many applications of the ITN framework begin by defining logarithmic scales to create a score system for each of the three categories. This allows for the scores to be simply added together. We decided to make use of an approach that involved ranking each option through comparing with other options. Our choice to take this approach was driven by the difficulty in determining the outcome of policy change methods with the kind of certainty often available in other applications of the ITN, as well as our goal in determining the most promising from a set of existing options. Ranking in this way allowed us to compare methods to each other rather than a set of external criteria and to avoid making any nebulous claims about the magnitude in the difference of our importance, tractability, and neglectedness scores for each method.

6. Barriers to climate action in Australia

After coding the qualitative data from 23 expert interviews, we developed the following list of archetypal barriers to climate policy change in Australia:

  1. The economics of fossil fuel extraction. Interview quote: "Companies are still making a lot of moneyf rom mining, burning, and exporting fossil fuels."

  2. State capture by the fossil fuel industry. Interview quote: "Vested interests, those profiting from the production of fossil fuels and their allies in the media and politics, have successfully delayed action and created much confusion and disability in the public."

  3. The Liberal-National Coalition Government. Interview quote: "The conservatives are in power 70% of the time. The Liberals can't govern without the Nationals, and the Nationals are run by people who don't want to move forward on climate."

  4. The communications challenge. Interview quote: "An overarching barrier to climate action has been messaging—confused messaging, complex messaging, all over the shop messaging."

  5. The climate movement itself. Interview quote: "There are many barriers to success within the climate movement itself. We need to be better at attracting, fostering, and retaining talent; more strategic, practical, and coordinated; and improve our social, racial, economic, and political diversity."

a. How we ranked the barriers

In our expert survey, we asked participants (n=52) to rank the barriers in order of the most to least significant blocker of climate action today (1 = most significant, 5 = least significant). We then aggregated the first and second preference votes for each barrier to arrive at a total score with which to rank them against each other.

Table 1: Barrier survey scores (total rank ordered votes)

Table 2: Barrier survey scores (combined total of 1st and 2nd preference votes)

Figure 1: Barrier survey scores (combined total of 1st and 2nd preference votes)

b. Reflections on barriers

State capture by the fossil fuel industry

State capture is a type of systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence a state’s decision-making processes to their own advantage. There is ample evidence that the fossil fuel industry has achieved state capture in Australia.

Australia’s major political parties receive a lot of their funding from fossil fuel companies. The fossil fuel industry gave at least $1,353,000 to the major political parties in the 2019-20 financial year. Nearly half of this was from the gas industry (at least $698,000). The Coalition received the majority of the fossil fuel industry’s donations (at least $731,500).[12] Of course, the true figures could be significantly higher than this: due to Australia's weak disclosure requirements, 35 per cent of all contributions came from unknown sources. [13]

The fossil fuel industry is also putting significantly more effort into lobbying than pro-climate businesses. A September 2021 report by InfluenceMap found strong oppositional lobbying from fossil fuel value chain sectors strongly outweighed supportive voices. The report found many of the companies most in favour of addressing climate change were from the financial sector, but those companies — including the big four retail banks — had minimal engagement with governments on the issue. By contrast, leading coal, oil and gas companies such as Santos, Origin Energy, Woodside and AGL Australia have been among the most engaged in lobbying on climate policy. This is having significant, negative consequences for Australian climate policy. Of the 14 policies analysed by InfluenceMap, six had been weakened following overwhelmingly negative lobbying from the corporate sector. This includes the weakening of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency in August 2021 and in December 2020, and deciding against increasing the ambition of Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction under the Paris Agreement.[14]

The fossil fuel industry’s lobbying and donations has given it a major influence over the Government’s decision-making. For example, according to Market Forces’ data, Origin Energy donated a combined $499,235 to the Labor, Liberal and National parties in the six years to 2019-20. At the 2017 Origin Energy Annual General Meeting, chairman Gordon Cairns said that attending political fundraising events was “money well spent”, as it enabled the company to help “shape [the] thinking” of the political energy debate. Origin Energy went on to become a major beneficiary of the Government’s $173 million plan to develop the Northern Territory’s Beetaloo gas basin. In another example, Adani donated $12,500 in 2019 to the Liberal Party just a few days before the Government rushed through the approval of Adani’s groundwater management plan, despite scientists at the CSIRO voicing their concerns about the plan. The next month, on the eve of the Federal election being called, Adani donated another $200,000 to the Liberal and National parties.[15]

The revolving door between employees of the major political parties and the fossil fuel industry is further evidence of the industry’s influence over government. Investigative journalists Adam Lucas and Joel Rosenzveig Holland have compiled a list of over 150 former and current politicians, political advisers and bureaucrats who have either moved from the fossil fuel and mining industries into public office or vice-versa over the past decade.[16] The most high profile example of this was the Federal Government’s appointments to the National COVID-19 Commission. The Commission was chaired by Nev Power, who, at the time of his appointment, was the Deputy Chair of the gas company Strike Energy. The Commission’s manufacturing taskforce was chaired by Andrew Liveris, who sits on the board of oil and gas giant Saudi Aramco. The Commission’s work was ultimately used by the Government to justify its proposal for a ‘gas-fired recovery’ from COVID-19.

The fossil fuel industry’s influence over Government decision-making has sustained its very favorable investment conditions. Australia’s fossil fuel industry is heavily subsidised. According to research by The Australia Institute, Australian federal and state governments provided a total of $10.3 billion worth of spending and tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry in 2020-21 alone.[17] These subsidies, as well as the lack of a price on pollution, artificially inflate the economic viability of fossil fuels. Over time, global decarbonisation trends may reduce the viability of fossil fuel extraction, but at the moment, Australia’s industries are being propped up by weak climate change policies and generous subsidies.

The Liberal-National Coalition Government

The Liberal-National Coalition has governed Australia since 2013, and there has been very little progress to strengthen Australia’s national climate policies in that time. A significant reason for this is that climate policy is contentious within the Coalition. Nationals politicians, in particular, have opposed policies which may reduce fossil fuel production and consumption. With the Nationals holding 16 of the Coalition’s 76 lower house seats, it is very difficult for the Government to propose federal policy on climate change without the Nationals’ support.

As a result, time and time again the Nationals have hampered efforts within the Coalition to improve Australia’s climate policy. For example, in the lead up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November 2021, Australia was under enormous pressure to increase its 2030 emissions reduction target, to align with the efforts of other major emitters to help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. The Nationals were so intractable in internal negotiations that the Government was only able to deliver a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 — the bare minimum commitment a country could put forward to have any credibility at Glasgow.

A key reason that the Nationals are so opposed to increasing Australia’s ambition on climate change is because they represent communities in regional Australia, many of which have been built around the fossil fuel industry. Many voters in these communities fear that a transition away from fossil fuels, especially coal, will leave them unemployed and their towns destitute.

The fossil fuel industry has stoked this narrative. It has led Australians to believe that decarbonisation will ruin Australia’s economy and cost regional jobs. It has promoted Australia’s coal and gas as the highest quality in the world, such that using Australia’s high efficiency coal and gas is better for the environment than lower grade alternatives from other countries. The industry has effectively influenced Nationals politicians to oppose policies that would change the economics of fossil fuel extraction, so that Australia can continue to export fossil fuels for as long as possible. This includes by framing farmers as the victims of policies to reduce methane emissions, to shield the fossil fuel sector from policies to address fugitive methane emissions, contrary to what farmers actually want for the agriculture sector.

7. Approaches to policy change

In our expert survey, we asked participants (n=49) to rank the top approaches to accelerating climate policy in Australia according to the ITN Framework. We break down each element of the ITN rating below before summarising our findings.

A) Outsider advocacy: Applying external pressure to change government policy. May also extend to expanding, improving, and empowering grassroots and other 'outsider' organisations and movements to be more effective.

B) Insider advocacy: Lobbying and other forms of insider influence to change government policy from within.

C) Influence elections: Running election-focussed campaigns to increase both the political benefits for climate action and political costs for inaction.

D) Change the story: Identifying and scaling messages and messengers that increase pro-climate literacy, concern, and behavior change.

E) Apply and expand the law: Bringing court cases aimed at delivering positive climate outcomes.

a. Importance

We asked respondents to rank the approaches in order of impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (1 = highest impact, 5 = lowest impact). The results are presented in Table 3 below.

Table 3: ITN rankings - Importance (total rank ordered votes from expert survey)

Outsider advocacy: 10 #1 rankings, 5 #2 rankings, 9 #3 rankings, 15 #4 rankings, 10 #5 rankings. Insider advocacy: 9 #1 rankings, 14 #2 rankings, 9 #3 rankings, 9 #4 rankings, 8 #5 rankings. Influence elections: 11 #1 rankings, 16 #2 rankings, 5 #3 rankings, 10 #4 rankings, 7 #5 rankings. Change the story: 14 #1 rankings, 5 #2 rankings, 14 #3 rankings, 6 #4 rankings, 10 #5 rankings. Apply and expand the law: 5 #1 rankings, 9 #2 rankings, 12 #3 rankings, 9 #4 rankings, 14 #5 rankings.

As with the barriers, we added together the first and second preferences for each approach to arrive at the final score. We excluded each solution’s 3rd, 4th and 5th preferences from the final count.

Table 4: ITN rankings - Importance (combined total of 1st and 2nd preference votes)

Outsider advocacy: 15. Insider advocacy: 23. Influence elections: 27. Change the story: 19. Apply and expand the law: 14.

Figure 2: Importance

A bar chart of the numbers in Table 4. Influence elections has the highest ranking.

b. Tractability

We asked respondents to rank the approaches in order of the relative ease or difficulty in achieving success (1 = least difficult, 5 = most difficult). The results are presented in Table 5 below.

Table 5: ITN rankings - Tractability (total rank ordered votes from expert survey)

Outsider advocacy: 17 #1 rankings, 13 #2 rankings, 10 #3 rankings, 6 #4 rankings, 3 #5 rankings. Insider advocacy: 12 #1 rankings, 11 #2 rankings, 13 #3 rankings, 6 #4 rankings, 7 #5 rankings. Influence elections: 2 #1 rankings, 6 #2 rankings, 10 #3 rankings, 8 #4 rankings, 23 #5 rankings. Change the story: 9 #1 rankings, 15 #2 rankings, 8 #3 rankings, 15 #4 rankings, 2 #5 rankings. Apply and expand the law: 9 #1 rankings, 4 #2 rankings, 8 #3 rankings, 14 #4 rankings, 14 #5 rankings.

Again, we then added together the first and second preferences for each approach to arrive at the final score. We excluded the 3rd, 4th and 5th preferences from the final count.

Table 6: ITN rankings - Tractability (combined total of 1st and 2nd preferences)

Expert ratings of tractability. Outsider advocacy: 30. Insider advocacy: 23. Influence elections: 8. Change the story: 24. Apply and expand the law: 13.

Figure 3: Tractability

A bar chart of the rankings in Table 6. Outsider advocacy has the highest rating.

c. Neglectedness

We asked respondents to rank the approaches in order of most to lead in need of additional attention and funding (1 = most neglected, 5 = least neglected). The results are presented in Table 7 below.

Table 7: ITN rankings - Neglectedness (total rank ordered votes from expert survey)

Outsider advocacy: 11 #1 rankings, 9 #2 rankings, 7 #3 rankings, 10 #4 rankings, 12 #5 rankings. Insider advocacy: 11 #1 rankings, 12 #2 rankings, 7 #3 rankings, 12 #4 rankings, 7 #5 rankings. Influence elections: 12 #1 rankings, 7 #2 rankings, 9 #3 rankings, 7 #4 rankings, 14 #5 rankings. Change the story: 9 #1 rankings, 15 #2 rankings, 11 #3 rankings, 7 #4 rankings, 7 #5 rankings. Apply and expand the law: 6 #1 rankings, 6 #2 rankings, 15 #3 rankings, 13 #4 rankings, 9 #5 rankings.

Again, we then added together the first and second preferences for each approach to arrive at the final score. We excluded each solution’s 3rd, 4th and 5th preferences from the final count.

Table 8: ITN rankings - Neglectedness (combined total of 1st and 2nd preference votes)

Outsider advocacy: 20. Insider advocacy: 23. Influence elections: 19. Change the story: 24. Apply and expand the law: 12.

Figure 4: Neglectedness

A bar chart of the rankings in table 8. Change the story has the highest ranking.

d. ITN Summary and Ranking

Below is a table summarising the ITN ranking for each approach. When each ITN score was averaged together, ‘insider advocacy’ ranked first with a combined average of 23, ‘change the story’ ranked second with an average of 22, and ‘outsider advocacy’ ranked third with an average of 21.

Table 9 - ITN Summary and Ranking

Outsider advocacy: I=15, T=30, N=20, Average=20.67, Final ranking = 3rd. Insider advocacy: I=23, T=23, N=23, Average=23, Final ranking = 1st. Influence elections: I=27, T=8, N=19, Average=18, Final ranking = 4th. Change the story: I=19, T=24, N=24, Average = 22.33, Final ranking = 2nd. Apply and expand the law: I=14, T=13, N=12, Average=13, Final ranking = 5th.

e. Expert focus groups

Following the interviews and survey, we hosted two small focus groups with five experts each. These semi-structured discussions were an opportunity to see if conversation with peers had any influence on people’s ITN rankings. Experts were asked to rank the barriers and ITN score the key approaches, and then invited to talk about their choices with the group. At the end of the conversation on each ranking, experts were invited to adjust their scores if their minds had changed. We observed minor adjustments in rankings that had no impact on overall rankings.

f. Reflections on key approaches

In this section, we reflect on the top three key approaches that experts identified are needed to influence Australia’s national climate policy: insider advocacy, outsider advocacy and changing the story. Influencing elections, the most important but least tractable method, ranked fourth, with legal interventions through applying and expanding the law placing fifth.

Before limiting ourselves to insider advocacy, outsider advocacy and changing the story, we tested the logic of these interventions against the academic literature on policy change.

Insider advocacy

What is ‘insider advocacy’?

Definition: Lobbying and other forms of insider influence to change government policy through direct interaction with decision-makers.

Assessing the ‘insider advocacy’ theory of change

Insider advocacy seeks to influence political outcomes through direct communication and liaison with decision-makers, often by former decision-makers or those with close connections to decision-makers. Prominent tactics of insider advocacy include “meeting with, offering policy advice to, and informing decision makers”.[18]

One aspect of insider advocacy is investing in strategic relationships with decision-makers. Developing trust between climate advocates and decision-makers is an important step towards increasing the credibility and implementation of climate policy. One expert that we interviewed stated that insider advocacy is “a people like us approach”. It is about “understanding the psychology of decision-makers…[who] have a sense of group identity. If something is seen as contrary to [the decision-makers’] group identity, then it won’t be an attractive solution.” Thus, the insider advocacy approach is strengthened by its awareness of the internal management, relations, and processes of the decision-makers.

This approach helps to address state capture by the fossil fuel industry, where private interests have a disproportionate impact on decision-making. Insider advocacy can help balance the influence of the fossil fuel industry through the presence of pro-climate ‘insiders’, including lobbyists, in elite and often closed decision-making spaces. American economist Milton Friedman aptly states, “when a crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”

Outsider advocacy

What is ‘outsider advocacy’?

Definition: Applying external pressure to change government policy. May extend to expanding, improving, and empowering grassroots and other ‘outsider’ organisations and movements to be more effective.

Assessing the ‘outsider advocacy’ theory of change

Outsider advocacy seeks to influence political outcomes by mobilising citizens to take actions that generate widespread or well-targeted public attention around specific issues or demands. This is achieved usually through generating media coverage of events like protests, confrontations, or strikes. Activism often seeks to generate a feedback loop, where initial actions and attention draw more participation, which leads to further activity and attention. While some activism emerges instantaneously without clear organisation (especially with the advent of social media),[19] activist activity is often led by organised groups who plan and strategize in advance.

Outsider advocacy responds to the need to improve and expand the climate movement itself by developing diverse, constituency-based groups into advocates that can hold governments and businesses accountable. As one expert that we interviewed said, outsider advocacy “broadens the field of societal concern and engagement. You need the right messengers to speak to the diversity of Parliament”.

Outsider advocates often target private sectors more than governments, with an ultimate aim to influence governments through a groundswell of public support.[20] In this way, outsider advocacy has more of an indirect impact on policy change than insider advocacy. However, outsider advocacy can still have a substantial influence on the outcomes of climate policy by raising public consciousness, creating the necessary groundswell of public support that is needed for governments to take action.[21] This bottom-up norm development can be the foundation on which effective top-down climate policy can be built.[22]

Outsider advocacy’s effectiveness can be weakened by its limited reach and a lack of coordination. Outsider advocates can become concerned with coordinating campaigns with other like-minded activist groups, rather than seeking to create a synergy between resources and knowledge systems.[23] An expert from our interviews stated that there is “a failure of the climate movement to bring intersections of people who are not already there along on the journey. This is going to make huge changes. It’s going to take time, money, changes”.

As such, while outsider advocacy is an important tool to influence community views to lead to improved climate policy, it should not be viewed as the sole solution. Its potential is heightened by ‘insider advocacy’ and ‘changing the story’. Outsider advocacy is also strengthened by a diversity of organisations. Outsider advocates form part of a “broader web of influence involving multiple actors and agendas and range of strategies and mechanisms”.[24]

Changing the story

What is ‘changing the story’?

Definition: Identifying and scaling messages and messengers that increase pro-climate literacy, concern and behaviour change.

Assessing the ‘changing the story’ theory of change

Peoples’ views on climate change are shaped by narratives about its causes, effects, and solutions produced by conversations in politics, the media, in communities, and in families.[25]

Climate change is a complex subject matter. It poses significant threats to Australians, but peoples’ inability to conceptualise the gravity and imminence of these threats has stifled their tenacity to demand more rigorous climate policy.

In addition, the fossil fuel industry and conservative media outlets have sustained a dominant narrative that decarbonisation will ruin Australia’s economy and cost regional jobs. This has been a major feature of the political debate about climate change policy for decades, and an obstacle to progress. One expert that we interviewed saidthere is “so much misinformation and confusion, the general household is confused whether it’ll make their cost of living go up or down, or whether it will be good or bad for Australia. [There is] no common, unified story that was winning the debate”.

Most of the experts we interviewed highlighted the importance of changing the story. Organisations focussed on ‘changing the story’ seek to shift the narrative that decarbonisation causes economic loss, to one that encompasses economic gain, as well as social and environmental benefits. These messages are especially targeted towards swinging or conservative voters who have traditionally voted against more rigorous and effective climate policy. ‘Changing the story’ aims to shape how the Australian public views climate change and its impacts.[26] This addresses the problems of translating science into policy, and across the fields of techno-scientific and social policy solutions.[27]


[1] Grounded theory is a systematic qualitative research methodology involving the iterative collection and review of interview data to identify thematic ideas and or concepts. See for eg. Charmaz, Kathy. 2008. “Constructionism and Grounded Theory.” In Handbook of Constuctionist Research, edited by J Holstein and J Gubrium, 397–412. New York: The Guilford Press; Charmaz, Kathy. 2014. Constructing Grounded Theory. 2nd ed. London: SAGE; Thornberg, Robert 2012. “Informed Grounded Theory.” Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 56 (3): 243–59.

[2] BZE received the highest number of votes (12), followed by FCA (11), the Climate Council (10), and Original Power (9). In the end, a decision was made to exclude the Climate Council from the deep dive process because we were not convinced it met our marginal donation test given its projected budget position ($8.1 million in FY2022/23).

[3] Gardner, Annette, and Claire Brindis. Advocacy and Policy Change Evaluation : Theory and Practice, Stanford University Press, 2017; Ranghelli, L. (2009). Measuring the Impacts of Advocacy and Community Organizing: Application of a Methodology and Initial Findings. The Foundation Review, 1(3).

[4] Teles, S and M Schmitt 2011, The Elusive Craft of Evaluating Advocacy, Stanford Social Innovation Review

[5] Particularly recent iterations of grounded theory. See for eg. Charmaz, Kathy. 2008. “Constructionism and Grounded Theory.” In Handbook of Constructionist Research, edited by J Holstein and J Gubrium, 397–412. New York: The Guilford Press. Charmaz, Kathy. 2014. Constructing Grounded Theory. 2nd ed. London: SAGE. Thornberg, Robert 2012. “Informed Grounded Theory.” Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 56 (3): 243–59.

[6] Glaser, Barney G., and Anselm L. Strauss. 1967. The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. Book, Whole. Chicago: Aldine.

[7] Gunningham, Neil & Sincalir, Darren. (2009). Regulation and the Role of Trust: Reflections from the Mining Industry. 36.

[8] Goodman, L.A. 1961. "Snowball sampling". Annals of Mathematical Statistics. 32 (1): 148–170. doi:10.1214/aoms/1177705148

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[11] Saldaña J (2016) The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers. 3E [Third]. Book, Whole. London;Los Angeles, Calif; SAGE.

[12] Political Party Returns, 1 February 2021:








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