Research Process and Prioritization

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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.

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.

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. 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.