FLC post-rebellion summary report December 2020

1. Context

In Autumn 2020, Feedback and Learning Culture Circle (FLC), carried out a data gathering and analysis process in two parts: a survey of individual rebels, and a data capture form for group feedback. The aim of the work was to learn from the September 2020 rebellion by gaining a snapshot of XR, including attitudes and motivation. It came at a time when XRUK was under stress, with financial pressures causing many to leave or reduce their commitments. Covid-19 prevented a spring rebellion, and placed constraints on this one. Those who were left had to struggle to keep the movement afloat while maintaining morale, but somehow they managed to organise a UK-wide rebellion.

FLC too was very stretched, and the lead-in to the group feedback process was inadequate to support coordinators in collecting and submitting group feedback. There were responses from 37 groups, with over 1,500 points of data for this part of the process, while the individual rebel survey attracted 3,300 responses. The individual rebel survey closed on 1st November, while the group response form was kept open for another month. The Rebellion in Scotland took place after the other parts of the UK, and they carried out their own analysis, we hope to add links to that work into this report once they are available.

It took over 5 weeks for the team to analyse the individual survey data and produce a report.The majority of the work was on the over 5,400 responses to the open questions, which invited thoughts about future direction amongst other things. For the group work we produced a methods report, with links to the data, presented in charts and tables for scrutiny. We have not commented or drawn conclusions from the data, but leave it for those interested to go to relevant areas and see for themselves. This is partly due to lack of time after the extensive work on the individual survey, but also because the low response means that the data is not so representative as we might have hoped. Representativeness is an issue with any survey, and the individual survey was no exception, with responses coming from a self-selecting group, and so cannot be said to represent the view of rebels more generally. Nevertheless it does provide many useful insights for the movement. A summary of findings is given in the following section.

The full report can be found through the links below:

2. Summary of individual survey findings

2.1 Introduction

In summarising this work, we start with the core aspect of the survey, on rebel motivations and perspectives around the rebellion. Included within this is a series of demographic questions which tell us who our respondents are and, to some extent at least, who XRUK is. For all these questions it has been possible to compare findings between this year’s rebellion, and that of the previous year, offering a snapshot of XRUK at those points in time, and the ways in which we have changed.

A third element of the findings is the responses to the open questions. Although the question “What one thing would make you get more involved in XR UK?” was asked in 2019, there is no evidence that the responses were analysed. This means that there is no comparative data from last year for this question or the one that was added, “Is there one thing you would want to see XR doing differently?”. However, there was a great deal of data from this year with the two questions, between them, providing just over 5,000 points of data. Since the questions are so wide-ranging, the responses cover pretty much all aspects of XRUK.

In looking at the data, readers are reminded that these are the responses from 3,300 of those 173,690 who received a mailing with the link in October 2020. They cannot therefore be confidently said to represent XRUK, but may represent the active core.

2.2 Rebel perceptions and motivations

Although there were fewer responses to the survey this year (hence making the 2020 sample less representative of XR rebels than the previous year), the data represents a more active group within the larger database, as the respondents this year were more established in the movement, and a greater proportion were actively involved in the rebellion, with the growth in online activity offering opportunities for a great many. This was important, as Covid-19 was the most frequent barrier cited to physical participation - around 15% of respondents were concerned about either catching, or transmitting the virus . The decentralised nature of the rebellion, with a third of respondents having attended local events, also gave opportunities for more to participate, considering the risks associated with most forms of travel and accommodation. Other barriers to participation were mostly around general commitments, pressure of life, and lack of money.

Responses regarding the organisation and planning of the rebellion were little changed from last year, with a low level of agreement that they were able to input into planning, but good support for the aims and strategy.

On being asked about their perception of the impact of the rebellion, while there was still strong agreement that it positively affected respondents' views of XR (68%), there was a fall of 10% in affirmation that it would increase respondents’ personal commitment to XRUK, to 51%. Looking at this alongside the low level of agreement (31%) that the rebellion positively affected the public view of XR (dropping 5% since 2019), it might be concluded that recognition by rebels of the task we face is impacting increasingly on morale. This last is clearly a difficult question for XRUK and is illustrated by many responses in questions 9 and 10, suggesting we should make more efforts to keep, or bring, the public onside. However, the USP of XR being direct action makes a degree of public upset inevitable and has to be balanced against the massive benefit of raising the profile of the immediacy of the climate emergency.

Further to this, significantly fewer respondents (22%) strongly agreed this year that the rebellion increased awareness of the climate and ecological emergency among the general public, a drop of 18% . This suggests that despite many rebels agreeing with the actions and tactics of the rebellion in principle, many think these were less effective in increasing awareness among the general public this year, perhaps due to Covid dominating the media, although more research on this issue would be needed to draw sound conclusions.

On inclusivity, 72% responded that, in their opinion, XR is an inclusive community regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, education etc. Comparing these findings across ethnicity, although many of the samples were very small, there was a general trend for those self-describing as white to have a more positive view of ethnicity within XRUK.

The majority feel comfortable in the XR community (70%) and are open about being associated with XR to friends and family (82%), but significantly fewer are open with their employers (36%).

In terms of participation, the more radical forms of protest have remained far more popular than traditional marches. However, many reservations about this were expressed in the open questions below. Attending meetings received more interest than the previous year.

2.3 Open questions

The two open questions, in asking what would get rebels more involved, and what XR could do differently, were asking much the same question twice - once from the individual, motivational perspective, and once from a more distanced perspective. Each asked what changes respondents would want to see in XR so that, not surprisingly, there was a great deal in common in the responses. For this reason, rather than summarising each set of responses in turn, we have brought the responses together where there is commonality.

A strong point of interest for both questions was Strategy, coded 716 times, with many asking for greater clarity of our aims, and a strong desire for XRUK to target individuals and institutions responsible for climate change. Responses demonstrated uncertainty as to whether our principles and values allow such naming and shaming. This strongly suggests there needs to be some clarification on the Principles and Values, especially since such targeting is already taking place. At the same time, there were many calls to return to, or focus on, our core aims around climate, and not try to fight everyone’s battle, although this was certainly not a universal sentiment. This was linked to concerns about broader and more inclusive engagement, which many felt was limited by perceptions of XR as a radical and politically left wing movement (see also Actions below). There were mixed feelings around political engagement, although the predominant suggestion was keeping out of politics. However, the idea that we should work more closely with other organisations with similar aims, was countered by very few.

In terms of motivation, there were calls for evidence that XR is effective, as well as requests for more positive campaigning, and generally better messaging. One of the main concerns around the latter, in both sets of responses, was clarity. Broadening the audience was a concern here as well - trying to reach those less committed (and also avoiding bad language). There was also frustration about the difficulty, understood by many, of achieving mainstream media coverage.

There were 932 categorisations of responses around Actions planning and practice, with many parallels with the comments categorised as Strategy, particularly around the targeting of actions, and gaining broader appeal or support. This message, in essence, was to stop disrupting ordinary people and public transport and focus on institutions and carbon intensive or exploiting corporations and industry. In this vein, quite a few wanted actions to be less radical, and a move away from a focus on arrests, which put many off from participating, towards other tangible and thought out goals. This contrasts with the findings above that respondents are more likely to take part in more radical actions. At the same time there were calls for more high impact, and more creative actions, with better planning, to get more media attention. Accessibility was also an issue in terms of family friendliness, suitability for older people and taking place at times to suit working people. Altogether ideas about actions were almost as varied as they were numerous.

On the question of culture, the public image of XRUK featured in a large number of responses, with the words ‘hippies’, ‘dress code’, ‘festival’, ‘partying’, or ‘dressing up’ used to illustrate concerns about broader support, and reducing respondents’ inclination to be more involved. Behaviour was also an issue, with swearing and aggression referred to, and a call to better reflect our ethical values.

The organisation of XR was a subject where improvement was suggested, respondents finding it both disorganised and over-organised, with a need for better decision-making processes. This was linked with internal communications, where there were many calls for improvement, especially in publicising events in a timely manner. Otherwise, the main concern was the proliferation of channels, and for some an over-reliance on social media. This was another illustration of how difficult it is to get it right, with competing calls for briefer and more succinct communications alongside complaints of lack of information.

There were many simply positive messages from respondents who just wanted XR to continue getting on with it, and there was also much understanding of the real difficulties faced by XR in achieving our goals, in what, with Covid-19, has now become an even more difficult climate to get our message across.

2.4 Demographics

The questions in this section are asking who we are now (or who our respondents are!), and have we changed since 2019? In terms of where we live, we’re predominantly southerners, with little change in the last year, despite a 15% turnover on the mailing list. Ethnicity too has seen little change. Although the figure for white British matches the national picture, white non-British is more than twice the national average, and other ethnicities are generally below that average. There has been a near 2% increase in those with more support needs, which tallies with the fact that we appear to have got quite a bit older since last year, with a near 5% increase in rebels aged over 60, at the expense of numbers particularly of those aged 21 to 50. The questionnaire asks about social class in terms of how people ‘spend most of their time’, read as a euphemism for employment, to indicate social class. The proportion of retirees increased by 8% in the last year, while the respondents remained predominantly in the white collar bracket.

3. Conclusions

Covid-19 put XRUK in a very difficult position, as discussed in the introduction, with loss of Volunteer Living Expenses causing many to leave or reduce their commitments. Those who were left had to struggle to keep the movement afloat, while struggling to maintain morale. This may account for some of the loss of confidence in the movement suggested by the data.

One central issue, repeated through various perspectives in the responses, is how to grow the movement in an inclusive way - to include or persuade across all demographics, and avoid becoming, or being perceived as, a left-wing or extreme movement. A great many respondents felt that this fundamental aim was threatened in various ways. These included moving beyond our core aims into fights for every kind of justice, annoying the public with disruptive events, and creating an image of ourselves as white, middle-class hippy types.

The question of keeping our focus on climate change competes with the belief we cannot combat climate change without tackling global justice. This discussion might be viewed as a conflict between the approaches of marketing: affecting attitudes and behaviours, and politics: affecting system change. A broad concern amongst respondents was that the former will not be effective if we are perceived as political or extremist, however much outreach we do.

This reluctance to continue “pissing off the public” was also linked to numerous calls for strategy and actions to target corporations, businesses, the government, and all who are responsible for major carbon emissions, rather than generally disrupting the system, the cities and the people. If disruption is the unique aspect of XR that makes our impact noticed, and thus effective, then such a change of focus may well make us acceptable to a wider swath of supporters, and make our actions more comprehensible, and thus acceptable, to the general public. This could perhaps put us in a better position to grow the movement, and with it the belief that action on climate change is needed, and needed now.

4. The Project Team

Eighteen people were at one time or another involved in some way in making this project happen. It’s been great teamwork and a pleasure, which I hope will continue as we go on to prepare for the next round of this work, well ahead of the next rebellion!

The analysis and reporting was carried out by a smaller team with very varied experience of this type of work, from virtually none, to extensive industrial or academic experience. There was a fair bit of learning involved all round, and some compromises had to be made. It should also be noted that we were all very aware of our own subjectivity in looking at, and analysing the data, and tried our best to ensure that it was the views of the respondents that made it into the report, rather than our own!

Many thanks to all those involved, all who supported us, and all who provided us with data.

5. Improving the method for future post-rebellion feedback processes

For the next survey round, we are likely to avoid changes to those questions that give good comparisons over time. However, we will meet in the near future to discuss what has worked best, and what has not, and consider what changes to the questionnaire or analysis method could make future surveys at least as effective, but perhaps a little less arduous. This review will also include the group feedback process reported separately.

Feedback and Learning Circle
11th November 2020

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