Big Climate Conversation: report of findings

A summary of findings from the Big Climate Conversation, a public engagement programme about climate change held over six months across Scotland.

Section 3: Who Took Part?

Number of participants

Over 2,500 people participated in The Big Climate Conversation:

  • 552 participants in 10 open-audience workshops.
  • 105 participants in 5 targeted-audience workshops.
  • 1,993 participants in 110 community-led conversations.

These numbers only account for the participants who provided formal feedback to the Scottish Government, either by attending a facilitated workshop or submitting a feedback form following a community-led conversation. The 'How-To Guide' was accessed online over 800 times which suggests there may have been some participants who held an event but did not submit feedback. For example, some participants may have held a climate conversation for their own individual or local interests, such as, to increase local carbon literacy or raise awareness of climate change.

Participant characteristics

The Big Climate Conversation aimed to be as inclusive as possible, welcoming participation from anyone who was interested in being involved. The limitation of having an 'open door' approach to participation is that participants could not be recruited to be representative of the Scottish population as a whole.

It is inevitable that people who are already engaged in action and debate on climate change were more likely to hear about, and be motivated to participate in, The Big Climate Conversation. In addition, there are structural inequalities in society – such as, education, resources, work and caring responsibilities, and disabilities – which often act as barriers to participation in community engagement processes such as these.[5] Consequently, the views gathered throughout this process cannot be considered as representative of all Scottish public opinion. Instead, the findings provide insight into different perspectives held by different individuals and the reasons behind those views.

Within the bounds of this limitation, the programme was designed to hear from as diverse a range of individuals as possible. As different types of engagement processes and activity formats are known to be appealing and accessible to different audiences, the public engagement events offered a variety of different forums for conversations to take place. This included a mixture of face-to-face and online engagement, as well as community-led and professionally-facilitated events.

This section provides an overview of the types of people taking part in the facilitated workshops and the community-led conversations.


To assess the diversity of attendees at the facilitated workshops, participants were asked to provide some basic demographic data, including age, gender and ethnicity. Key participant demographics are shown in Table 1.[6]

Table 1: Demographic characteristics of participants in the facilitated workshops

Characteristic Open workshops Targeted workshops Scottish Average
Educated to degree level or above 83% 64% 26%
No qualifications 4% 2% 27%
Female 59% 62% 51%
Male 41% 38% 49%
White Scottish or British 86% 74% 92%
s olOver 45 yeard 55% 51% 46%

The most striking skew in the demographic characteristics was towards people educated to degree level equivalent or above (83% of participants at the open-audience workshops and 64% at the targeted-audience workshops). In both cases, this is significantly greater than across the Scottish population as a whole (26%).[8] In addition, less than 5% of participants in either type of workshop reported that they held no qualifications, compared to 27% of the Scottish population. One possible explanation for this stark discrepancy is the previously observed link between level of education and concern about climate change. The 2018 Scottish Household Survey found that the proportion of adults with a degree or professional qualification who perceived climate change as an immediate and urgent problem was double that of adults with no qualifications (81% compared to 40%).[9]

Overall, the results for the other demographics were broadly similar to Scotland as a whole. The majority of participants in both types of workshops described their ethnicity as White Scottish or British (86% in open-audience and 74% of targeted-audience). This is, however, lower than the Scottish population as a whole (92%) suggesting that the workshops were relatively successful in engaging with some members of ethnic minority groups. There was a higher proportion of female than male participants in both types of workshop (59% in open-audience and 62% in targeted-audience), compared to the almost equal split between the sexes in the population as a whole. Finally, there was a quite even split between participants aged over and under 45 years, which reflects a slight over representation of older people relative to the population of Scotland.[10]

Demographic data was not collected on all participants in the community-led conversations, however, feedback forms were received from communities in cities, towns, and rural villages the length and breadth of Scotland, including several islands. Conversations were held by a diversity of communities of interest, identity, experience and life-stage. The feedback forms also indicated that different communities were starting from very different places in terms of their experiences of participating in discussions about climate change or their experiences with adopting low carbon behaviours.

Knowledge About Climate Change

Across the different strands of The Big Climate Conversation, participants were found to have varying levels of knowledge about climate change. In the facilitated workshops, participants were asked to score their knowledge of the global climate emergency before and after the events on a scale of 1 ('This is the first time I've heard of it') to 10 ('I know a lot about this'). Scores were grouped into Low (1-3), Medium (4-7) and High (8-10), shown in Figure 3.

As expected, participants in the targeted-audience workshops, on average, started with a lower level of knowledge than those at the open-audience workshops. Participants reported an increase in knowledge at the end of both types of workshops, suggesting that climate conversations can be an effective tool for improving knowledge about climate change. This was particularly identified in the targeted-audience workshops, after which the proportion of participants reporting a high level of knowledge of the climate emergency almost tripled, from 20% to 55%. The biggest average increase in knowledge at an open workshop was at the youth workshop in Stirling (1.6 points).

Figure 3: Participants' self-reported level of knowledge about the global climate emergency before and after the facilitated workshop

Figure 3: Participants' self-reported level of knowledge about the global climate emergency before and after the facilitated workshop

Figure 4: Level of knowledge about climate change, net-zero and/or the climate emergency of the participants in the community-led conversations

Figure 4: Level of knowledge about climate change, net-zero and/or the climate emergency of the participants in the community-led conversations

Participants in the community-led conversations were asked to report how much they knew "about climate change, net-zero, and/or the climate emergency". Their level of knowledge was ranked as High, Medium, or Low. As shown in Figure 4, of the 96 responses received to this question, 65% had a high level of knowledge, 28% a medium level, and only 7 had low or no prior knowledge of climate change, net-zero or the climate emergency.

Regardless of overall knowledge, 89 groups stated that at least one of their participants was already taking action to mitigate their personal impact on climate change, most commonly relating to recycling and/or composting, or to changes in diet.



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