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  • Writer's pictureMackenzie Mallett

The Importance of Cultural Intelligence in Data Interpretation

On August 10, 2021, the Global Center for Adaptation (GCA) released their report “Young People and Drivers and Barriers to Climate Adaptation Action”. This report, for which Kai Analytics conducted surveying and data analysis, seeks to understand factors that enhance the engagement of young people in adaptation action worldwide. Young people between the ages of 15-24 will experience the biggest consequences of climate change, they are usually the least represented in the institutions that have the power to do something about it. To learn more about the report, and Kai Analytics role in it, check out this case study.

The GCA report is an in-depth analysis of young people in parts of the world that experience the largest consequences of climate change. Ironically, these places contribute a very small portion of emissions. Africans are particularly susceptible to climate related disasters while only contributing 4% of emissions. But I digress.

Since young people will inherit the consequences of climate change today, it is especially important to understand what motivates them to participate (or not) in adaptation actions. Page 20 of the report contained some interesting findings.

Four graphs from a Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) report showing responses to: "If you have not participated in the following activities, can you explain why?". The most common answer is "I was not invited/asked to".

A graph from a GCA report showing the proportion of survey respondents who would be willing to undertake adaptation actions.

It seems that the paramount obstacle in getting young people to participate in climate adaptation is a lack of invitations to do so. To overcome this obstacle, it’s important to understand why not being invited to participate is such a barrier. To a Canadian reading this report, not being invited may be a silly reason not to act. After all, Canadians don’t usually need to be invited to speak their mind on things. However, these answers were not provided by Canadians. The GCA report primarily surveyed young people in regions of Africa and Asia, where not being invited to participate may be a real barrier to action.

Now I should start by pointing out that I have never been to Rwanda, Nepal, India, or any of the other countries in this report. So, I probably shouldn’t make grandiose assumptions about the people who live there, or their motivations. Which points to the issue at hand. That analysts are often asked to provide insight on data provided by people they’ll never meet, in places they may never go to. To interpret results and make useful recommendations, it is necessary to have a baseline understanding of the cultural differences between your own country and the countries being surveyed.

Cultural intelligence is also important in survey design. The surveys that Kai Analytics enumerators distributed had to consider the environment the survey was distributed in. For example, questions about ethnic identity were omitted in Rwanda, and the Chinese version of the survey didn’t ask participants to say whether they had been to a climate protest.

The most extensive tool for measuring elements of culture against each other is the GLOBE Framework. The GLOBE study of 2004 is the culmination of 10 years of research on societal culture, organizational culture, and attributes of effective leadership around the world. The scale of this study is staggering (17,300 participants from 62 distinct societies), and it provides insight on how key assumptions about how one should behave vary across cultures.

While the GLOBE model is good, the countries in the GCA study were not included in the 2004 edition. They will be included in the 2020 version, which should be coming out soon; in the meantime, the Hofstede Framework will suffice.

Another useful tool is the Hofstede Framework. The Hofstede model was developed in the 1960’s and provided a key foundation for the GLOBE framework to build from. This model measures similar cultural dimensions to the GLOBE framework and includes the counties in the GCA study. Below are some charts that compare countries from the GCA study on the basis of 6 cultural frameworks. These countries are compared to both Canada and the United States as a benchmark for North American readers.

So what do these charts tell us about why not being invited to participate is such a barrier to action? Of the 6 cultural dimensions measured, the pertinent two are power distance and individualism.

Power Distance: The extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.

Individualism: The degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members.

In the graphs above, the differences between Canada and the countries surveyed are immediately apparent. While Canada has a very low score in power distance, and a high degree of individualism, the opposite is true for the countries surveyed.

A high score in power distance implies that members of a culture would find it inappropriate to approach a manager or elder as an equal. This may account for part of the reason invitations are so important, especially on a national scale, where decision makers would have significantly more power than the young person being surveyed.

Canada is rated much higher for individualism than the GCA countries, although not as high as the United States. What this means is that Canadians are more likely to consider themselves as individual actors, who can do as they please regardless of norms. This is not the case in the GCA countries. This may be why young people from these countries do not feel comfortable acting on their own accord to lead climate activities.

Frameworks like these can help analysts who are surveying international populations to get a baseline understanding of the different expectations participants from other cultures may have. They can be used throughout the survey process, for creating culturally sensitive surveys, and for interpreting results. By making use of cultural intelligence, leaders can make decisions that are a better fit with everyone involved.


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