Culture collaborating to influence the public on climate change

How can cultural institutions collaborate and use their assets to influence the public? How do we tap into audiences and cultural partnerships to expand conversations around sustainability? How do we use our position as trusted messengers in society to engage the public meaningfully on the complex subject of climate change?

These were some of the questions tackled on 31 October 2023 when we joined members of the Scottish National Culture for Climate (SNaCC) group at the National Museum of Scotland for a day of micro-presentations, dialogue and workshops. ‘Culture collaborating to influence public on climate change’ concluded with a closing plenary and discussion panel during which we heard from Scottish Government representatives and used the time to present ideas from the day to them, and to board members of SNaCC organisations, stressing SNaCC’s joint influencing power. The event was funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Public Engagement & Behaviour Change team.

Influencing work

The morning and afternoon sessions opened with micro-presentations about influencing work that some of the group members are already undertaking. The presentations – from Ruth Gill (National Museums Scotland), Katie Eagleton (University Museums in Scotland), Gillian Macdonald (Historic Environment Scotland), Lucy Armitage (National Galleries of Scotland) and Lewis Coenen-Rowe (Creative Carbon Scotland) – provided inspiration as attendees moved into practical breakout sessions.

Facilitated breakout sessions

Using public engagement strategy as a diving-off point, Bettina Sizeland, Head of Bus, Accessibility and Active Travel at Transport Scotland and Jeremy Hanks from The Scottish Government Climate Change Public Engagement & Behaviour Change team set the attendees some challenges to focus on during the breakout sessions that followed.

The two sessions, with five cross-SNaCC groups each, were organised to fire and free the imagination, discover what assets and skills the SNaCC members have to offer, raise ambition, experiment with new ideas and make use of the collaborative opportunity. Facilitators, who came from SNaCC members’ education/outreach teams, plus an artist, applied creative practices to stimulate the groups’ imaginations. The approaches used to capture the outputs ranged from crafting to model ideas, singing rounds, compiling a playlist encapsulating individuals’ emotional responses to climate change and nature, and drawing, as well as more traditional methods like Post-it notes.

Imagining projects

The morning session considered challenges posed by Transport Scotland, such as ‘Are there any practices that you can change to help people travel more sustainably?’ and ‘What new partnerships could you develop with bus, train and ferry operators to solve some of the problems stopping people from travelling more sustainably?’. The groups were asked to imagine short-term projects based on current possibilities and tangible changes in practices that collaborative groups of two or more SNaCC members could take forward in 2024.

Based on challenges posed by the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Public Engagement & Behaviour Change team, the second session challenged the attendees to push their creativity and generate ideas of how the cultural institutions’ combined assets, reach and influence could come together and produce a large-scale all-member project that could be developed and delivered over the next few years, to meaningfully engage the public on climate change. A key aspect of the challenges was to ask, ‘Who’s missing?’ to get the groups thinking about who else, outside the arts and culture sector, can help and collaborate on solutions.

Future ideas

The brainstorming, alongside the opportunity to visit the museum’s current exhibition Rising Tide, led to thought-provoking future ideas with attendees generating plans for potential national projects where all SNaCC members work together with the relevant authorities. Ideas included: ‘20 minutes to inspiration’ with every neighbourhood having a cultural, climate-related offer, ‘The people’s feast’ of Scottish food and songs focused on local and sustainable sourcing and bringing communities together, and ‘Sport x Culture’ – a year of half-time shows live in stadiums, maximising audiences and inspiring action.

The presentations resulted in a combined collaborative idea: ‘Festival of the future’. A SNaCC attendee expands:

‘A stumbling block when it comes to climate change is that it feels too big to get past. [We can change this] by creating a space that allows people to imagine that the problems can be overcome and that the other side of the climate and biodiversity emergencies is a positive place. This has the potential to allow people to work through the actions that are necessary.’

Closing plenary and panel discussion

The workshops and discussions were followed by an afternoon plenary, which included an introduction by Ian Russell CBE, Chair of National Museums Scotland, a rallying call to SNaCC members from Màiri McAllan MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition, and an inspiring talk by Professor Sir Ian Boyd, Co-Chair of the First Minister’s Environmental Council.

To end the day’s event, Dr Ben Twist, Director of Creative Carbon Scotland, moderated a panel discussion with Màiri McAllan MSP, Professor Sir Ian Boyd and Dr Sam Alberti, Director of Collections at National Museums Scotland, exploring topics such as using knowledge from the past to imagine a hopeful future, utilising leadership and sharing knowledge while eliminating competition, incentivising and empowering people to make decisions, regulation with integrity, focusing on the benefits of climate change mitigation and adaptation and the vital role of culture in the climate crisis.

‘Your sector is absolutely vital to helping people understand the world around them. Culture has huge potential to support the transformations and transitions in society that are so vital to the next part of our decarbonising journey.’ – Màiri McAllan MSP

Plenary panel members for ‘Culture collaborating to influence the public on climate change’. Clockwise from top left: Sir Ian Boyd, Mairi McAllan MSP, Dr Sam Alberti and Dr Ben Twist.

SNaCC members

  • Creative Carbon Scotland
  • Creative Scotland
  • Historic Environment Scotland
  • Museums Galleries Scotland
  • National Galleries of Scotland
  • National Library of Scotland
  • National Museums Scotland
  • National Theatre of Scotland
  • Scottish Chamber Orchestra
  • Scottish Opera
  • University Museums in Scotland
  • V&A Dundee


  • CILIPS (Scotland’s library and information professionals)
  • City of Edinburgh Council
  • Dundee City Council
  • East Lothian Council
  • Improvement Service
  • Museums Association
  • Scottish Government
  • Transport Scotland
Audience members at the plenary session for ‘Culture collaborating to influence the public on climate change’.
What is SNaCC?

Convened by Creative Carbon Scotland, SNaCC is an informal collaboration between several national cultural institutions, development agencies and performing arts companies. You can find out more about SNaCC’s goals, how and why the group was formed, and past events and projects on the SNaCC page.

‘My rallying call to the group is to use your diverse and creative minds and your voices to capture the attention of Scotland’s people at what is a really critical moment in a critical journey, to help our communities connect with climate change in a human and intuitive way and to come to terms with what can often feel like an exceptionally lofty, complex and insurmountable challenge.’ – Màiri McAllan MSP

(Top image ID: A collage of brainstorming diagrams and text from ‘Culture collaborating to influence the public on climate change’.)

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