Between October 2014 and March 2015 as part of the Next Generation Shapers project, BASIC hosted a series of discussions with US and UK based policy students and young professionals with different interests and areas of expertise.
The aim of this exercise was to gain insight into how the next generation of policy shapers think about, communicate, and connect with nuclear weapons and other geopolitical issues.
Here are some of the main conclusions that we found:
1) The influence of early experience: Personal experience and academic learning from early childhood to university is highly influential in shaping opinions and developing sense of idealism.
2) Personal stories make an impact: First hand experience and knowing someone directly impacted by an issue highly influences interest. Participants tended to seek out issues perceived to have direct impact on them.
3) Clear goals and impact: Clearly defined goals inspired active engagement. Participants preferred to know how their personal contributions will make an impact and how substantive change is created.
4) Balance matters: There was a strong preference for balanced analysis of issues, presenting all sides of an argument, which allows people to come to their own informed conclusion. Many participants expressed a suspicion of overt activism and advocacy, which were largely perceived to be representative of only one side of a debate.
5) Convenience is important: Participants were more likely to inform themselves about, or actively engage on an issue if the information or actions required are convenient.
6) Respected leaders influence thinking; celebrities don’t: Celebrities from entertainment industries were emphatically not influential in shaping opinions on world issues. Leaders in their fields such as writers, journalists, policy experts, or former government officials were found to be more influential.
7) Motivations: Participants were motivated by issues that inspired concern for others, that appealed to their sense of right and wrong or civic duty, or that sparked a sense of injustice or frustration.
8) Actions: Participants identified key actions to be learning, building awareness and passing information on. They were more likely to share well-structured and easy to read articles, short videos, new or influential information, something controversial, or something involving a high profile individual.
9) Nuclear weapons: Participants broadly felt that their knowledge of or interest in nuclear weapons as a stand-alone issue was low, largely because they couldn’t relate to these intangible weapons that no longer seem relevant. The face of warfare is changing and the risk of nuclear crisis seems low. Participants didn’t feel they could do much to change the status quo in regards to nuclear weapons, but worried about the unpredictability of the weapons, proliferation threats, and other nuclear players. There was a sense of false security, frustration, and questions about the impacts of nuclear weapons on other geopolitical issues.
So what’s next? As part of the Next Generation project, BASIC is going to use these outcomes to help shape its engagement in this field among current policy makers and the next generation of policy shapers. We hope others working on the nuclear weapons debate and in peripheral and interrelated fields can use our research to help inform and shape their work too.