Institutional vs Individual Action: A Question of Perspective


To gain an idea of different people’s perspectives on an issue, it is useful to run a survey and analyze the data. For this lab, the entire ENVS 220 class submitted “candidate statements” that asserted a position on a current issue in relation to broader topics like the hybridity of nature or institutional vs individual action. These candidate statements reflect trends in general attitudes and beliefs held among the class. It is important and interesting to find out how people’s beliefs shape up in a time of such polarization surrounding  environmental issues.


People’s  differing attitudes and beliefs set the foundation for the procedure of this lab. Our candidate statements were complied into an anonymous survey that listed every statement next to a 5-point Linkert scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree). In taking this survey, we compared our individual beliefs to the statements listed by indicating how much we agree or disagree. We did this by selecting the appropriate point on the Linkert scale displayed next to the statements. Upon completing the survey, it was time to analyze the data. We did this by saving a copy of the survey responses on a new Google sheets spreadsheet. Raw data was kept on the first sheet under the title “raw.” We then created an new sheet to recode the data into a more organized format for charts and statistics. To do this, we erased all the time stamps, copied the raw field names onto the new sheet and removed “How much do you disagree/agree with these statements?” via the find and replace function. Next, we came up with a formula that converted the Linkert text responses to a 5 point numerical scale (1 for strongly disagree to 5 for strongly agree). Upon completing this formula, we dragged it through all fields and records to apply the formula to all the responses. After the completion of this step, all responses appeared as numerical values (1-5). 

The next few steps of the  procedure involved sorting and analyzing certain trends that surfaced in the data. For this, we chose the theme of individual vs institutional action and picked statements that leaned towards individual or institutional action. Next, we created a new column for responses on individual action and another new column for 1 to 5 response data on questions regarding institutional action. We then calculated the mean of each column of values and reversed the institutional values so all the items could line up. Upon completing this step, we made a series of histograms charting the overall class distribution of institutional vs individual action, responses to a question regarding institutional action and responses to a question regarding individual action. We then created a scatter plot to display any correlation between these survey items. The resulting charts are embedded below.


[iframe src=””%5D The histogram above displays the whole class’s response to questions regarding individual vs institutional action. The majority of responses fall between 2.75 and 3.0. This means that people generally agree with the candidate statements regarding individual or institutional action but many are neutral or not sure.

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This histogram displays responses to a question regarding individual action. People were generally neutral about this question as well. Almost all responses to this question fell in the range of 2 – 4.

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This histogram displays answers to a question regarding institutional action. People generally support the idea of using cost benefit analysis to determine if the government should take action regarding pollution. ENVS 220 favors institutional action. Most responses fall in the range of 3 – 5.

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This scatter plot contrasts people’s responses to the question above. Due to the gently sloping trend line, there is little to no correlation.


Although results are largely neutral, ENVS 220 students generally favor institutional action over individual action. This implies a need for collective action. Belief in the power of institutional action can have positive implications because it can motivate people to band together and fight for change. However, the neutrality regarding individual action can have negative consequences as it could lead to disregard for small, daily actions that do have a positive impact. Although I’m sure that everyone in ENVS220 encourages taking personal action against environmental issues, it is important to realize the potential of actions on both scales.

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