About Common Cause

Common Cause is a network of people working to help rebalance cultural values to create a more equitable, sustainable and democratic society.

What Common Cause believes

  1. We are all shaped by our culture. Culture is a key influence in shaping our view of the world and our sense of responsibilities within it. The way in which we respond, both as individuals and collectively, to the most pressing problems that we face – climate change, poverty, inequality, biodiversity loss – is shaped in a critically important way by our culture.
  2. Collectively, we have the power to shape the culture that shapes us. But this power to shape culture is unevenly distributed and is often wielded by small groups with disproportionate financial, social or political power.
  3. The uneven power dynamics within society are seldom the subject of public scrutiny and debate, with such debate sometimes actively suppressed. This leaves these small groups free to exert overwhelming cultural influences that often promote values which are actively detrimental to solving the most pressing problems of our age.
  4. Such lack of debate prevents us from truly functioning democratically and responding more meaningfully and effectively to the challenges that we face. We need to openly examine the influences exerted on our culture, and therefore our values, and create processes and spaces for questioning and changing these influences.
  5. It is central to human flourishing in a truly participatory democracy that we each engage actively in such debate: to cede this responsibility to others is to diminish one’s full and proper participation in society.

How Common Cause Works

We strive to embody the values we seek to strengthen in society.

To this end:

  • We work collaboratively.
  • We celebrate creativity and self-direction.
  • We are open to new contributions and challenges to our thinking.
  • We aim for a sense of community, openness and authenticity.
  • We learn from both our successes and our failures.
  • We work for benefit beyond self, not for profit.

Who we are & where we came from

In 2008, WWF-UK published a report, Weathercocks and Signposts: The Environment Movement at a Crossroads. Written by Tom Crompton, this sought to open debate about the theories of change adopted by many environmental organisations. The publication of this report led to widespread international debate – and we quickly realised that many of the challenges and responses highlighted in that report were as important to groups working on other causes as they were to people working in the environment movement.

The following year, under the leadership of David Nussbaum, WWF-UK brought together senior staff from a handful of UK non-governmental organisations to discuss the inadequacy of current responses to challenges like climate change, global poverty and biodiversity loss. Some social scientists were invited to join us in this conversation. How, we asked ourselves, might greater public demand for proportional responses to such global challenges be brought to bear on political and business leaders?

In reflecting on this question, we drew on recent research in cognitive science and social psychology. Much of the current debate, especially as this relates to environmental issues, focuses on approaches to motivating specific behaviours (driving less, or buying fair-trade, for example). But pressing social and environmental challenges seem unlikely to be met by picking off behaviours one-by-one. From outset, we were convinced that these challenges would require a more concerted approach.

Many of the organisations represented at our initial meeting came together to support the publication, in 2010, of Common Cause: The Case for Working with our Cultural Values. This report was also written by Tom Crompton, through a process overseen by a steering group of senior communications and campaign staff, called the Common Cause Working Group. Members of this group were drawn from the organisations that went on to publish this report. Early on in drafting this report, we recognised that the types of challenge we were examining – and the responses that we were highlighting – were applicable to a very wide range of third sector concerns. We saw that this raised the possibility of working with a diversity of organisations to develop this agenda further.

The debate that Common Cause catalysed grew rapidly, and WWF-UK supported the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) to produce a shorter, more accessible version of the report (The Common Cause Handbook), a practical workshop and online resources (including this website). WWF-UK subsequently supported PIRC to develop a second edition of the Handbook, which is currently in production.

Between us, we have now held workshops for several thousand people from a variety of sectors and countries and have published other related reports, many of which you will find on this website. A great number of individuals and organisations have since stepped forward to take ownership of some part of this discussion and help drive it forward. You’ll find outlines and contact details for a number of these related initiatives on this website.

PIRC continue to curate this website, produce the newsletter, run workshops and work collaboratively with various civil society organisations. Their work on Common Cause is financed through core and project funding.

WWF-UK have committed to supporting the launch of a new organisation, The Common Cause Foundation. Oliver Smith and Tom Crompton have left WWF-UK to lead this organisation. The Foundation has already embarked on preliminary research and outreach work, and will be launching with programmes in the coming months.

Enjoy exploring our site, and please do get in touch if there is anything you want to add, or contest, or if you can see ways in which you would like to help further extend the conversation that we have started!