Tom Crompton

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I've worked on values and social change for nearly a decade. WWF’s work in this area started in 2008, with the publication of my report Weathercocks and Signposts. This was followed in 2010 with the publication of a book I wrote with Tim Kasser called Meeting Environmental Challenges, and then with the Common Cause report, published later the same year. In the last couple of years I’ve focused on research – particularly through a very productive collaboration between WWF and Scope. This has allowed us to test many of the principles we are advancing through Common Cause. I’m now helping to set up The Common Cause Foundation. Email me at: tcrompton@commoncausefoundation.org

No Cause is an Island

A major new piece of research

Common Cause makes the case for a different approach to creating change.

Most current approaches to creating change focus on specific causes (for example, biodiversity conservation or international development; climate change or disability rights). They identify key interventions – changes in people’s behaviour, or policies for example – that will help to advance these causes. And then they promote these interventions.

Common Cause makes the case that this approach, important as it is, isn’t sufficient. We confront huge challenges. If we are to step up to addressing these, then our approaches need to add up to more than the sum of their parts.

We have built the case that we need also to look ‘across’ a wide range of causes. In this way we can identify the values that motivate people’s concern about these causes, and work to engage and strengthen them.

Common Cause has accumulated a large body of evidence for this approach. But much of this evidence comes from studies run by academics who don’t necessarily set out to address the specific challenges faced by charities. Often we hear from communicators and campaigners in charities that the material tested in these studies isn’t very ‘realistic’.

A new study

Today we’re publishing a new study, which we have been working on for many months. It combines the best of both worlds. On the one hand, we’ve worked on it with some of the world’s leading experts on values. On the other hand, we used it to test the effectiveness of material produced by staff in WWF (a conservation charity) and Scope (a disability charity). The study makes use of a large panel of nearly 14,000 people managed by the Institute of Development Studies in Brighton. Having read text describing the work of either WWF or Scope, in either intrinsic or extrinsic terms, we then asked people about their intention to help one or other of these charities – by donating money, volunteering, lobbying their MP, or joining a public meeting.

Here are some key findings, each of which I’ll be unpacking further in subsequent blogs.

Tom CromptonNo Cause is an Island
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The Conscience Industry:
Tom Crompton at TEDxExeter

Unlike Ed, my polystyrene alter ego, I found this TEDx thing pretty nerve-wracking. There’s a big digital clock at your feet that counts down your allotted time, and then starts flashing admonishment if you overrun. But though Ed may seem rather more chilled out than me, at least I’ve still got more hair than him.

Let me know what you think in the comments below…

Tom CromptonThe Conscience Industry:
Tom Crompton at TEDxExeter
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Leave Our Kids Alone

Yesterday saw the launch of the campaign Leave Our Kids Alone, with a letter in The Telegraph, and articles in the Daily Mail and The Guardian. This campaign grapples with what must surely be one of the most important common causes around which third sector organisations, irrespective of the issues upon which they work, should be galvanised: the problem of advertising aimed at our children.

Tom CromptonLeave Our Kids Alone
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Michael Sandel on “the corrosive effect of money”

We’ve drawn attention to the strong synergies between Common Cause and the work of Michael Sandel before. He’s in the UK (speaking at LSE) tomorrow, and I’ve just read his latest book – “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets”.

The arguments that Sandel develops in the book revolve importantly around the way in which charging for a good or service changes its nature. He writes:

“Standard economic reasoning assumes that commodifying a good – putting it up for sale – does not alter its character” (p.113).

And he then argues that this is far from the case – that, in many instances, creating a market for a good or service profoundly effects its character. For example, paying people to give blood changes the nature of blood-donation.

“As markets reach into spheres of life traditionally governed by nonmarket norms, the notion that markets don’t touch or taint the goods they exchange becomes increasingly implausible” (p.114).

In another example (one also mentioned in the Common Cause Handbook), Sandel cites a study of community attitudes to nuclear waste dumps in Switzerland, finding that offering citizens financial incentives for supporting the local siting of a dump erodes their support.

In discussing this further, he presents some insights which Common Cause has itself worked to highlight:

Tom CromptonMichael Sandel on “the corrosive effect of money”
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Do we have time to shift values?

“Do we have time to shift values?” This is a question that is often asked when people respond to Common Cause. This blog, itself an expansion of the FAQ question of the same title, offers a response.

Clearly, we don’t have long to bring down greenhouse carbon dioxide emissions very markedly before we hit devastating levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – with profound, effectively irreversible, effects upon our climate. Often, when people ask “Do we have time to shift values?”, they are posing the question in the context of the urgency of addressing climate change. In this context, we need to effect major changes in how our economies are run, and we need to effect them very soon.

In formulating a response to the challenge posed by climate change, it is important to hold in mind that these reductions in greenhouse gas emissions need to be (i) sufficiently ambitious; (ii) made sufficiently soon; (iii) sufficiently durable to be maintained for a long time to come.

Implicit in the question “Do we have time to shift values?” is the belief that some alternative strategy could perhaps provide the requisite ambition and durability, and deliver these emissions reductions in a short time-frame. Also implicit is the suspicion that, while the strategy of ‘shifting values’ may be sufficiently ambitious and dependable, it is likely to take a long time. Too long.

This blog, then, provides some responses to this important question.

Tom CromptonDo we have time to shift values?
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What about people for whom extrinsic values are particularly important?

A great deal of the research that we have brought together on this site points to the advantages, on aggregate, of appealing to intrinsic values in communicating to people about social and environmental problems – and the potential costs of appealing to extrinsic values.

But, of course, people aren’t all the same, and it may be that there are some people who are simply impervious to communications which appeal to intrinsic values. We’ve argued that this is unlikely, because we all express all these values at different times – life, afterall, is a ‘dance around the values circle’!

But the original group of people who supported the Common Cause report – from COIN, CPRE, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam and WWF – wanted to test this further. So we enlisted the help of some psychologists (at Cardiff University, and Knox College, Illinois) and linguists (at Lancaster University).

Tom CromptonWhat about people for whom extrinsic values are particularly important?
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DECC report on ‘energy behaviour’

A new paper from DECC forms the basis of their Customer Insight Team’s capacity-building on behaviour change. Drawing on Common Cause, it reviews evidence from behavioural economics, social psychology and sociology on different ways of  “changing energy behaviour”.

The report can be downloaded here.

Tom CromptonDECC report on ‘energy behaviour’
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The High Price of Materialism

Tim Kasser is professor of psychology at Knox College, Illinois, and author of The High Price of Materialism. He has been of great help in developing the Common Cause work.

In this animation, produced for The Center for a New American Dream, Tim discusses how America’s culture of consumerism undermines our well-being. When people buy into the ever-present marketing messages that “the good life” is “the goods life,” they not only use up Earth’s limited resources, but they are less happy and less inclined toward helping others. The animation both lays out the problems of excess materialism and points toward solutions that promise a healthier, more just, and more sustainable life.

 

Tom CromptonThe High Price of Materialism
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Opening the ethical debates in advertising

We’ve suggested elsewhere that there are two broad categories of response to Common Cause.

The first is to focus on the implications for the campaigns and communications that we are already producing: how might we campaign on biodiversity conservation, or disability rights, or cancer research, while simultaneously helping to strengthen those values upon which systemic concern about these issues must come to be built?

The second is to ask: what might we begin to do collectively, across the third sector, to strengthen the cultural importance of intrinsic values and reduce the pervasiveness of extrinsic values? Here there are many opportunities for new joint campaigns. One of the most obvious – but it is only one – is on advertising.

There is persuasive evidence that advertising serves to reinforce the cultural importance of extrinsic values – and to undermine the importance that we place on intrinsic values. As such, it will operate to reduce public concern about a wide range of social and environmental issues. This is an effect which is likely to be further strengthened by the fact that advertising is so pervasive – we literally can’t avoid it; and by the fact that much of it is targeted at children – people who are likely to be more vulnerable to its influence on values.

PIRC and WWF-UK have today launched a report highlighting the evidence for the cultural impacts of advertising. George Monbiot has written about it here. And you can download the report below.

We’ll now be hosting a conversation – with people from the third sector and business alike – on the cultural impacts of advertising and possible responses. Do get in touch if you would like to be involved in this!

Tom CromptonOpening the ethical debates in advertising
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Extrinsic values in campaigns: 
A response to Gallie

In his response to our earlier briefing, Nick Gallie has attempted to reconcile the Value Modes approach with the Common Cause approach, suggesting that there is room for both in motivating pro-environmental actions.

Gallie’s essay comes after a recent series of exchanges. Specifically, in our Common Cause Briefing, we responded to Chris Rose’s past claim that:

“…once the underlying dominant unmet need is met, a new one takes its place… So, if Prospectors meet that need by getting enough stuff and following sufficient fashion etc, they do not stay Prospectors but develop other needs – i.e., they become Pioneers”


And Pat Dade’s past claim that:

“[S]atisfying people’s needs, in Maslow terms, acts as a means of fulfilling a needs set and thereby saps or lessens the strength of that value set to influence behaviour”


Our briefing reported the results of a short survey conducted on several psychologists with expertise in these topics. We found that none of these psychologists believed that there was evidence supporting the ideas put forth by Dade & Rose. We then challenged Dade and Rose to produce empirical or theoretical evidence to support these claims, but none has been presented as yet.

In his reflections on this debate, Gallie raises some points with which we agree. For instance, he writes that:

“no one is disputing that status driven values based action, if rewarded, will tend to reinforce that value priority, at least for a while.”


We are pleased to see that Gallie agrees with us (and with the several psychologists whom we surveyed) on this point, as our reading of Dade & Rose’s past writings suggests that they have disputed this claim.

We find ourselves unconvinced, however, with Gallie’s main attempt to provide a justification for conciliation between the Value Modes and Common Cause viewpoints.

Much of Gallie’s attempt to provide this conciliation rests on “the consistency principle.” In particular, Gallie writes:

“Rose cites Caldini’s (sic) consistency principle to support the view that one pro environmental status driven behaviour is likely to be followed by another, as needs are satisfied and new needs take their place. Caldini (sic) cites extensive empirical evidence in support of the principle.”


And:

“Once you have begun to act in line with these values you will tend to see the world more clearly from this perspective and continue this line of action for as long as it is rewarded, somehow. Such a trajectory will tend to drive you into opposition to change models based on extrinsic value.”

Rose has proposed something similar, writing:

“[O]ur green car buying Prospector may be expected to develop opinions consistent with green cars making sense – for example buying a green car is a smart purchase [i.e. it makes me look smart] – and there is a good reason to have one [e.g. climate change exists]. And they are more likely to repeat a similar action so long as it is inside their values set.” (Parentheses in original)

Because Gallie based his argument on the popular book Influence, by Cialdini (2001), we were curious to see where this well-known psychologist discussed evidence relevant to Gallie and Rose’s argument.

The only place in that book where we found direct reference to a study that applied these principles to environmental sustainability was on pages 87-90. There, Cialdini discusses a 1980 study by Pallak, Cook & Sullivan which found that encouraging homeowners to conserve energy by offering to publish their names in newspapers as “public-spirited, fuel conserving citizens” led to decreases in energy usage that were maintained even after the homeowners were told that such publication would not be available. Certainly this can be understood as an appeal to extrinsic values that was successful, and thus supports both Value Modes and Common Cause arguments that such appeals can indeed motivate pro-environmental behaviour.

However, we would note that in explaining the results of the study, Cialdini makes it clear (on pages 88 and 90) that his interpretation of these results is a speculation that was not actually tested in the study. Further, there is nothing in Cialdini’s description of this single study suggesting that this manipulation led participants to generalize these behaviours to any new behaviours that benefited the environment.

We also have some familiarity with the kinds of consistency-based models to which Gallie (and Rose) refer in support of their viewpoint that appeals based on extrinsic values can help people “graduate” to more pro-environmental concerns.

Specifically, in a paper published in 2009 in the Journal of Consumer Policy, one of us (Crompton) collaborated with John Thogersen (perhaps the world’s leading expert on spillover in pro-environmental behaviour) to review the evidence about how specific pro-environmental behaviours might generalize to other such behaviours, and how this process might be explained by two important “consistency theories”: self-perception and cognitive dissonance.

The paper concluded:

“Spillover hypotheses derived from Bem’s (1972) self-perception theory are based on the assumption that performing a pro-environmental behaviour activates the person’s pro-environmental disposition and makes pro-environmental values and norms more salient. For this mechanism to lead to spillover, the person needs to have a pro-environmental disposition of sufficient strength. Consistent with this inference, spillover between different behaviour categories has been found to depend on the strength of the person’s pro-environmental values (Thøgersen & Ölander, 2003). Moreover, one study found that the tendency to behave consistently across pairs of pro-environmental behaviours depends on how morally important it is for the person to act in an environmentally responsible way (Thøgersen, 2004). Together, these studies suggest that positive spillover of pro-environmental behaviour is contingent on sufficiently strong pro-environmental values or norms.
This perspective is further supported by evidence on cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is more likely to motivate an individual to extend pro-environmental behaviour, rather than reduce this, in the context of a strong set of pro-environmental values and norms.” (Thøgersen and Crompton, 2009: 153).

Thus, it is far from clear that pro-environmental behaviours generalise in the way that Gallie and Rose describe. Further, the evidence suggests that to the extent that pro-environmental behaviour may generalise, this effect will be strongest for people for whom intrinsic values are more important.

Yet, as we have reviewed elsewhere, such values are likely to be eroded through appeals for pro-environmental behaviour framed through values for money, image or status.

Finally, we would note that Gallie and Rose’s arguments are not consistent with the results of a recent study by Griskevicius, Tybur, and Van Den Bergh, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2010.

These researchers directly investigated how appeals to status can activate pro-environmental behaviours, and found that, indeed, they can (a point on which both the Common Cause and the Value Modes approaches agree). Indeed, these authors made many statements throughout their article suggesting that they agree with Rose, Dade and Gallie that marketers should make appeals to purchase green products on the basis of appeals to status. At the same time, they also emphasized that their research showed that appeals to status only “increased desire for less luxurious green products when shopping in public, but not in private,” and only when the products were expensive, not cheap.

The authors seem to have understood their finding as occurring because individuals can convey status through their green purchases only if those purchases are publicly presented and expensive. Thus, these empirical results once again provide no evidence for “graduation” to intrinsic reasons for environmentalism.

On the contrary, they again suggest that such graduation does not occur, and that the only way to maintain environmentalism after appeals to status is through more appeals to status. As we have been arguing for three years now, as the psychologists who we surveyed in our briefing agreed, and as Gallie recently conceded, such appeals are likely to strengthen the very values that the research consistently shows are associated with worse environmental attitudes and behaviors.

In conclusion, we appreciate Gallie’s attempt at reconciliation and the thoughtfulness of his reply. However, we remain convinced that the body of data relevant to this question supports the claim that appeals to extrinsic values are unlikely to result in the kinds of shifts in attitudes or changes in lifestyles which Gallie, Rose, or Dade continue to claim might occur.

We have continued to present evidence supporting our viewpoint, and still await any persuasive evidence from the proponents who support Value Modes – in support either of their earlier claims (based on Maslow and Schwartz) or their more recent claims (based on “consistency theories”).

Tim Kasser and Tom Crompton

References:

Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Influence: Science & Practice. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Griskevicius, V., Tybur, J. M., & Van den Bergh, B. (2010). Going green to be seen: Status, reputation, and conspicuous conservation. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 98, 392-404.

Pallak, M. S., Cook, D. A., & Sullivan, J. J. (1980). Commitment and energy conservation. Applied Social Psychology Annual, 1, 235-253.

Thøgersen, J. and Crompton, T. (2009). Simple and painless: The limitations of spillover in environmental campaigning. Journal of Consumer Policy, 32, 141-163.

Tom CromptonExtrinsic values in campaigns: 
A response to Gallie
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