Values and civic participation in Greater Manchester

Promoting public demand for a more caring society

Common Cause Foundation are working in collaboration with Manchester Museum, part of The University of Manchester, on a project to show how insights from social psychology could help to build social cohesion, wellbeing and support for positive social and environmental change across Greater Manchester – including public demands for ambitious action on climate change.

What’s preventing a more caring and compassionate society?

A society which fosters greater wellbeing for today’s citizens and future generations is an aspiration not just in Greater Manchester, but the world over.  We know what policy interventions, technologies and lifestyle choices are needed, but without vocal and sustained public demand for change, these seem to be a distant prospect.

Change won’t happen by itself.  Organizations working for a better society will benefit from developing a clearer understanding of how to motivate and sustain widespread public demand for change.  Only by doing this will political space and pressure be created and maintained.

What will we be doing?

Our recent research, published as Perceptions Matter, shows that over three quarters of people in the UK under-estimate the importance that typical fellow-citizens place on values such as responsibility, honesty, social justice, and equality (that is, ‘intrinsic values’).

With Manchester Museum we will be developing ways of addressing this widespread misunderstanding about what others hold to be important – something which, if we can overcome it, could enable citizens everywhere to be more civically engaged in building a better world.

Focusing on visitors to, and stakeholders of, Manchester Museum we will create a better understanding of the typical values of a Greater Manchester citizen, validating and strengthening social norms around intrinsic values by:

  • developing new resources for the 450,000 visitors to the Museum that convey a deeper understanding of their and their fellow citizen’s values
  • supporting other organizations in Greater Manchester to engage their audiences in ways that convey a better understanding of their values and concerns, strengthening their commitment to civic participation

What do we expect the outcomes to be?

  • deepening awareness among Museum visitors of the importance that they and others place on intrinsic values
  • increased engagement in civic participation by visitors to the Museum
  • inspiration and practical support for other organizations working in Greater Manchester to adopt similar changes, greatly magnifying impact
  • a toolkit and replicable approach to ways of strengthening people’s commitment to civic participation, for uptake by networks in many other city-regions, in the UK and beyond

This project builds on conversations facilitated by Happy Museum and is supported by the Minor Foundation for Major Challenges




Tom CromptonValues and civic participation in Greater Manchester
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Grounds for hope in challenging times

We know – we don’t need to see the data, though here it is – that we (individually and collectively) embody deep contradictions.

We desire power, wealth, and image. We tend easily towards prejudice. These are values that are celebrated – often blatantly, often subtly – in so many ways; through much of the media and advertising that we consume, through the role-models of our political leaders, even through the ways in which we measure the progress of our society. The dead hand of market fundamentalism, it seems – beckons us ever towards self-interest and antipathy.

But, even in the face of this, we hold other values to be important. Values of community, social justice, and equality. We strive for broadmindedness and we are drawn to beauty.

Indeed, these are the ‘intrinsic’ values that most of us hold most dearly: though we tragically underestimate the importance that our fellow citizens place on these values.

As Common Cause Foundation’s research has shown, people in the UK hold these values to be the most important irrespective of age, region, perceived wealth, gender and political orientation. We can anticipate that most people in the UK will also hold these values to be the most important irrespective of how they decided to vote in the EU referendum.

Here are four hope-full things we can each do.

Practice empathy and humility

As David Malone wrote in his recent appeal for ‘Remainers’ to express the empathy and humility to which they are so committed rhetorically: “The battle of our time, will require a courage and a faith in each other that we are squandering with every word of this bilious Brexit name-calling.”  This video may help in that effort.

Know your blind-spot

As Common Cause Foundation research has also shown, over three quarters of UK citizens underestimate the importance that a typical fellow citizen places on ‘intrinsic’ values such as community, social justice, protecting the environment, and broadmindedness.

The ‘intrinsic’ values we are likely to hold to be most important are actually in step with the values to which most others attach greatest importance. Understanding this could, in turn, embolden us each to better express these values – providing further social proof of the importance that people place on them, and further emboldening others to express them.

Let hope transcend misguided tactics

In the run-up to the EU Referendum in the UK, both sides sought to deepen our collective fears – about the economy, or people from other countries. People who should have known better acquiesced to this.

“I’m backing Osborne’s Project Fear – if it helps keep us in Europe” wrote Martin Kettle in The Guardian. The trouble is, what Kettle welcomes as an argument that is “pragmatic and hard-headed to a fault” may have unintentionally contributed to our distrust of others who are not part of our social group.

So, for example, John Duckitt reports that those who perceive a dangerous world (demonstrated by agreement with statements such as “Any day now chaos and anarchy could erupt around us – all the signs are pointing to it”), are more likely to have a high ‘social dominance orientation’. That is, they are more likely to agree with statements such as “Inferior groups should stay in their place”, and less likely to agree with statements such as “It’s OK if some groups have more of a chance in life than others”.

This is just one way in which people who would like to see our politics infused by greater openness and compassion shoot themselves in the foot by mistakenly thinking that they are best appealing to fear, selfishness, or desire for social status. They are less likely to succeed – and where they do, their success is founded on sand.

Dig where you stand

And if this feels out of reach for those of us who do not feel the hand of history upon our shoulder, then perhaps it helps to be reminded of something T.S. Eliot wrote during February 1940 – while working as a night-watchman just a few months into the Second World War. He urged us to locate “our hope in modest and local beginnings” rather “than in transforming the whole world at once.”


Tom CromptonGrounds for hope in challenging times
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Donald Trump’s selective hearing about climate change

One key barrier to public acceptance of the evidence for man-made climate change is our psychological investment in the current economic system.

At one level this seems obvious, because the implications of any adequate response to climate change for today’s economic institutions will be profound. We might anticipate that anyone heavily invested in today’s economic system is going to be attracted to sources of information more sceptical of climate change (and, on the other hand, that people critical of the economic system may be more attracted to sources of information underscoring its severity).

But when it comes to climate change, our selective hearing (or memory – psychologists aren’t sure which it is) also seems to operate unconsciously.

In research published last month, Erin Hennes and colleagues asked people a series of questions to assess their belief that the current economic system is fair and legitimate.

People who score highly on the “economic system justification” scale, are likely to agree that: “If people work hard they almost always get what they want”, “it is virtually impossible to eliminate poverty”, “social class differences reflect differences in the natural order of things”, and “economic positions are legitimate reflections of people’s achievements”.

When presented with a report about climate change, those people who scored highly on the “economic system justification” scale were then less likely to recall facts, mentioned in this report, that affirmed the scale and severity of climate change.

It seems that people who score highly on this scale have an unconscious fear of accepting the scale of challenge that climate change presents, because to do so risks acknowledging that our faith in the fairness and legitimacy of today’s economic institutions might be misplaced. This insecurity leads them either not to assimilate, or to assimilate but then forget, information pointing to how urgent action on climate change is.

This is perhaps a demographic to which Donald Trump tries to appeal when he dismisses climate change as a hoax – though the jury is out on whether he really believes this himself.

More generally, the researchers suggest that people “… may be motivated to manipulate their informational landscape in a manner that fulfils the need to maintain and justify the status quo.” (p.10)

What can be done with this insight?

Those who score highly in “economic system justification” are, the researchers suggest, more accepting of evidence for climate change if they are first told that the economy is buoyant. They tentatively recommend that communications about climate change should be preceded by assertions that the economy is doing just fine – something which seems tantamount to inviting us to stick our heads in a pile of yellowish granular material.

One more realistic response is to assimilate climate change into the current economic system as another business opportunity, thus allowing ‘high system justifiers’ to reconcile their desire to bolster the current economic system with acceptance of the reality of climate change. But this approach leads to an emphasis on new opportunities for jobs and growth without ever mounting a proper response to those activities that make lots of money while trashing the climate.

Another response is to work to change the ideas that ‘high system justifiers’ hold of the kind of economic system that they are anxious to defend. This requires us to re-imagine economic systems, and think about these in new ways. In terms of the material dimensions of climate change, the case for this re-imagining was always strong. This new research underscores the compelling psychological reasons for embarking on it.


Tom CromptonDonald Trump’s selective hearing about climate change
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Money can’t buy love – or can it?


“Money can’t buy love”, we’re told. And we now know that thinking about money is likely to make love a lot more difficult. But is this inevitable?

Research has found that being briefly reminded of money leads us to care less for others and for the environment. This is especially unfortunate because we are so often reminded of money: handling it, paying for things, talking about it, reading about it.

But this effect isn’t, presumably, inevitable. It arises because of the symbolic meaning that money has acquired – and it’s conceivable that, in a different world, money comes to symbolise something else.

I spent yesterday afternoon in Liverpool with an energetic group of people working on local currencies – both established local currencies, like Bristol Pound or Brixton Pound, and many others in earlier stages of development.

These are people who want to change the meaning of money. But I worry that at times the profound impact that they could have on what money symbolises is lost – because of a focus on the structural changes that a local currency could create.

This means that those working on local currencies sometimes lapse into judging their success on the basis of how much money is in circulation, or the proportion of the local economy they have ‘captured’.

Measured in this way, most local currencies struggle to demonstrate much impact. Ironically, their very success is judged on precisely those values that underpin the financial establishment that these local currency schemes are setting out to challenge!

Inviting people to support a local currency because this “helps independent business” or “keeps money on the high street” sets the terms by which success of the currency will be judged, but will do little to change the symbolic meaning of money.

We discussed, at the meeting of the Guild of Independent Currencies, whether there are other, more important, impacts of local currencies. The salience of a local currency may far outstrip its economic leverage. When I visit Bristol, for example, I see signs on buses and shop doors inviting me to pay in Bristol Pounds. The social impact of these reminders – created through the values that they engage – may be far greater than the structural impact of the Bristol Pound (which is, today at least, small). If this is the case, then it’s important to ask what this wider social impact is, and whether it might be further strengthened and improved through a values led approach.

For example, a local currency could be promoted as a symbol of a community’s commitment to self-direction, civic participation and social justice. There can be few more powerful symbols of people ‘doing things for themselves’ than a local currency.

To most of us it seems to be an almost impossibly difficult thing to create, not least because it seems to level such a clear challenge towards the financial establishment.  Local currencies are a potent demonstration of what can be achieved by committed people, volunteering in their spare time. What wonderful testimony to the power of people collaborating, volunteering and creating: intrinsic values that we know spill over into many other areas of social and environmental concern.

The purpose of a local currency might then be framed as being to convey a town’s or city’s commitment to these values, where its actual use becomes an expression of a commitment to self-direction, civic participation and social justice. This opportunity aligns strongly with our recent survey that shows that these are the very values that most people hold to be of highest importance.

So evidence suggests that a local currency might also seek – with complete legitimacy – to associate these values with those held to be most important by the majority of people living in that town or city, irrespective of whether or not they use the currency themselves.

In this way, the currency could become a conspicuous reminder of most people’s commitment to these values, and could have significant impact in strengthening key aspects of shared identity across a town or city. This is an effort that could then be joined by other organisations and institutions: particularly those that have a role in promoting public reflection on the values that characterise those who live in a town or city. This might include museums, universities, local government and regional media.

These values would then, of course, contribute to building public support for a wide range of social and environmental initiatives, potentially multiplying the impact of the scheme many-fold.

Local currencies present wonderful opportunities for beginning to build such shared identity – and to keep this salient in citizens’ day-to-day lives. But if these schemes are constrained by a narrow focus on economic indicators of success, this opportunity could be missed.

Tom CromptonMoney can’t buy love – or can it?
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Is reframing climate change a waste of time?

If nobody much cares about climate change, does it really much matter how it’s talked about?

Our common climate

No, according to David Roberts. Rather, he argues, climate communicators and campaigners shouldn’t spend so much time worrying about how to ‘reframe’ their message.

Is he right?

Part of Roberts’ argument is compelling. But this interesting bit risks getting lost because of his focus on one particular study.

Roberts highlights a recent letter in Nature Climate Change which looks for, but fails to find, framing effects.

Why should this study have failed to detect such effects, when so many others have found them? It’s difficult to know, of course. But it seems overly-exuberant, in the light of those other studies, to draw the conclusion that thinking carefully about how climate change is framed is a waste of time.

In another respect, though, Roberts’ argument has real weight: communication on climate change must be viewed in a far wider context.

 “Human beings,” he writes “ … come complete with a strong set of overlapping, mutually reinforcing frames.

“To a great extent, those preexisting social and psychological commitments — which are outside the scope of any conceivable climate communication campaign — are going to determine how people assess a specific phenomenon like climate change.”

We know that, very important among those ‘preexisting social and psychological commitments’, are values. Deep concern about climate change, support for ambitious policy interventions, and motivation to get out and make a fuss about it (joining a demonstration, volunteering for a pressure group, lobbying a politician) are all related to the values that a person holds to be important.

We also know that engaging some values strengthens expressions of concern about climate change. Here’s one study we conducted which found this. And here’s a useful summary of many comparable ones.

But such effects – real and important as they may be – are going to be rapidly ‘washed out’ by many other aspects of day-to-day life. Roberts is dead right that climate change cannot be simply split off, and dealt with separately, as though all the other influences we encounter daily are irrelevant.

In terms of the things that shape our values, climate change communication is a drop in the ocean. That’s an ocean deep and wide, made up of a vastness of advertising, boundless expanses of celebrity gossip and a flood tide of economic bulletins about the Dow Jones or FTSE 100. In other words, many of the communications we receive every day are likely to engage and strengthen values opposed to those that underpin concern about climate change.

This is one very important reason why, as Roberts points out, “danger of climate change does not arouse much public passion.”

But this isn’t an argument for indifference about how we frame climate change. It’s an argument for caring deeply about how we conceptualise both climate change and a wide range of other things that are (as yet, for many of us at least) more salient in our day-to-day lives.

Think of the UK’s National Health Service.

NHS demonstration

I experience the NHS both as someone who sees a deduction on my pay slip each month as a contribution to its cost, and as someone who rocks up to the doctor and leaves without paying. These are more impactful aspects of my day-to-day experience than my exposure to communications about climate change.

Such experience serves to reinforce my perception that public goods – such as universal healthcare – are normal and expected things in society, and that the cost of these should be borne collectively.

Such experience is also likely to strengthen my support for policy interventions to help safeguard another public good – a safe climate.

In both cases, I am invited to support policies which are in the common interest, without asking whether they justify the personal expense or inconvenience that they might entail. There’s an ethic here which defies simple cost-benefit analysis.

Reframing the NHS in transactional terms – inviting me to reflect on whether I ‘get as much out’ of the NHS as I ‘put in’ would be deeply corrosive. Public support for the NHS would collapse if people began to think in those terms.

Coming to think of the NHS in these transactional terms would, I predict, also undermine public commitment for ambitious action on climate change.

Here it would be unhelpful for me to ask whether the personal impacts of ambitious climate policy cause me more inconvenience or expense than it delivers personal benefit.

So Roberts may be right that people working on climate change communication agonise too much about reframing climate change. But, far more importantly, most agonise far too little about how to collaborate with myriad other groups who influence the way that we think about many other issues. How we talk about – and think about – these other issues will prove to be of crucial importance in building public support for action on climate change.

Tom CromptonIs reframing climate change a waste of time?
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Values, voting and volunteering

If you’re a typical Brit, you may love Strictly Come Dancing, worry about the household budget and quite fancy your boss’s job. But you’ll also value friendship, honesty and justice above image, money and success.

Our new report – Perceptions Matter: the Common Cause UK Values Surveypublished today, finds that old or young, north or south, rich or poor, liberal or conservative, male or female, UK citizens attach greater importance to compassionate values than selfish values. Overall, 74% of UK citizens prioritise their values in this way. And this really does seem to be the case – the design of our survey enabled us to dismiss the possibility that people were simply reluctant to own up to holding selfish values.

But if you are a typical Brit, you’ll also be convinced that other people hold these compassionate values to be less important than is really the case. When we asked people about the values that they thought that a typical fellow citizen holds to be important, 77% underestimated the importance attached to compassionate values and overestimated the importance attached to selfish values. “There’s a focus on earning money,” we were told by one survey participant in Essex. “There’s a culture of self, and not a culture of responsibility. It’s all about me, my needs, not society’s need.”

This is important because we found that the more people underestimate the significance that others attach to compassionate values, the less likely they are to have voted in recent elections, the lower their intentions to volunteer or support the work of a charity, and the more alienated they are prone to feel.

Voting graph


Another participant, a woman from Wales, provided a clue as to why this might be. “It’s a very materialistic society that we live in,” she told us. “I don’t like it very much. I try to express my values as much as possible but, to live with other people, you just try and play the roles as much as possible.”

Perhaps that’s the problem: people “play the roles”, reluctant to act in line with the compassionate values they hold to be most important, because this would leave them feeling out-of-kilter with what they think they know about wider society. This reluctance would in turn deepen the widespread misperception that most people care less for compassionate values than is actually the case.

As this spiral gathers energy, people are left tragically and needlessly less civically engaged and more socially alienated. Your misperceptions of others, in other words, may hold you back in helping to mount collective responses to the major challenges that confront UK society today like child poverty, care for the elderly and climate change.

Can this spiral be reversed? Yes. The first step is to talk to people with the conviction that the things they value aren’t so different from the things that you probably value most yourself. That is, by talking as though a sense of vocation is more important than take-home pay; as though caring for those in need is more important than weeding out welfare cheats; as though educating the next generation to be compassionate and open-minded is more important than teaching the skills needed for global competitiveness.

When you talk to people in this way – whether as an employee, a manager, a job-seeker, a politician, a student, a celebrity or a teacher – you’ll not only connect with the values that matter most, to most people, but you’ll also encourage others to express these values themselves.

Download the new report.

Tom CromptonValues, voting and volunteering
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Liberals are a prejudiced bunch – and it may cost them dearly at the polls

When it comes to estimating the values of the British public, liberals tend to get it wrong. Our new research reveals why this may undermine liberals’ motivation to become politically involved.

The story goes that liberals have a soft, idealistic view of human nature, while conservatives have the more hardened view that people are essentially competitive or out for their own gain. Is this true? Researchers in the past, looking at ideology, trust and social responsibility, conclude that the ‘misanthropic conservative’ is basically a myth. Our research on values goes a step further, suggesting that, if anything, it’s liberals who are most likely to underestimate their peers.

People’s perceptions of other people’s values
In a recent blog, we shared some results of a survey conducted by Ipsos-MORI on behalf of Common Cause Foundation. We asked UK citizens what they value, and what they think other people in Britain value. We found that most people (77.6%) have an unnecessarily pessimistic view about the values of a typical Brit. Most people under-estimate the importance of self-transcendence values to their peers (that is, values that are generally concerned with the wellbeing of others), and overestimate the importance of self-enhancement values (that is, values focused on the pursuit of personal status and success).

This is unfortunate, because besides going through life with a sadly pessimistic view of other people, this misconception may also be linked to a person’s motivation to become involved in various forms of civic engagement. So, for example, we found that a person’s perception of other people’s values is a significant predictor of his or her motivation to vote.

Cartoon by Bec Sanderson

‘What’s the point in voting’ by Bec Sanderson

Tom Crompton and Bec SandersonLiberals are a prejudiced bunch – and it may cost them dearly at the polls
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Growing the Electorate

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK Labour party, pointed out this morning that 36% of the electorate didn’t vote in the last election. He underscored the need to “grow the electorate”. New research that we’ve conducted provides insights into how this might be achieved.

The appeal to non-voters is not new. In the UK, general election turnout dropped below 70% for the first time since 1918 when Blair came to his second ‘quiet landslide’ victory in 2001, and it hasn’t recovered since. Many have tried to understand what might explain or remedy this, pointing to the need to believe that your vote makes a difference (demonstrated in the recent Scottish referendum, where turnout was very high, and thereafter sustained in unusually high Scottish turnout in the general election). Others have cited the need to believe that political parties offer real choice, pointing to the perceived narrowing of the political mainstream under New Labour’s shift to the right. Both these explanations suggest a wider perception that people feel increasingly alienated from – and distrustful of – the political process.

Our new research adds a further, and complementary, idea: that voting is importantly affected by what Brits think other Brits value.


Tom Crompton and Bec SandersonGrowing the Electorate
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Corporate values for the 21st Century


The last few months and years have seen a string of enormous corporate failures – from FIFA, to the Cooperative Bank in the UK, and more recently Volkswagen.  Of course each one of these has a very different set of causes, but can they tell us anything about the values of these organisations, and about the sort of systems and processes we will need for companies to be fit for the 21st Century?

Oliver SmithCorporate values for the 21st Century
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A crisis of values?

The ongoing refugee crisis in Europe throws up some profound questions for us all, and the place of values in our politics and lives. Maybe some of the action we have belatedly seen over the last few weeks could point the way to a new sort of politics, and a new way of living our values?

Refugees WelcomePolitics by perceived values

Have politicians misjudged the values that most of us hold? In just a few days a petition for the UK government to accept more asylum seekers was signed by over 400,000 people, compelling a debate in parliament. The government agreed to take 20,000 refugees, over five years – an enormous increase from the handful we’ve accepted so far.

Common Cause Foundation has recently conducted research in the UK and the US looking at the values people hold, and the values they think their fellow citizens hold. We’re still analysing this, but here are two early results. Firstly, a large majority of people hold self-transcendence values (generally concerned with the wellbeing of others) to be more important than self-enhancement values (based on the pursuit of personal status and success). But this isn’t seen by most people, who believe that their compatriots hold self-transcendence values to be less important, and self-enhancement values to be more important.

Perhaps this is a key reason why many people don’t get engaged and active, although sharing values that would otherwise lead them to – because they believe that they are in a minority, and that society at large doesn’t share their values. We call this the ‘perception gap’. It’s a gap that many in our media, and many in government, seem to work hard to perpetuate.

Oliver SmithA crisis of values?
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