Values: 58 Ideas We Live By is a beautiful deck of cards for exploring who we are, designed by Genis Carreras in collaboration with PIRC.

“Love. Creativity. Enjoyment. Curiosity. Friendship. Purpose. Psychological research shows that we are all driven by the same things – but differ in how we prioritise them. Fifty-eight values guide our lives, shaping who we are, what we do, and ultimately the kind of society we live in.”

Whether you’re just mildly interested in values or a fully fledged Common Cause geek looking for workshop material, this little deck deserves a place in your life…

Support the project and get some cards.

Common Cause in 2015

What’s coming up for Common Cause this year, and how can you get involved?

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Building Bridges: How (not) to talk about Human Rights


Each framing defines the problem in its own way, and hence constrains the solutions needed to address that problem. George Lakoff

Do you remember the last time you read about human rights in a British newspaper? What was the angle? Was it about national security? Or the power of the European courts? Or protecting universal rights?

Here are a few headlines from different newspapers over the past couple of years:

Put UK back in charge of Human Rights Laws
Human rights are a charter for criminals, say 75% of Britons
Tory Wreckers out to destroy their own human rights

Each of these headlines connects human rights with a different area of concern, implying a different problem and solution – what authority should dictate our laws (the UK or Europe); who uses or abuses the law (citizens or criminals), and who it is actually designed to protect (everyone or the few).

How we talk about human rights can and does make a huge difference to how they are perceived. While the vast majority of us are either supportive or undecided about human rights, the media tells a different story. In a review of broadsheet and tabloid newspapers, political blogs and parliamentary speeches from 2013, ‘human rights’ was rarely used in a positive context. In fact, only 30% of articles were supportive of human rights in the UK (in England it was less than 20%).

This won’t surprise anyone that has paid attention to media coverage of human rights, but it gets more interesting when you look at the different ‘frames’ used. A frame is a story, composed of ideas, memories, emotions and values attached to and associated with a given concept. Framing is a communication tool, that we use (consciously or unconsciously) to provoke a particular kind of reaction to that concept. Most ideas (like human rights) can be talked about in vastly different ways. Last year, working with Counterpoint and Equally Ours, we analysed UK media coverage of human rights; identified the main frames, and then tested how these frames affected people’s values and attitudes. Read more

Some psychological consequences of putting a price on nature

New research we’ve conducted provides further evidence that advancing the economic case for conservation is risky. It may undermine the foundations upon which deeper public concern about the environment will be built. 

We know that there are a range of problems with attempts to use estimates of the financial value of nature as a reason for conserving it. George Monbiot laid many of these out in his lecture at the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute last summer.

Common Cause highlights one reason that these attempts are particularly problematic (the one, incidentally, to which Monbiot also attaches the greatest importance in his lecture). It is this: the values which motivate concern about economic performance seem to be almost perfectly opposed to the values which motivate concern about the preservation of nature.

Engaging and strengthening concern about the economy seems to risk undermining concern for the preservation of nature – even where concern about the economy draws attention to the economic benefits of conserving nature.

This is a case that Common Cause has advanced for many years – Tim Kasser and I lay it out in full, in our book Meeting Environmental Challenges: The Role of Human Identity (see especially Section 4.2.1). There we cite Douglas McCauley, writing in Nature back in 2006:

[Conservationists] may believe that the best way to meaningfully engage policy-makers… is to translate the intrinsic value of nature into the language of economics. But this is patently untrue – akin to saying that the civil rights advocates would have been more effective if they provided economic justifications for racial integration.”(p.28)

Conservationists should take note: Martin Luther King had a dream, not a cost-benefit analysis.

New research that we published last month offers further evidence for this case. Working with a team of leading social psychologists, we asked hundreds of people to read one of two different texts describing the work of WWF.

The first text (Conservation – Intrinsic) read:

Have you ever paused to think about the importance of the natural world? At WWF, we are working to minimise the loss of nature in the UK – such as plants, animals, woodlands or rivers – by helping people to recognise its real value.

The importance of environmental protection is still often overlooked and is not adequately reflected in planning and policy. One reason for this is that people’s inherent appreciation of, and love for, the natural world is often forgotten. Reminding people of the intrinsic importance that they attach to nature can help to address this problem.

Consider woodlands, which currently cover nearly 3 million hectares in the UK. At WWF, we are helping people to express and share the feelings they have about woodland areas, and their conviction that it is important to preserve these.

The second text (Conservation – Economic) read:

Have you ever paused to think about the contribution that the environment makes to our national wealth? At WWF, we are working to minimise loss of the UK’s natural resources – such as plants, animals, woodlands or rivers – by helping people to recognise their real value.

Natural assets, and the benefits that they provide, are still often overlooked and are not adequately reflected in planning and policy. One reason for this is that the financial value of the environment, and the commercial benefits that people derive, is often overlooked. Putting a monetary value on nature can help to address this problem.

Consider woodlands, which provide a range of essential goods and services and contribute around £1.2 billion to the UK economy. At WWF, we are helping to develop financing schemes to ensure that those who benefit from environmental goods and services compensate those who provide these services.

We then asked participants about their intentions to take action to help an environment charity – to donate, volunteer, join a public meeting, or write to an MP. We found that people who had been asked to read the first of these two texts (Conservation – Intrinsic) were significantly more likely to say that they would offer non-financial help to a charity working on environmental issues. There was also a tendency for them to be more likely to say that they would make a donation to such a charity, though this was not at a statistically significant level. (We also found that they were more likely to offer to help a charity working on disability, but that’s another story).

This led us to ask two further questions.

Firstly, might it be the case that combining both economic and intrinsic reasons for conserving nature could be more effective than presenting either reason alone?

We tested this in a further condition, where we asked participants to read a text which mashed together the two scripts above (I won’t reproduce it here, but you can read it in the full report of this research.)

Presenting people with both economic and intrinsic reasons for conservation had an effect that was indistinguishable from asking them to read the economic reason alone: both led to lower willingness to help an environment organisation. Put another way, we found that the important thing was not just to provide Conservation – Intrinsic text, but also to avoid the Conservation – Economic text.

Secondly, might it be that some types of people (perhaps those for whom economic concerns are particularly important) would find the economic case for conserving nature to be relatively more persuasive? Perhaps these people would be more likely to state an intention to help an environment organisation if they had just read the Conservation – Economic text, as opposed to the Conservation – Intrinsic text?

We were able to test this, because we gave all the participants in the study a values survey three months before conducting our experiment. We then tested to see whether those people who reported that they attached greater importance to economic concerns would be any more positively influenced by the second of these two texts.

They weren’t.

Of course, a study like this can’t begin to address all the complex questions arising in relation to the pros and cons of advancing economic arguments for conserving nature. We tested just one set of texts, and we were only able to examine the effects of reading these in the short-term.

But these results are consistent with the argument that we have advanced elsewhere: repeatedly advancing the economic case for conservation risks undermining the foundations upon which deeper public concern about the environment will be built.

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.

Firstly, reading about conservation or disability in ways that connect with more intrinsic values leads people to express significantly stronger intentions to help WWF or Scope respectively. The implications of this are clear, and unexceptional to anyone familiar with Common Cause: if you are interested in encouraging people to offer these forms of support you are probably better off engaging them on your cause through intrinsic values.

Secondly, this result is found regardless of the values that a person holds to be important. We asked participants to complete a values survey 3 months prior to our experiment. This enabled us to examine whether extrinsic texts were more effective in encouraging expressions of support from people who were more ‘extrinsically oriented’ (that is, people who care relatively more about wealth and image).

We found that they were not. It made no difference whether people were more intrinsically or extrinsically oriented. Intrinsic texts were consistently more effective in motivating intentions to help either organisation.

Results like this hammer yet more nails into the coffin of ‘values matching’ strategies which advocate segmenting an audience according to their dominant values, and crafting communications to connect with more extrinsically-oriented audiences using extrinsic values.

But the third result of this study is the most significant.

As outlined above, we found that an intrinsic text about conservation (one invoking people’s love for the natural world) was most effective in motivating people to express an intention to help a conservation charity.

And we found that an intrinsic text about disability (highlighting the need to support disabled people in living life to the full) was most effective in motivating people to express an intention to help a disability charity.

But what about the effect of the text about conservation on people’s intention to help a disability organisation? Or the effect of the text about disability on people’s intention to help a conservation organisation?

We found that either intrinsic text was equally effective in leading people to express an intention to help either cause. The intrinsic conservation text was just as effective as the intrinsic disability text in leading people to express an intention to help Scope; and the intrinsic disability text was just as effective as the intrinsic conservation text in leading people to express an intention to help WWF. No cause is an island.

It seems that WWF and Scope, and presumably 1001 other charities, have the opportunity to communicate about their cause in a way that not only strengthens people’s concern about this cause, but which also serves to strengthen public concern about social and environmental justice in and of itself.

Education Conference 2014

Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of good education.
– Martin Luther King

What does good values-based education look like?

Last week we hosted a 2 day conference in cold and beautiful Edinburgh to discuss this question. With a hosting team from PIRC, Lifeworlds Learning, Character Scotland and Learning for Sustainability Scotland, and a room full of people working on or researching this topic, there was a lot of buzz and plenty of examples of good practice.

In a rather cruel Pecha Kucha session (which, if you’ve never done it, involves speaking for precisely 6.40 mins, following 20 slides on a strict timer of 20 seconds each), a number of brave speakers stepped up to the stage. We’re working on turning this into a short film, but to just give a couple of snippets – we heard how the Real World Network were using values and frames to guide their outdoor education, developing such frames as “This time we share, with the past and future” and “All taking requires giving back”; how the Woodcraft Folk’s focus on learning through co-operation and sharing was being integrated into Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence and how the John Muir Award scheme had been designed primarily to bring a little more AWE into the world (because awe’s great, isnt it?)

Conference panorama

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Action Learning Programme in Scotland recognised with UNESCO award

This post was written by Osbert Lancaster.

A group of us working on Common Cause in Scotland developed the Communities with a Common Cause Action Learning Programme to pilot an approach to putting Common Cause into practice that could be replicated more widely. The programme had excellent feedback from participants and was recognised with a UNESCO Outstanding Flagship Project Award. The judging panel were particularly impressed by the innovative nature of the project and its contribution to pushing forward the field of Education for Sustainable Development.

How it worked

Sixteen people participated in the programme, drawn from government agencies, NGOs and community groups engaging communities with the environment. Participants were recruited in pairs from each of the eight organisations and were selected for the influence they could bring to bear on their own organisation and their sector. The programme ran from September 2013 to February 2014 with one workshop per month introducing a range of concepts, tools and approaches that can be used to create a values-based approach.
Participants undertook activities between each workshop to put learning into practice and prepare for the next workshop, and were supported by a mentor.

The programme was evaluated using a range of methods including in depth semi-structured interviews with participants.

Alp scotland 1

Discussions at the Common Cause ALP in Scotland

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We need to talk about ‘alienation’

It was all the rage in the 1960s and 1970s …

Alienation is one of the most frequently encountered concepts in social science. Indeed, the amorphous, global concept of alienation has been used as a catchword to explain nearly every kind of aberrant behavior from drug abuse to political demonstrations.” (Mackey & Ahlgren, 1977).

And Jimmy Reid expressed it better than anyone else. So well, in fact, that it is very tempting to simply copy out his 1972 speech, updating a few passages here and there with contemporary examples. I’ll spare you that (you can read it in full here), but to paraphrase his opening sentence: alienation is the precise word to describe the major social and environmental problems we face, and it is (probably) more widespread and pervasive than ever before.

But who talks about alienation now? It’s a concept that has gone out of fashion, seen as antiquated or irrelevant when explaining social problems. It has been largely rejected by academics, possibly because it’s a word that carries implicit moral and political force. Basically, “there seems to be much evidence for a fading romance with alienation in the social sciences.” (Heinz, 1991).

This is a romance that needs to be rekindled, because alienation is as relevant today as it’s ever been. We can understand everything from the riots, to Scottish independence, to the rise of UKIP, through its lens.


‘Alienation’ 30 years on from Jimmy Reid – by Bec Sanderson

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Nudging all over the world: behaviour change & public policy

Reflections on the scale of impact of the new behavioural sciences on public policy-making

This is a guest post from Professor Mark Whitehead of Aberystwyth University.

With all of the contemporary debate and discussion about nudge-type policies it can be difficult to assess the scale of the impacts that the ‘new’ behavioural sciences (including behavioural economics, behavioural psychology and even neuroscience) are actually having on public policy. At one level, there is a tendency to dismiss nudge-inspired initiatives as being relatively marginal within the broader universe of politics and public policy-making. But such dismissive perspectives are rarely based on careful analyses of actually exiting policies. There are, of course, many different ways in which you can begin to assess the scale of the impacts of any policy regime. Scales of impact can relate to the relative number of policies that have been shaped by new insights; or the actual affects that related policies have on people’s everyday lives. Scales of impact can also relate to the geographical prevalence of the policies under consideration. In a recent report entitled Nudging all Over the World: Assessing the Global Impact of the Behavioural Sciences on Public Policy we outline the scale of the geographical spread of nudge-type policies.

The global spread of nudge-type policies (states shaded blue have engaged in the central orchestration of nudge-types policies; those shaded red show evidence of some form of nudge-type policy being applied in their territory)

The global spread of nudge-type policies (states shaded blue have engaged in the central orchestration of nudge-types policies; those shaded red show evidence of some form of nudge-type policy being applied in their territory)

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Food Values: the first seminar

Calling all teachers, researchers and campaigners with an interest in values and food!

In September we kicked off Food Values: a nine month action research project with Organic Centre Wales. The goal of this project is to explore what food education based on values looks like, and we’ll do this through a series of research seminars and public food events around Wales that run until June 2015.

The first research seminar was a big success, bringing academics and practitioners to Aberystwyth University to discuss food values and good education practice.  We talked about how the values framework helped us understand what worked well in the past, and why. A good food event is participative, fun and creative (everyone has something to say about food!); it makes the social relationships visible by revealing the real people and places involved in getting the food to our tables, and it situates food issues, for example around security and sovereignty, firmly in the context of wider social change.

Taken by Christian, aka net_efekt, 2008, licensed under Creative Commons

Taken by Christian, aka net_efekt, 2008, licensed under Creative Commons

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