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Common Threads – January 2014

Interesting things we’ve been reading, watching or listening to this month:

  • Empathy vs. sympathy – connection vs. disconnection. Empathy is “I know what it’s like down here and you’re not alone.” Sympathy is “Ooh. It’s bad, uh huh. Do you want a sandwich?”
  • The status quo is not values-free – ‘realism’ is a value-laden position. ‘We have lost faith in any of the large available understandings of how structural change takes place in history, and as a result, we fall back on a bastardised conception of political realism, namely that a proposal is realistic to the extent that it approaches what already exists. This false view then aggravates [our] paralysis. What hits you like a hammer is that word “realistic” – it’s the thing people say when they actively don’t want change. It’s the avoidant atrophy of the miniscule reform, the circularity of entitlement – “Who decides what’s realistic?” “Me, because I’m in charge.” “Why are you in charge?” “Because I’m so realistic.”’
  • Paul Piff: Does money make you mean? – A great TED talk on the psychological impacts of getting rich, even with monopoly money. How does temporary wealth make people behave? (Hint: badly). Includes gem research headlines like “people who feel wealthy are more likely to steal sweets from children.”
  • Climate change & stealth denial – A new report from the RSA: ‘The point is not so much to change values, as to strengthen those already latent values that are most useful with respect to dealing with climate change’.
  • Materialism in children’s books – Has risen over the past 15 years…
  • New Progressive Development Forum Charter – “The organisations and institutions that we work for, with and through in the UK and worldwide must take on a more critical analysis of power and engage in political processes to tackle the inequalities of power, wealth and resources that create and maintain injustice and poverty.”

Communication is Conservation

I was told an inspiring story by a colleague from a conservation organisation involved in the Common Cause for Nature project recently and thought that was worth sharing.

He said to me that for as long as he had been in the press team he had often regretted not doing a more practical degree so that he could have done proper “on the ground” conservation. However, since his involvement in the Common Cause for Nature project, his increased understanding of psychology meant he could see that his work was conservation – he now understood that communication is conservation.

HMVBadger

The Common Cause for Nature report shows that both experiences and communications are important in influencing people’s motivation and therefore key to achieving a future better for wildlife. In other words, communication is an important component in delivering wider public support for conservation.

In the report we recommend the following with regard to communications:

WHEN COMMUNICATING:

DO

  • Talk more about how amazing nature is and use inspiring pictures to reinforce this
  • Talk about caring for other people
  • Give members and supporters active roles  – encourage them do their own thing and be creative
  • Be clear about both what the problems are and what solutions are needed
  • Make solutions proportionate to the problem, if the ask is something small show how it relates to the bigger change needed.

DON’T

  • Overemphasize threat – threat is important in raising awareness but over using it can make people feel helpless
  • Ignore the problems or the solutions – both are needed to make it clear why action is important
  • Appeal to the desire for power and money
  • Don’t appeal to conflicting values at the same time – avoid using intrinsic and extrinsic values together
  • Portray your organisation as a lone superhero – we cannot succeed on our own, messages should emphasize how members and supporters are part of the solution.

Although incredibly important, communication is only one thread. We need to bring an understanding of values into all areas of conservation work. The report outlines recommendations for other work areas as well as ways in which organisations themselves can adopt working practices to strengthen their own values.

Read the full report here to find out more.

Common Threads – November 2013

  • Rusty (and Golden) Radiator Awards – Best and worst practice in development campaigning – from ‘too poor for words’ (unbelievable) through to the empowering and creative.
  • The adverts we deserve? – A great piece on the all-consuming power of marketing. “Satire has long been acknowledged as a paradoxical crutch for a society’s existing power structures: we laugh at political jibes, and that same laughter displaces the desire for change. As such as Chipotle’s — which express our concerns about the failings of globalisation in a safe space before packing them away — are surely an equivalent safety valve for any subversive rumblings. We all like to think that we’re above the dark art of advertising; that we are immune to its persuasive powers. But the reality is that, though we might have been immunised, it is not against ads: it is against dissent.”
  • Rewind and Reframe – A platform for young women to speak out about sexism and racism in music videos.
  • Changing behaviour – how deep do you want to go? – Nice piece challenging ‘behavioural insights’ approaches and the myth of apathy. “Those asking which forms of behavioural insight are best suited to create a more sustainable world should ask themselves the following difficult question: what kinds of practices, values and feelings are embedded in the work we do, and is behaviour, as such, ever really the issue?”
  • The Pope – On inequality and out-of-control capitalism. Would be much stronger if he was also willing to talk about gender equality (and he’s also still sitting on a gold chair).
  • Change:How – Transactional politics, why public apathy really is a myth, and how change can happen in a broken system… Whether or not you’re going, Compass’s pre-conference reading is long but excellent.

Understanding the state we are in

Examining The State of Nature report from a values perspective.

The State of Nature Report certainly hit the headlines and managed get a large amount of coverage.

However, the extent of coverage is only one way to measure the impact of this report. A more important question to answer is what impact the report and its associated coverage have are likely to have on the motivation on the people who saw the coverage. In the following case study we attempt to assess these likely impacts.

To get the most out of the following analysis we suggest that you read the CCFN practitioners guide first or read this first.

For ease of understanding we have split up the report and associated coverage into the following sections:

  1. The Launch Video
  2. The Main Report
  3. The Executive Summary
  4. The letter to Cameron
  5. Social media coverage
  6. General press coverage
  7. Iolo Williams talk at the launch Read more

Smart CSOs – Searching for new cultural stories in civil society

In October the Smart CSOs Lab hosted a conference in Germany attended by over 80 activists and researchers from 14 different countries. This video was produced at the conference and shows voices of activists from different parts of the world and different sectors of civil society talking about their frustrations, motivations and inspirations to join the growing movement for systemic change.

Smart CSOs is an initiative inspiring people to start searching for new civil society stories to overcome the frustrations many of us are feeling by working in our issue silos and by fighting the symptoms while knowing that we need to tackle the root causes of the multiple crises of our times.

Go check them out: Smart CSOs

Common Threads – October 2013

  • Agnes Nairn on Consumer Kids at TedX Ghent – pretty depressing topic, but well delivered and full of shockers like: ‘Kids can spontaneously recall 200 different brands before they get to school.’ Worth a watch.
  • Bet4Balls.com – claimed to be the UK’s first charity betting website, will give £5 to charity for every bet of £5 or more, with £100,000 target. You couldn’t make it up.
  • Poverty Porn – A great piece on development images and messages, with some discussion of research into how Ugandan people perceive their portrayal in the Western media.
  • Conscious Capitalism – A fantastic reflection on TOMS charitable work and the consquences of charities embracing a business model that links progressive social action to consumer spending.
  • Russell Brand on revolution – In case you missed it, Brand’s editorial in the New Statesman. It’s not all roses (especially his gender politics), but it’s a good read: “We require a change that is beyond the narrow, prescriptive parameters of the current debate, outside the fortress of our current system. A system predicated on aspects of our nature that are dangerous when systemic: greed, selfishness and fear. These are old, dead ideas.”
  • Peak Advertising – when ads become more and more useless. A terrifying, exciting and short read.

The Real Value of Water

The Common Cause for Nature report highlights the importance of the conservation sector engaging with other actors with a firm understanding of the values implications of that engagement. In this guest post, Rob Cunningham head of Water Policy at the RSPB discusses these issues in regard to the water industry.

When I mentioned the work of Common Cause at a recent water industry conference I felt a momentary pang of guilt – should I really be pointing these servants of mammon to such valuable insights into our motivations and psyche? What if they use it against us?

And there are reasons to be worried. Recent reports and headlines have shed light on dubious tax arrangements, huge payouts and opaque foreign ownership. Such behaviour draws uncomfortable comparison with Google, Amazon and Starbucks.

But there is one fundamental difference. Read more

Confessions of an unwise activist

What have values and frames ever done for you? Got under your skin much? Made you rethink some fundamental ideas?  

Well, four years after I first started looking into all this with Tom Crompton and Andrew Darnton, I can say with confidence that they have had a pretty radical effect on my life. Radical being the operative word because the lessons I have learnt by studying these endlessly fascinating ideas and evidence have led to a radicalisation of my politics, made me quit a very comfortable job and hop across the Atlantic to try something a lot less secure and comfortable, and even led me into deeply spiritual territory.

This essay is an attempt to capture and make sense of some of that personal journey;  you might say the human side of what we usually only talk about only in professional terms. What goes on inside the privacy of our minds and hearts is, pretty much by definition, confusing, shocking and difficult to interpret. It’s also, ultimately, everything we have. This is an attempt to bring order to a bit of mine. Read more

Four reasons why consumers will never solve climate change

Appleworship

Last week’s publication of the first instalment of the new IPCC report is a vital moment to be seized upon. It presents a fresh chance to put the issue of climate change back where it should be as one of the most fundamental modern global challenges: at the top of the political and social agenda.  As has happened before, it will provoke a round of inquiry into why nothing (or at least nothing commensurate with the scale of the problem) has been done, and why we continue to run still further off the edge of a very high cliff.

In the recent past, the primary revision to the strategy of environmentalists has been to say we need to change the story.  We have talked too much doom and gloom, and we need to paint a positive vision to motivate Consumers to change the world.

This change of story has moved things on a little (as per my previous post on Martin Luther King), but we now need to take the next step.  The story is better; we have improved WHAT is said.  Now we need to change the audience; WHO we are talking to.

We have to face the fact that Consumers will never solve climate change.  Only Citizens can do it.

Here are the four big reasons: Read more

Give & Live – just don’t confuse the two!

I hover my mouse over the two photos; should I go for the Qualcast or the Flymo? I click on the Qualcast and add it to my basket. The Flymo was called an ‘easi-glide’ and I refuse to promote illiteracy through my purchasing decisions. At least Qualcast have had the decency to add a U when using the letter Q.

I have just bought a lawn mower from Argos and donated 50 quid to Cancer Research all in one click of a button; isn’t the modern world amazing?!

Okay, I haven’t: that was just artistic licence. I don’t need a mower; I have guinea pigs. But I could have, if I was signed up to ‘Give as you Live’.

Give As You Live

Give as you Live: Help your favourite cause just by shopping online.

The scheme allows people to contribute to charities whenever they buy things online. On the surface it seems like a great idea. I’m going to spend the money anyway, so why not give to charity while I do so? What could the harm be? Read more

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