On having more than two sides: how do you describe values?

Common Cause draws on research by an academic called Shalom Schwartz, who divides values into four overarching groups: openness-to-change, self-transcendence, self-enhancement, and conservation. Yeah, right, they’re a bit of a mouthful.


It also draws on work from researchers such as Grouzet and Kasser who use a similar model but that relates to goals.

Kasser Remade


When we’re talking about Common Cause, we often just talk about two values groups that combine the two: ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’. This terminology is pretty familiar to many people now, and it’s particularly useful for telling a simple story of how our society has become more materialistic, more unequal and more selfish – shifting from intrinsic to extrinsic – like George Monbiot recently did in the Guardian.


But as with any simple story, it’s incomplete.

Elena BlackmoreOn having more than two sides: how do you describe values?
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Taking the red pill:
A 10-stop tour of Common Cause

Common Cause ruined my career, it removed a lot of my assumptions, and took me to a more radical perspective. It was like taking the red pill, once you’ve taken it you can’t go back. You see how misdirected much progressive work is.

Martin Kirk, /The Rules, ex Head of Campaigns at Oxfam-GB

Common Cause applies what we know about motivation from social psychology to the big problems facing the world. We’ve had a go at whittling it down to 10 principles…

What is Common Cause?

Bec SandersonTaking the red pill:
A 10-stop tour of Common Cause
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Hate racism, love Finland:
10 ways values link to prejudices across Europe

What do you value in life?

If you ask anybody this question, there’s surprising similarity in what people say. You can generally put people’s values into four broad groups:

  1. Change & autonomy values, such as creativity and freedom,are linked to tolerance and comfort with difference. (Openness-to-change values)
  2. Care & empathy values are all about concern for others and the environment, equality and tolerance. (Self-transcendence, or intrinsic values)
  3. Stability & security values, such as social order and respect for tradition, are associated with maintenance of the status quo and discomfort with other groups. (Conservation values)
  4. Power & competition values are linked to prejudice, discrimination, materialism and concern about status, self and money. (Self-enhancement, or extrinsic values)

We all hold all of these values, but to different degrees. These four groups work in opposition to each other as in the diagram below. Care/empathy values are opposite power/competition, and change/autonomy values oppose stability/security values. This means we’re unlikely to value one set highly if we value the other set highly. (Read more about how this works here!)


Elena BlackmoreHate racism, love Finland:
10 ways values link to prejudices across Europe
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Good practice: Species Champions

Species Champions from Scottish Environment LINK

The initiative was launched by Scottish Environment LINK’s Wildlife Forum in January 2013 – the Year of Natural Scotland – and continues to invite all MSPs to choose from  our list of species that are currently facing significant threats to their future – and then champion their survival. MSPs were encouraged to find out about the species they champion and make a video about why they feel this species is important.


Ralph UnderhillGood practice: Species Champions
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I Am Ecological: changing the story of ‘self’

The Common Cause report shows us that intrinsic values, such as equality and connection with nature, are associated with actions and attitudes towards a fair and sustainable society. Our ability to act for a greater good – as individuals, as a society – in other words depends on how altruistic or unselfish we are, how important it is for us to act in the interest of others than ourselves. In Schwartz´s model, those that he calls ‘self-transcendent’ values are in tension with the ‘self-enhancement’ values on the other side of the circumplex.

The self seems fundamental here. How do we perceive the self? Here is one perspective.

The story of the Separate Self

At the roots of our society is the story of the Separate Self: ‘You are not necessarily a part of anything; you are alone in a world of other separate selves.’ This is an old story, but it has become more obvious in the light of today’s globalization and erosion of community. If you don´t get what you need, you can buy it. If the person who grows your food, builds your house, or takes care of your kids, moves or dies, you can just get it from someone else. If all the fish in the seas get eaten, you can just buy fish from another sea. We don´t belong anymore (and for want of belonging, we instead focus on belongings…).

The notion of ‘self-transcending’ values can be said to be part of this story of separation. Because we are separate from others, we must transcend self-interest in order to care for them.

This logic is often reflected in the way NGOs present issues such as climate change or world poverty. We should do something about it because it is the right thing to do. We should care about other people, even if they are far away and we have never met them. Sustainability becomes a moral issue, and this can feel pretty overwhelming.

How powerful are morality and altruism as motivations for social change?

Picture taken from

Picture taken from

Pella ThielI Am Ecological: changing the story of ‘self’
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International network: A trip to the Nordic Countries

“Let’s make it a movement! For the first time in many years, I feel we can actually change things if enough people want to.”
Camilla Sjöström, Uppsala

In our whistle-stop tour of the Nordic Countries we’ve sea-kayaked through the Stockholm Archipelago, watched the aurora light up Icelandic skies and walked barefoot through Norwegian forests.  Along the way, we met up with the wonderful people who already work on Common Cause, and made contact with others who might. We’ve also spent a surprisingly long time in foreign bookshops looking for large dot stickers to stick on values maps…

Dot exercise

Now we’re back, footsore and fancy-free! We’re ever so slightly disappointed by the endless rain in Wales, and the non-double-decker trains (why can’t we just rebuild all our train bridges?) but rather inspired by what is happening in Iceland, Sweden and Norway.

So what’s going on, and how can you be involved?

Bec SandersonInternational network: A trip to the Nordic Countries
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#ThePowerOfHashtags and the difference between #Kony2012 and #BringBackOurGirls

You’re the Prime Minister… Put the hashtag down and do something real about it if you care.
MT @JosephLWalker

Another complex, socio-political situation, another hashtag, another debate about the merits and pitfalls of clicktivism. #Yawn. And yet there’s a conversation going on at Compare Afrique about the #BringBackOurGirls campaign that I’m finding particularly compelling.

Marissa Jackson argues that rather than a classic case of slacktivism, what we’re seeing this time is something different. She writes:

“The movement to #BringBackOurGirls, which actually originated in Nigeria, has thus far demonstrated the virtues of solidarity and grassroots international cooperation, within and beyond the African diaspora. It has shed much meaningful light on how to make visibility and voice to the invisible and voiceless. It has reminded us all of the value of naming and shaming–naming the girls to remind the world that they, too, are human beings, and shaming terrorists, Nigeria’s incompetent government, and the structural and institutional racism and misogyny that allowed an atrocity of this magnitude to go unnoticed two weeks and unresolved for over three.

As a black woman in the United States, this movement has become as meaningfully encouraging as it is frustrating because for the first time ever, I am witnessing men and women come together to notice when a group of black girls goes missing, and demand decisive action.”

Elena Blackmore#ThePowerOfHashtags and the difference between #Kony2012 and #BringBackOurGirls
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Anti-social media?
Why NGOs should treat their supporters more like people

What’s the point of social media? Liam Barrington-Bush of more like people recently characterised the way third sector organisations answer this question with three crude (his word, not mine) categories.

In his own words, organisations see social media as:

1. The new fax machine. It’s a tool that gets given to a low-ranking member of staff to handle, with little-to-no autonomy or recognition of its significance. ‘One tweet per week’ kinda thing. Where lots of organisations were a few years ago, and at least a few still are… The point tends to be to keep up with the Joneses, ‘cause others are doing it. Nothing more.

2. The social engineering project. Highly specialised digital teams that add up lots of metrics and then conflate them with campaign success or failure. This tends to involve lots of assumptions about the people who support us, boxing them into demographic groups and feeding them lowest-common-denominator (clicktivist) actions based on those assumptions. The point to this approach tends to be bigger numbers, and that more = better. This is obviously true in many situations, but can be a misleading metric of success in many others, if it is a kind of involvement that minimises what people feel they are able to offer to a cause, to give people something that is likely to boost total figures.

3. The more like people organisation. Everyone who wants to tweets, blogs, shares, etc. The tone is less managed, the line between staff, members, beneficiaries, supporters, etc is blurred as freer conversations emerge within and around the organisation. There is an honesty and openness rarely found in many more traditional organisations. These conversations lead to freer collaborations and faster responsiveness, as important information tends to travel where it needs to more effectively through networks than hierarchies. The point becomes about nurturing stronger relationships, which lead to more resilient networks. This stuff is far harder to measure, but comes from a deep belief that if we aren’t building stronger networks amongst those who care about our work, we are making ourselves very vulnerable to a range of outside shocks that might make top-down campaigning models more difficult or impossible (laws, tech changes, natural disasters, etc). It also recognises that there is vast untapped potential within and around organisations, that our structures prevent us from realising, and which social media has the potential to open-up, through freer connections between people, ideas, and those needed to make them happen.

This last one is much closer to how social movements tend to organise, and I’d argue that it offers the most potential significance and impact for organisations, because it can start to model new ways of organising that move beyond the Industrial-era hierarchies most of our organisations have ended up adopting over the course of several decades, which have come at massive cost to the people and causes we champion.

What can this tell us about the values likely to be engaged in staff and supporters by these different approaches, and what are the implications?

Elena BlackmoreAnti-social media?
Why NGOs should treat their supporters more like people
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Common Threads, March 2014

  • Economics and greed – a round-up of research illustrating how the study of economics can push people towards selfishness and distrust of others.
  • The Big Picture at Friends of the Earth – A campaign that takes over large screens at Waterloo station and invites people to submit images of ‘What makes the world special to them’. Nice!
  • ‘Cash for the Cure’ – a critical look at Kohl’s breast-cancer campaign: encouraging consumption, fear and all things pink.
  • How can advocacy NGOs become more innovative? It may be a tired buzzword, but this Oxfam blog has some pretty good advice. We particularly like the suggestions for shifting staff culture, e.g. ‘give people a day a month to visit ‘the outside world’ with no greater agenda than to look and learn.’
  • On rising inequality – it’s deep-seated psychological impacts, and why it damages the social fabric of our societies. From the authors of the Spirit Level.
Richard HawkinsCommon Threads, March 2014
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