Money talks: the impact of economic framing on how we act and feel

We’re ‘consumers’ or ‘taxpayers’ and we care about things like ‘pay-off’, ‘return on investment’ and ‘growth’: that’s the bottom line. Right?

Well, I’d put my money on it.

But, actually, when did that happen? When did we start to pepper our meetings, our work, and even dinner conversations with such words and phrases? Sometimes, our use of economic framing has an obvious trigger; take ‘credit crunch’. In one of the recent economic crises, journalists repeatedly used it (with a straight face), and then before you knew it, the 2008 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary carried a new definition of the word ‘crunch’, as meaning “a severe shortage of money or credit”. It was always pretty difficult to pass that particular term casually into everyday conversation, but now we officially associate crunch with economic recession, as well as biscuits.

Economic frames easily creep into everyday language via news media, or advertising, or political rhetoric, but we have little awareness of the effect that might have on the way that we think and behave. Psychological research is finally shedding light on this.

bride and groom

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Values and the Sharing Economy

Rajesh Makwana came to one of our workshops in January and kindly allowed us to repost this article, originally published at Shareable.

We are all painfully familiar with the plethora of statistics that illustrate how unsustainable modern lifestyles have become and how humanity is already consuming natural resources far faster than the planet can produce or renew them. In a bid to reverse these trends, increasing numbers of people are attempting to consume less, reduce waste and recycle more regularly.  The rapid growth of the sharing economy over recent years reflects this growing environmental awareness and commitment to changing unsustainable patterns of consumption. The possibilities for sharing are already endless in many parts of the world, in everything from cars and drills to skills and knowledge. The sharing economy is undeniably taking off – and rightly so.

But can sharing the things we own as individuals really address the environmental threats facing Planet Earth? To some extent the answer is likely to depend on which resources are being shared and how many people are sharing them. However, given the urgent sustainability challenges we face – from climate change to deforestation and resource depletion – it seems unlikely that even well-developed systems of collaborative consumption will, on their own, constitute a sufficient response.

Share, Unite, Cooperate from Share The World’s Resources on Vimeo. Read more

Grassroots campaigning at MIND

Grassroots campaigning at MIND

One year ago, I signed up for the Common Cause ‘Action Learning Process’ and started a journey with a group of campaigners from across the charity sector. Although we were all working on different issues (disability, international development, climate change) we shared a hunger for new ideas on how to campaign in a way that could reach out to more people and achieve fundamental changes in society.

Some initial reading around the theory of values and frames had enticed me in, but I was unsure of what to expect from the course. Although this theory provided the backbone of what followed, it was the process itself, and the people I shared it with that really stuck with me. Read more

Common Threads – January 2013

  • CCTV increases people’s sense of anxiety – “High levels of security have come to characterise our public buildings. This is because security has become a prerequisite of planning permission as a result of [Secured by Design], which is a design policy that has the blessing of the police.” It seems that “while people often believed CCTV would make them feel safer, the opposite turned out to be the case.”
  • Jonathan Franzen on consumerism, materialism and commodification – “To speak more generally, the ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that’s indifferent to our wishes — a world of hurricanes and hardships and breakable hearts, a world of resistance — with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self. Let me suggest, finally, that the world of techno-consumerism is therefore troubled by real love, and that it has no choice but to trouble love in turn.”
  • Article by Georgie Fienberg in BBC Viewpoint magazine, arguing that  development charities should move away from using guilt, shock and pity in their appeals. “This type of fundraising is antiquated, delivers the wrong message and is actually a net negative for society at large – both for Western societies and those in developing countries. I want to see poverty shock advertising consigned to the history book…”
  • A recent poll from the Associated Press-GfK finds that American concern for global warming is slowly creeping up, but most notably through direct experience rather than scientific communication.
  • Philosopher Roman Krznaric talks about moving away from introspection into ‘empathic outrospection’. Here, with the help of RSA animate, he makes the case for cultivating shared emotional responses as a vehicle for wider social and political change.
  • A Greenpeace campaign video that highlights the environmental damage caused by fashion companies while supporting a broader critique of consumerism. We like.

Satirising the sell off: creative campaigning through intrinsic means


On Thursday the 6th December 2012, as part of Oxfam’s weekend of action on the land campaign, we co-organised a well attended auction in Bristol city centre.

The auction wasn’t selling antiques, vehicles or even animals, but Bristol’s very own landscapes, neighbourhoods and monuments. Staff from Grab, Grab & Profit auction house went to town, selling off Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol Temple Meads Train Station, Easton, St Pauls, nearby trees and even people. Grab, Grab & Profit wanted to promote private investment by selling off parts of Bristol to competitive corporate bidders at exceptionally attractive rates.

While some members of the public attempted to take part in the land rush, many others objected to the blatant injustice taking place, and put their name to supporting the land campaign. The Land Campaign calls for the world bank to enforce a 6 month freeze on all large scale land investments, and then review the process by which these purchases are conducted. More information on the land campaign, calling for an end to unjust land grabs here. Read more

Common Cause Introductory Workshop

London, January 25th 10-4.30pm

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Stepping Back to Think

Interviews with people at the Common Cause Lunch in Brussels

In Brussels, we try to meet regularly to discuss theory and practice of values and frames during lunchtime. On 21 November, we had the pleasure to welcome Rich Hawkins from PIRC in the European capital. Over the past few months, many more people showed interest in Common Cause, so this was an opportunity for us to refresh our knowledge about the use of values and frames and to introduce new comers to the concept. Individuals from ActionAid and Cooperatives Europe shared their impressions: Read more

Common Cause for Nature: Why conservation needs to change, if it really cares

Ralph Underhill worked on planning casework and water policy at the RSPB for seven years, before joining the Public Interest Research Centre where he is working on the Common Cause for Nature project. He would like to hear your thoughts on this piece and would like anyone interested in the project to get in touch.

Conservation is a dam. It tries to hold back a tide of potentially damaging impacts, that, if unleashed, would overrun the natural world and destroy the wildlife we care about.

With the increasing challenges brought on by economic development this dam is reaching its limits. Numerous biological indicators (such as this) are showing that the cracks in it are widening and water is spilling out at a rate not previously seen.

To date, the role of those working in the conservation sector has to been to try to maintain the integrity of the dam. Whenever a new threat emerges (be it a new infrastructure proposal, breeding failure on a particular reserve or a damaging government policy) it creates a fresh crack and we rush to stem the flow. Although some water gets through, it is never as much as would have done if we weren’t there.

We are making a difference, yet somehow things continue to get worse. Read more

Values and the outdoors

Inspired by the adventurous spirit of the Scottish naturalist who once tied himself to the top of a tree in a hurricane to experience the exhilaration of nature, the John Muir Award offers participants the opportunity to explore wild places and take an active role in conservation. In October, leaders who deliver the award, including teachers, community workers and National Park rangers, met for their annual gatherings in 3 locations around the UK, to share stories and discuss how values fit into their work. Read more

Common Threads – November 2012

  • Africa for Norway – simply amazing.
  • Daniel Bye on the Price of Everything – a work-in-progress “theatrical lecture” on the concept of value.
  • On being the “poorest” president – “I don’t feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more and more”.
  • Enlightenment in the Age of Materialism – a great TEDx talk by Carol Craig from the Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing in Glasgow.
  • Behavioural change or societal change? – “The aspiration is for the UK to be a low carbon society not 60 million low carbon individuals.
  • Changing the discourse – a 6-page thinkpiece on framing, by Compass. Includes this great quote from Karl Polanyi on the “negative freedoms” of liberal utopianism: “the freedom to exploit one’s fellows, or the freedom to make inordinate gains without commensurable service to the community, the freedom to keep technological benefits from being used for public benefit, or the freedom to profit from public calamities secretly engineered for private advantage.
  • On reclaiming ‘freedom’ – how the value of freedom has been co-opted by market ideology – “in the context of a consumer society freedom today is less an Enlightenment virtue than it is the call to go shopping” – and how we should rebalance “rights and responsibilities that favour the freedom of the many rather than the few.
  • Thoughts on campaigning and where the dodo got it wrong – this is quite good.
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