Blog post

Values retreat, Machynlleth – March 2011

Over the 18-20 March 2011, twenty-five people met on the site of Owain Glyndwr’s revolutionary Welsh parliament of 1404, in Machynlleth, mid-Wales. Our conversations focussed on the problems that we face in meeting profound environmental, humanitarian and social challenges – unless we also begin to examine those factors that shape cultural values. This recognition is not new – the issues we debated have been central to social movements for many years. But we discussed ways in which we might begin to work collaboratively to re-focus public debate on the importance of cultural values, and to enthuse and embolden progressive actors in the public, private and third sectors through a deeper grasp of the importance of cultural values.

In particular, we worked on challenging, enriching and extending the work that Oxfam, PIRC, WWF and others have initiated around the Common Cause and Finding Frames reports. How might we begin to work collaboratively to develop the conversations that this work is generating? How might the imperatives to which this work points be better communicated? How can we work to pool experience and learning?

Our discussions, held in the Owain Glyndwr Centre and on the hills and beaches around Machynlleth, fell into three discrete themes:

Doing

We reviewed the wide range of work in which we are each involved, and reflected on the extent to which much of this already responds to an understanding of cultural values. We distinguished between, on the one hand, possible work focussed specifically on engaging some of the factors that influence cultural values (for example, a campaign on advertising) and, on the other, the imperative to ensure that discrete issue-based campaigns also serve, simultaneously, to support helpful cultural values.

We recognised that there are potential ‘first mover costs’ associated with some responses to this agenda – and we therefore highlighted the importance of establishing agreement across a wide range of organisations that this is a direction in which we should move.

In particular, we agreed on the need to open debate in the public and private sectors, and we highlighted opportunities to begin to do this.

Communicating

We need a functioning web-platform, a social media strategy, a shorter and more accessible version of Common Cause, a growing bank of case-studies of ways in which this work has been – and is being – applied.

We need to develop materials and tools to help explain the background and implications of this approach to others, and we need to extend our workshops (which have hitherto focussed mainly on third sector participants) to other sectors. These materials would probably need to be developed with the input of some form of ‘consulting body’ which had expertise in both advocacy and the underlying theory of the approach. Such materials must be ‘live’ – constantly updated with new input and new case-studies.

One helpful approach to opening out dialogue within an organisation might be to explore, with staff, what an organisation stands for. Are there tensions or disparities between this and how an organisation actually communicates and acts? How might this disparity be resolved? And would working to resolve it also support greater staff commitment to the work of their organisation?

Thinking

We agreed on the need to situate the social psychology work in a wider context – beginning, perhaps, with an acknowledgement that this is an approach which has intuitive appeal for many people who are working on social and environmental issues.

We reflected on the importance of self-direction values (independent thought and action, choosing, creating and exploring) and their proximity to the values that underpin social and environmental concern. We agreed that we need to work to explore the importance of these values – and the way in which they insect with other values.

Another meeting

Finally, we agreed to meet again, in the autumn, to review our progress and to involve new people.

Participants’ reflections

Our participants were: Alex Randall, Andy Brown, Becks Gowland, Casper ter Kuile, Charlotte Millar, Ciaran Mundy, Ed Gillespie, Elena Blackmore, Greg Maio, Guy Shrubsole, Jon Alexander, Josie Wexler, Martin Kirk, Morgan Phillips, Peter Lipman, Rachel Nunn, Rich Hawkins, Rosemary Randall, Rupert Read, Tanya Hawkes, Tim Holmes, Tim Kasser, Tom Crompton, Tom Stafford, Tom Wakeford.

Some of these participants have made brief reflections on the weekend below.

For me, this retreat was really about starting friendships. This was fun, meaningful and an absolutely fundamental foundation to any collaboration that happens between us from here. The retreat also created the space for us to be authentic and really live the intrinsic values that Common Cause calls for: universalism, benevolence and self-direction. Being in a building where history was made, in a town that cares deeply about the environment and amidst the beauty of the Welsh countryside, and with just the right kind of gentle facilitation, provided the perfect conditions for us to think about how we can collectively make a difference in addressing the overwhelmingly ‘bigger than self’ challenges of our time. I try to bring these kind of conditions (in an urban environment!) to life in my own work – in the Finance Innovation Lab and Tasting the Future – and am now inspired to be explicit about the importance of values in my own work and to continue learning about this with this group, and beyond.
Charlotte Millar

I came away feeling emboldened, with much more confidence to apply this type of campaigning into my everyday work. I also feel able to challenge work that goes against the values I hold – with some decent understanding of the science and best practice. Also – some fantastic relationships built, especially between sectors (NGO, community and business) – which is perhaps as important!
Casper ter Kuile

I left tired but inspired – and challenged. Until now, I have approached this work through the lens of social psychology – and this has provided the empirical basis that has been key to opening debate on these issues within WWF, where I work. But I now see clearly that this work has natural and intuitive appeal – and that it is something which many environmental and social campaigners have grasped instinctively. I am now convinced that we need to situate the social psychology more broadly in the context of other disciplines – and in the practices that many people are already pursuing.
Tom Crompton

The Common Cause agenda poses a huge challenge. It asks us to move beyond our silos and to work for the common good. Of course, that is supposed to be what all of us progressives / greenies / Lefties are about anyway – but it is another thing to actually do it… It is going to require a much higher degree of alliance-style thinking than we are used to; it is going to require us to move beyond quick wins and selfish campaigns working only within our own comfort zone or area of interest, to something much broader. The weekend made me realise this with full force. I can’t wait!

One more thing: By the end of the weekend, me, Tim Kasser and Tom C. himself were I think among those agreeing that there is a strong premium now on working on another really difficult bit: how to support leaders and doers and achievers on reconciling being powerful and high-achieving with remaining ‘universalistically’ focussed. That is where a lot of the work has to be now: especially as we expand the Common Cause approach out into the media, the business world, government and politics, as we must… We need to work together to give politicians, journalists etc. full awareness of the challenge posed by the tension between being powerful and high-achieving, on the one hand, and not selling-out, on the other… If we actually want to win, and not just to remain ‘pure’, then this will be absolutely crucial. Our ‘common cause’ is winning without being corrupted. We are for the first time in a good position to see this and to see how it can, not without difficulty, be done.
Rupert Read

I learned a hell of a lot. We had many fascinating discussions, and it was excited to see how the findings of social psychological research resonated with this group. At the same time, the discussions revealed fascinating gaps in knowledge that provide exciting directions for future study.
Greg Maio

I left with a much clearer understanding of how I’m now applying Common Cause as one of the key tools that I use for guiding my actions, and a commitment to getting involved in how it is developed and expanded.
Peter Lipman

Fundamental to the success of Common Cause is the growth of a large and strong community of practice. The stronger this community becomes the greater the chances that the advocated approach will embed itself in the work of a (hopefully diverse) range of social actors. To be amongst a group of ‘early adopters’ left me feeling optimistic that this community could indeed emerge. Strong communities are glued together by trust, friendship, fellowship and a strong desire to nourish things of common value. The Common Cause team are doing a fantastic job of building this community, the weekend epitomised this, it’s great to be part of it. I came away with my thinking advance in so many areas, loads of fresh ideas on how to do my work and, most importantly, thanks to the bonds of new friendships, a reinforced sense of confidence in the approaches I’m taking.
Morgan Phillips

I came to the weekend wanting to understand just how Common Cause might be introduced to, and used within business; what flexibility there would be in bringing the practical application of the knowledge to the fore and keeping theory in the background. This was because I had concerns about the language of the circumplex – especially with this target audience, because language is always inferred by the reader – and in this case could be received as a negative judgment or critique. I found it useful when we decided to always acknowledge that we all have all parts of the circumplex within in us, activated by different situations, pretty much all of the time. This will really help make the Common Cause narrative about ‘us all together’ as opposed to ‘them and us’. On another note, it was warmly encouraging to hear there is a budget and capacity to keep moving Common Cause along…I think it will be a good start to get it working well in the voluntary sector and government sector as early adopters.
Rachel Nunn

I really appreciated this weekend – the company, the hospitality, the setting. I have come away with two agendas.

The first is theoretical: I would like to better understand the relationship of the values framework to the way my own discipline, psychoanalysis, conceptualises the inner conflicts between desire, ambition and morality. I see the work of D.W. Winnicott with his concept of the development of the capacity for concern as being potentially helpful here and I’m hoping to write something about this. I would also like to strengthen an understanding of the affective as well as the values structures in society as I think this also plays a part.

My second issue is absolutely practical: I want to find ways of applying this thinking to small, community projects. How does this change the way we frame our campaigns and invitations? How does it alter our activities? How do we communicate to the many enthusiastic but busy volunteers the essence of what this is about? I’m really pleased at the idea of focused working groups and I’m looking forward to the next 6 months.
Ro Randall

This blog was originally posted on Common Cause Working Group.

Tom Crompton

About Tom Crompton

I've worked on values and social change for nearly a decade. WWF’s work in this area started in 2008, with the publication of my report Weathercocks and Signposts. This was followed in 2010 with the publication of a book I wrote with Tim Kasser called Meeting Environmental Challenges, and then with the Common Cause report, published later the same year. In the last couple of years I’ve focused on research – particularly through a very productive collaboration between WWF and Scope. This has allowed us to test many of the principles we are advancing through Common Cause. I’m now helping to set up The Common Cause Foundation.