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

The results

All participants made a personal decision to join the programme. It was aligned with their personal interests and many saw it as an opportunity to put theoretical knowledge about Common Cause into practice. Some were explicitly attracted by the opportunity to work on organisational values, culture and strategy, and to redesign projects and activities.

“We saw it as a way to help the organisation move forward. We were developing a project to understand and articulate what our organisation is, and to clarify our purpose and values. We felt the programme could help us with this process.”

Most participants have actively applied their learning within their organisations to work on values, culture and strategy and to redesign projects and activities. They also developed greater understanding, skills and confidence. Applying Common Cause in their work encouraged and supported greater participation and engagement amongst their colleagues. They developed their ability to see connections and relationships more clearly.

“I’m coming at everything with a much stronger understanding that the people that we work with are people, they’re not jobs, they’re not their role, they are people and that they come with their own emotions and beliefs and perspectives and that in order to work with people you’ve got to be open to understanding what those are.”

While it took time from their busy schedules they felt that having the time and space to think deeply was very important. They found the opportunity to reflect on the connections between personal and organisational values. The programme has helped them recognise potential conflicts that may arise when implementing change and to better understand people’s resistance to change.

“Essential for anyone who wants to make any sort of positive, cultural change (in the world at large), because values are at the base of that. How can you create a shift in something you don’t understand?”

All said they would recommend the programme to others, and felt it was important that this approach was spread widely.

“Yes, without a doubt I would recommend it. It's one of the best things I've done in personal and professional development.”

What next?

This programme has the potential to be an important element of the repertoire of tools and approaches needed to support wide ranging pro-environment and pro-social change. Used strategically with groups of organisations with common interests, and internally within large organisations, the programme can support values-based change in specific sectors and more widely in society.

The team are exploring new opportunties to run the programme and to evolved it further.
The programme was developed and delivered by Pam Candea, The Surefoot Effect; Osbert Lancaster, changemaking; Anthony Morrow, The Conservation Volunteers; Kerry Riddell, The Conservation Volunteers; and Morag Watson, Learning for Sustainability Scotland. Elena Blackmore, Public Interest Research Centre; Rob Bowden, Lifeworlds Learning; Rebecca Nestor, Learning for Good; and Tom Pollard, Mind; were mentors. The programme was supported financially by The Scottish Government.
Download the evaluation report.