Elena Blackmore

Developing Discourse or Stunted Growth? Taking the Sustainable out of the Sustainable Development Goals

Where does poverty come from?

Whatever your answer, it’ll shape what you think we should do about it. If you think it’s natural, for example, then perhaps all we can do about it is alleviate suffering rather than get rid of it. Perhaps we shouldn’t do anything about it at all.

Your answer will subsequently have an impact on how effective you are at addressing poverty. Will you introduce incentive schemes because you believe poor people are just not trying hard enough; or higher taxes for the rich because you believe historically there has been an unfair allocation of resources? Do you reduce or increase social benefits, like unemployment or child benefits?

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In other words, the way we ‘frame’ poverty has a direct link with our political response.

It’s worrying, then, that an upcoming report from /The Rules suggests that the understanding of poverty that underpins the Sustainable Development Goals  (SDGs) is faulty. Worrying because the SDGs, which replace the Millenium Development Goals, represent the political response of the entire international community to global poverty.

Elena BlackmoreDeveloping Discourse or Stunted Growth? Taking the Sustainable out of the Sustainable Development Goals
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Love & other illusions: Framing at the People’s Climate March

“I’m next to a giant pigeon and a tribute to Kate Bush” “We’re right at the front – just behind Emma Thompson…” “Anywhere near the sound system?” “I’m a solar panel!”

So went a series of text messages between my friends and I at around Sunday lunchtime, as we tried to locate each other at the People’s Climate March in London. I found most of them – eventually – apart from one elusive chap (who isn’t very good with technology or directions) – the last messages we exchanged were along the lines of “Ah well – seeya next time – was awesome anyways, super positive”.

From Li Photo Capital, licensed under Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

From Li Photo Capital, licensed under Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

And it was – really positive – a reflection of a perceptible shift in the environmental movement’s general engagement strategy. What was particularly surprising was that this was led by Avaaz – better known for repeatedly telling us “24 hours to save everything or else we’re all gonna die!”. The type of messaging that has, in my eyes, only strengthened “Apocalypse Fatigue”. Something that looks suspiciously like apathy in environmentalists and the wider public alike but is actually more likely an increasing sense of hopelessness. Because…

Elena BlackmoreLove & other illusions: Framing at the People’s Climate March
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Why democratic ownership can make us better people

Human beings show a broad spectrum of qualities, but it is the worst of these that are usually emphasised, and the result, too often, is to dishearten us, diminish our spirit.” – Howard Zinni

In a recent OpenDemocracy piece, I argued that the way we’re living now – over-worked, over-consuming, environmentally-destructive, indebted, isolated and unhappy – has a strong relationship with the models of ownership and decision-making in our institutions.

Why, and what can we do?

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Elena BlackmoreWhy democratic ownership can make us better people
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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.

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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.

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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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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!)

values_four_way

Elena BlackmoreHate racism, love Finland:
10 ways values link to prejudices across Europe
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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 Cause training in June

In June, we’re running a Common Cause training course in the beautiful hills of mid-Wales.

It will comprise an exciting three days of participatory learning, exploring creative, values-based tools for social or environmental change.

Find out more here.

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Elena BlackmoreCommon Cause training in June
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New report: Common Cause for Nature

Starlings_Plain

Creating and maintaining a sustainable, wildlife-rich world requires active, concerned citizens and a political system capable of rising to the challenge. Governments, businesses and the public will need the space and motivation to make the right choices. The UK conservation sector is large and well-resourced yet, as the recent State of Nature report attests, biodiversity is still in decline. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

Where is the public concern and political will to address these issues?

In 2012, thirteen UK conservation organisations – including WWF-UK, the John Muir Award, RSPB and CPRE – came together to commission an analysis of the values they promote in their work. Led by PIRC, academic researchers from Lancaster University, Royal Holloway, and Essex University carried out innovative linguistic analysis of six months of external communications of these organisations. The analysis was supplemented by interviews, surveys and workshop discussion with those in the conservation sector. Today sees the release of the resulting report.

Elena BlackmoreNew report: Common Cause for Nature
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