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. Email me at:

Money can’t buy love – or can it?


“Money can’t buy love”, we’re told. And we now know that thinking about money is likely to make love a lot more difficult. But is this inevitable?

Research has found that being briefly reminded of money leads us to care less for others and for the environment. This is especially unfortunate because we are so often reminded of money: handling it, paying for things, talking about it, reading about it.

But this effect isn’t, presumably, inevitable. It arises because of the symbolic meaning that money has acquired – and it’s conceivable that, in a different world, money comes to symbolise something else.

I spent yesterday afternoon in Liverpool with an energetic group of people working on local currencies – both established local currencies, like Bristol Pound or Brixton Pound, and many others in earlier stages of development.

These are people who want to change the meaning of money. But I worry that at times the profound impact that they could have on what money symbolises is lost – because of a focus on the structural changes that a local currency could create.

This means that those working on local currencies sometimes lapse into judging their success on the basis of how much money is in circulation, or the proportion of the local economy they have ‘captured’.

Measured in this way, most local currencies struggle to demonstrate much impact. Ironically, their very success is judged on precisely those values that underpin the financial establishment that these local currency schemes are setting out to challenge!

Inviting people to support a local currency because this “helps independent business” or “keeps money on the high street” sets the terms by which success of the currency will be judged, but will do little to change the symbolic meaning of money.

We discussed, at the meeting of the Guild of Independent Currencies, whether there are other, more important, impacts of local currencies. The salience of a local currency may far outstrip its economic leverage. When I visit Bristol, for example, I see signs on buses and shop doors inviting me to pay in Bristol Pounds. The social impact of these reminders – created through the values that they engage – may be far greater than the structural impact of the Bristol Pound (which is, today at least, small). If this is the case, then it’s important to ask what this wider social impact is, and whether it might be further strengthened and improved through a values led approach.

For example, a local currency could be promoted as a symbol of a community’s commitment to self-direction, civic participation and social justice. There can be few more powerful symbols of people ‘doing things for themselves’ than a local currency.

To most of us it seems to be an almost impossibly difficult thing to create, not least because it seems to level such a clear challenge towards the financial establishment.  Local currencies are a potent demonstration of what can be achieved by committed people, volunteering in their spare time. What wonderful testimony to the power of people collaborating, volunteering and creating: intrinsic values that we know spill over into many other areas of social and environmental concern.

The purpose of a local currency might then be framed as being to convey a town’s or city’s commitment to these values, where its actual use becomes an expression of a commitment to self-direction, civic participation and social justice. This opportunity aligns strongly with our recent survey that shows that these are the very values that most people hold to be of highest importance.

So evidence suggests that a local currency might also seek – with complete legitimacy – to associate these values with those held to be most important by the majority of people living in that town or city, irrespective of whether or not they use the currency themselves.

In this way, the currency could become a conspicuous reminder of most people’s commitment to these values, and could have significant impact in strengthening key aspects of shared identity across a town or city. This is an effort that could then be joined by other organisations and institutions: particularly those that have a role in promoting public reflection on the values that characterise those who live in a town or city. This might include museums, universities, local government and regional media.

These values would then, of course, contribute to building public support for a wide range of social and environmental initiatives, potentially multiplying the impact of the scheme many-fold.

Local currencies present wonderful opportunities for beginning to build such shared identity – and to keep this salient in citizens’ day-to-day lives. But if these schemes are constrained by a narrow focus on economic indicators of success, this opportunity could be missed.

Tom CromptonMoney can’t buy love – or can it?
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Is reframing climate change a waste of time?

If nobody much cares about climate change, does it really much matter how it’s talked about?

Our common climate

No, according to David Roberts. Rather, he argues, climate communicators and campaigners shouldn’t spend so much time worrying about how to ‘reframe’ their message.

Is he right?

Part of Roberts’ argument is compelling. But this interesting bit risks getting lost because of his focus on one particular study.

Roberts highlights a recent letter in Nature Climate Change which looks for, but fails to find, framing effects.

Why should this study have failed to detect such effects, when so many others have found them? It’s difficult to know, of course. But it seems overly-exuberant, in the light of those other studies, to draw the conclusion that thinking carefully about how climate change is framed is a waste of time.

In another respect, though, Roberts’ argument has real weight: communication on climate change must be viewed in a far wider context.

 “Human beings,” he writes “ … come complete with a strong set of overlapping, mutually reinforcing frames.

“To a great extent, those preexisting social and psychological commitments — which are outside the scope of any conceivable climate communication campaign — are going to determine how people assess a specific phenomenon like climate change.”

We know that, very important among those ‘preexisting social and psychological commitments’, are values. Deep concern about climate change, support for ambitious policy interventions, and motivation to get out and make a fuss about it (joining a demonstration, volunteering for a pressure group, lobbying a politician) are all related to the values that a person holds to be important.

We also know that engaging some values strengthens expressions of concern about climate change. Here’s one study we conducted which found this. And here’s a useful summary of many comparable ones.

But such effects – real and important as they may be – are going to be rapidly ‘washed out’ by many other aspects of day-to-day life. Roberts is dead right that climate change cannot be simply split off, and dealt with separately, as though all the other influences we encounter daily are irrelevant.

In terms of the things that shape our values, climate change communication is a drop in the ocean. That’s an ocean deep and wide, made up of a vastness of advertising, boundless expanses of celebrity gossip and a flood tide of economic bulletins about the Dow Jones or FTSE 100. In other words, many of the communications we receive every day are likely to engage and strengthen values opposed to those that underpin concern about climate change.

This is one very important reason why, as Roberts points out, “danger of climate change does not arouse much public passion.”

But this isn’t an argument for indifference about how we frame climate change. It’s an argument for caring deeply about how we conceptualise both climate change and a wide range of other things that are (as yet, for many of us at least) more salient in our day-to-day lives.

Think of the UK’s National Health Service.

NHS demonstration

I experience the NHS both as someone who sees a deduction on my pay slip each month as a contribution to its cost, and as someone who rocks up to the doctor and leaves without paying. These are more impactful aspects of my day-to-day experience than my exposure to communications about climate change.

Such experience serves to reinforce my perception that public goods – such as universal healthcare – are normal and expected things in society, and that the cost of these should be borne collectively.

Such experience is also likely to strengthen my support for policy interventions to help safeguard another public good – a safe climate.

In both cases, I am invited to support policies which are in the common interest, without asking whether they justify the personal expense or inconvenience that they might entail. There’s an ethic here which defies simple cost-benefit analysis.

Reframing the NHS in transactional terms – inviting me to reflect on whether I ‘get as much out’ of the NHS as I ‘put in’ would be deeply corrosive. Public support for the NHS would collapse if people began to think in those terms.

Coming to think of the NHS in these transactional terms would, I predict, also undermine public commitment for ambitious action on climate change.

Here it would be unhelpful for me to ask whether the personal impacts of ambitious climate policy cause me more inconvenience or expense than it delivers personal benefit.

So Roberts may be right that people working on climate change communication agonise too much about reframing climate change. But, far more importantly, most agonise far too little about how to collaborate with myriad other groups who influence the way that we think about many other issues. How we talk about – and think about – these other issues will prove to be of crucial importance in building public support for action on climate change.

Tom CromptonIs reframing climate change a waste of time?
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Values, voting and volunteering

If you’re a typical Brit, you may love Strictly Come Dancing, worry about the household budget and quite fancy your boss’s job. But you’ll also value friendship, honesty and justice above image, money and success.

Our new report – Perceptions Matter: the Common Cause UK Values Surveypublished today, finds that old or young, north or south, rich or poor, liberal or conservative, male or female, UK citizens attach greater importance to compassionate values than selfish values. Overall, 74% of UK citizens prioritise their values in this way. And this really does seem to be the case – the design of our survey enabled us to dismiss the possibility that people were simply reluctant to own up to holding selfish values.

But if you are a typical Brit, you’ll also be convinced that other people hold these compassionate values to be less important than is really the case. When we asked people about the values that they thought that a typical fellow citizen holds to be important, 77% underestimated the importance attached to compassionate values and overestimated the importance attached to selfish values. “There’s a focus on earning money,” we were told by one survey participant in Essex. “There’s a culture of self, and not a culture of responsibility. It’s all about me, my needs, not society’s need.”

This is important because we found that the more people underestimate the significance that others attach to compassionate values, the less likely they are to have voted in recent elections, the lower their intentions to volunteer or support the work of a charity, and the more alienated they are prone to feel.

Voting graph


Another participant, a woman from Wales, provided a clue as to why this might be. “It’s a very materialistic society that we live in,” she told us. “I don’t like it very much. I try to express my values as much as possible but, to live with other people, you just try and play the roles as much as possible.”

Perhaps that’s the problem: people “play the roles”, reluctant to act in line with the compassionate values they hold to be most important, because this would leave them feeling out-of-kilter with what they think they know about wider society. This reluctance would in turn deepen the widespread misperception that most people care less for compassionate values than is actually the case.

As this spiral gathers energy, people are left tragically and needlessly less civically engaged and more socially alienated. Your misperceptions of others, in other words, may hold you back in helping to mount collective responses to the major challenges that confront UK society today like child poverty, care for the elderly and climate change.

Can this spiral be reversed? Yes. The first step is to talk to people with the conviction that the things they value aren’t so different from the things that you probably value most yourself. That is, by talking as though a sense of vocation is more important than take-home pay; as though caring for those in need is more important than weeding out welfare cheats; as though educating the next generation to be compassionate and open-minded is more important than teaching the skills needed for global competitiveness.

When you talk to people in this way – whether as an employee, a manager, a job-seeker, a politician, a student, a celebrity or a teacher – you’ll not only connect with the values that matter most, to most people, but you’ll also encourage others to express these values themselves.

Download the new report.

Tom CromptonValues, voting and volunteering
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The Common Cause Communication Toolkit

Toolkit frontcoverTake a look at our new Common Cause Communication Toolkit, which comprises a book and a series of other downloadable resources. The Toolkit presents a set of practical principles for crafting Common Cause Communications, each built on a solid research foundation.

These principles are then applied to a range of different examples of charity communications – in crafting communications, campaigns or fundraising copy.

We hope that resource will be useful to a wide range of different charities. We carefully developed it through collaboration between two very different organisations: WWF (a conservation charity) and Scope (a disability rights charity). The principles that we develop are equally applicable across a wide range of different causes!

Do let us know:

  • what you think of this new resource
  • if you need help applying these principles to a particular communications challenge that you confront
  • if you would like to collaborate in further extending this stream of work, or in testing it in new contexts
  • if you would like us to send you hard copies of the book (these are free, though we ask for a contribution to the costs of postage)


Tom CromptonThe Common Cause Communication Toolkit
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Framing farming

In this guest blog, communications scholar and animal activist Carrie P. Freeman writes about framing veganism — and her new book. 


In deciding which appeal to use in their campaigns to end exploitation of nonhuman animals killed for food, the animal rights movement faces a significant framing challenge.

As a long time animal activist and communication scholar, when I was writing the book Framing Farming: Communication Strategies for Animal Rights, I wondered, how could animal rights activists speak authentically to promote animal rights ideas and values when attempting to persuade meat-lovers to stop eating animals?

I argue that this isn’t fully accomplished by the movement’s common focus on the grotesque suffering caused by factory farming, which is largely an appeal to widely-held beliefs in animal welfare and the wholesomeness of ‘family farming’. This isn’t necessarily transforming society’s beliefs about the place of nonhuman animals in the world (we need to be anti-exploitation not just anti-industrial).

By contrast, some argue that “go veg” messages should take a more expedient approach of primarily appealing to people’s self-interested health concerns against cholesterol, toxins, disease, or pollution caused by agribusiness, hoping any behavioral changes toward eating more vegan foods (even for self-centered reasons) will eventually open people’s minds to seeing animals differently.

Contributing to classic framing debates faced by all social movements, Framing Farming examines the animal rights movement’s struggles over whether to construct farming campaign messages based more on utility (emphasizing animal welfare, farming reform, dietary meat reduction, and human self-interest) or ideology (emphasizing animal rights and ecological ethics and a belief in abolition of enslavement). I prioritize the latter, “ideological authenticity,” to promote a needed transformation in worldviews and human animal identity, not just behaviors (See Crompton & Kasser’s book). This would mean framing “go veg” messages not only around compassion, but also around principles of justice, liberty, and ecology, reframing these values less anthropocentrically, to convince people that “it’s not fair to farm anyone” (with nonhuman animals included as someone).

For example:

  • In problematising the unsustainability of animal agribusiness and commercial fishing, animal activists should highlight how it is unfair to wildlife (free animals), killing them, polluting their habitats, and using an excessive amount of the shared resources (like land and water) that many living beings need. This altruistic, biocentric appeal highlights sharing and is preferred to talking about environmental pollution primarily in terms of human interests, such as making appeals to “our clean water” or our risk of mercury contamination from eating fish.
  • To do the hard but necessary work of challenging speciesist discrimination and the human/animal dualism, animal activists should remind us that we too are animals (to include them in our ingroup). For example, “we animals are more than just protein.”

In the book, I not only describe what 21st Century animal rights campaigns are communicating and why leaders make these strategic choices, I also prescribe recommendations for values they should communicate to remain culturally resonant while promoting needed long-term social transformation in human identity away from the instrumental viewing of others as resources. Because ‘no cause is an island,’ this helps the animal rights movement contribute to the larger connected goals of all causes – respect for living beings.

Tom CromptonFraming farming
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Some psychological consequences of putting a price on nature

New research we’ve conducted provides further evidence that advancing the economic case for conservation is risky. It may undermine the foundations upon which deeper public concern about the environment will be built. 

We know that there are a range of problems with attempts to use estimates of the financial value of nature as a reason for conserving it. George Monbiot laid many of these out in his lecture at the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute last summer.

Common Cause highlights one reason that these attempts are particularly problematic (the one, incidentally, to which Monbiot also attaches the greatest importance in his lecture). It is this: the values which motivate concern about economic performance seem to be almost perfectly opposed to the values which motivate concern about the preservation of nature.

Engaging and strengthening concern about the economy seems to risk undermining concern for the preservation of nature – even where concern about the economy draws attention to the economic benefits of conserving nature.

This is a case that Common Cause has advanced for many years – Tim Kasser and I lay it out in full, in our book Meeting Environmental Challenges: The Role of Human Identity (see especially Section 4.2.1). There we cite Douglas McCauley, writing in Nature back in 2006:

[Conservationists] may believe that the best way to meaningfully engage policy-makers… is to translate the intrinsic value of nature into the language of economics. But this is patently untrue – akin to saying that the civil rights advocates would have been more effective if they provided economic justifications for racial integration.”(p.28)

Conservationists should take note: Martin Luther King had a dream, not a cost-benefit analysis.

Tom CromptonSome psychological consequences of putting a price on nature
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No Cause is an Island

A major new piece of research

Common Cause makes the case for a different approach to creating change.

Most current approaches to creating change focus on specific causes (for example, biodiversity conservation or international development; climate change or disability rights). They identify key interventions – changes in people’s behaviour, or policies for example – that will help to advance these causes. And then they promote these interventions.

Common Cause makes the case that this approach, important as it is, isn’t sufficient. We confront huge challenges. If we are to step up to addressing these, then our approaches need to add up to more than the sum of their parts.

We have built the case that we need also to look ‘across’ a wide range of causes. In this way we can identify the values that motivate people’s concern about these causes, and work to engage and strengthen them.

Common Cause has accumulated a large body of evidence for this approach. But much of this evidence comes from studies run by academics who don’t necessarily set out to address the specific challenges faced by charities. Often we hear from communicators and campaigners in charities that the material tested in these studies isn’t very ‘realistic’.

A new study

Today we’re publishing a new study, which we have been working on for many months. It combines the best of both worlds. On the one hand, we’ve worked on it with some of the world’s leading experts on values. On the other hand, we used it to test the effectiveness of material produced by staff in WWF (a conservation charity) and Scope (a disability charity). The study makes use of a large panel of nearly 14,000 people managed by the Institute of Development Studies in Brighton. Having read text describing the work of either WWF or Scope, in either intrinsic or extrinsic terms, we then asked people about their intention to help one or other of these charities – by donating money, volunteering, lobbying their MP, or joining a public meeting.

Here are some key findings, each of which I’ll be unpacking further in subsequent blogs.

Tom CromptonNo Cause is an Island
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The Conscience Industry:
Tom Crompton at TEDxExeter

Unlike Ed, my polystyrene alter ego, I found this TEDx thing pretty nerve-wracking. There’s a big digital clock at your feet that counts down your allotted time, and then starts flashing admonishment if you overrun. But though Ed may seem rather more chilled out than me, at least I’ve still got more hair than him.

Let me know what you think in the comments below…

Tom CromptonThe Conscience Industry:
Tom Crompton at TEDxExeter
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Leave Our Kids Alone

Yesterday saw the launch of the campaign Leave Our Kids Alone, with a letter in The Telegraph, and articles in the Daily Mail and The Guardian. This campaign grapples with what must surely be one of the most important common causes around which third sector organisations, irrespective of the issues upon which they work, should be galvanised: the problem of advertising aimed at our children.

Tom CromptonLeave Our Kids Alone
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Michael Sandel on “the corrosive effect of money”

We’ve drawn attention to the strong synergies between Common Cause and the work of Michael Sandel before. He’s in the UK (speaking at LSE) tomorrow, and I’ve just read his latest book – “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets”.

The arguments that Sandel develops in the book revolve importantly around the way in which charging for a good or service changes its nature. He writes:

“Standard economic reasoning assumes that commodifying a good – putting it up for sale – does not alter its character” (p.113).

And he then argues that this is far from the case – that, in many instances, creating a market for a good or service profoundly effects its character. For example, paying people to give blood changes the nature of blood-donation.

“As markets reach into spheres of life traditionally governed by nonmarket norms, the notion that markets don’t touch or taint the goods they exchange becomes increasingly implausible” (p.114).

In another example (one also mentioned in the Common Cause Handbook), Sandel cites a study of community attitudes to nuclear waste dumps in Switzerland, finding that offering citizens financial incentives for supporting the local siting of a dump erodes their support.

In discussing this further, he presents some insights which Common Cause has itself worked to highlight:

Tom CromptonMichael Sandel on “the corrosive effect of money”
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