My cause is your cause – Wedded to compassionate values for Australian marriage equality vote

This is a blog by Angela Rutterco-founder of Common Cause Australia and former Director of Engagement at the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Recently Australians were asked via a non-compulsory postal survey “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

This was an important moment for Australians to show that we are a society that holds compassion, equality, justice and love at its core. It was also an important moment for civil society organisations and institutions, such as the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), to demonstrate the society they stand for. ACF is a national environment organisation with a community of ½ million people who stand up, speak out and act for a world where nature thrives. It has done this for over 50 years through to this day. While ACF is an environment organisation its constitution expresses commitment to the values of equality for all. Marriage equality seen as “an issue” can appear unrelated to caring about nature, however both are deeply related to a compassionate society with values of equality, justice, community and nature. The case for recognising the interconnected impact of the practices of organisations has been well advanced by Common Cause. One organisation engaging compassionate values, irrespective of the organisation’s primary cause, strengthens all: my cause is your cause is our common cause.

Two weeks before the Marriage Equality survey closed ACF sent an email to their community. The email drew upon universalism & benevolence values through images and text evoking connection, unity & a world we are for. It was helpful, providing a link to find postal box locations for people who hadn’t posted their survey. It engaged a world of beauty, equality, social justice: for those who had posted their survey there was a social media shareable of an image of rainbow lorikeet birds with the words ‘love is love’. It quoted Martin Luther King Jr – “injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere”- reminding us no cause is an island. The email was from ACF’s President and CEO.

ACF received a big response. Across email and social media there were shares, comments and questions – with positive sentiment outweighing negative & questioning sentiment 2:1. This was a novel tactic from ACF, a more explicit explanation of the strategy may have reduced questioning and helped people to understand the common cause and motivation for a more compassionate world.

It was the largest response to any email previously sent by ACF, undoubtedly magnified by the high profile & engagement of the nation and the presence of the issue in everyday life. People were having conversations with family, friends and colleagues (have people received / posted their survey; views on voting); media channels were vigorously reporting on the issue & politicians commentating; posters were displayed by shopkeepers and institutions; campaign organisations and pollsters were putting out the latest predictions on the result along with other communications to encourage people to vote. Many, many other civil society organisations got behind the campaign, such as Cricket Australia, Fred Hollows Foundation and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

It highlighted a shared vision of equality, justice and compassion – whether played out in environmental, climate, racial, gender, economic or other realms – as a ‘common cause’ for all civil society and a way forward for future transformative campaigning.

And the national survey results themselves?
79% of eligible Australians voted. It was the highest participation rate for any issue put to the Australian public.
62% said ‘Yes’ to the question “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

If the survey was a referendum it would have easily achieved the ‘double majority’ to pass. Along with the national majority, every state and territory voted ‘Yes’.
If ‘Yes’ were a political party, it would have won with more votes than any party in a general election.
If ‘Yes’ formed government, it would have the strongest majority ever awarded by its citizens – winning 133 seats out of 150 and every Senate seat.

The vote for marriage equality was a heart-felt roar from Australians for love, equality and a compassionate society. It was also a show of what’s possible when organisations campaign for a common cause and the better angels of our nature.

Emily HowgateMy cause is your cause – Wedded to compassionate values for Australian marriage equality vote
read more

The agoras in our midst

This is a blog by Melissa HenryCommon Cause Foundation Director.

What is the role of arts and cultural organisations in society?

What can they do to engage communities and bring people together? What can they do to promote social justice and encourage action on climate change? What role can they play in building more compassionate and caring communities, and in inspiring volunteering and other civic participation?

Quite a lot, it turns out.

Whether a museum, a theatre, an arts centre or a gallery, arts and cultural organisations offer places and spaces that can reach out to, and attract people from, all parts of their communities. Almost uniquely in our hyper-connected world, where we can all too often live in virtual bubbles mixing and sharing with people we agree with, these organisations can create and curate physical space and host diverse gatherings of citizens – a 21st century agora, if you will.

And in their role as host is the opportunity to embrace, and work with, positive values and play a key role in building a community of engaged and active citizens. Why is this necessary? Our research has shown that most of us (74 per cent in the UK) attach greater importance to ‘compassionate’ values such as ‘broadmindedness’, ‘social justice’, ‘helpfulness’ and ‘honesty’ than to ‘self-interest’ values such as ‘wealth’, ‘public image’ and ‘success’. Yet 77 per cent of us believe that typical fellow citizens hold ‘self-interest’ values to be more important and ‘compassionate’ values to be less important than is actually the case.

In short, we underestimate each other. And this perception gap matters. Those of us who misjudge others in this way – the large majority of us, in other words – feel less connected to our communities and less concerned about social or environmental issues. We are also more likely to experience social alienation and we are less likely to be engaged in community activities, volunteering or voting.

Arts and cultural organisations have a particular opportunity to work with values and to contribute to closing this perception gap. Because of their ability to bring people together, places like museums can champion ‘compassionate’ values by providing opportunities for visitors to hear and see what matters most to fellow citizens. Through how they curate and programme events, they can stimulate a more open and explicit reflection and conversation about our shared values.

That’s why we’re delighted to have had the opportunity to work with Manchester Museum over the last year. Together we have developed practical and interesting ways of showing ‘compassionate’ values in action, of acting on the assumption that ‘compassionate’ values are more important to most people, and of facilitating visitors’ exploration of each other’s values.

Our learning from this project is now available in our Discover and Share Guide in which we explore ways to promote positive values in arts and cultural settings. And all that we have achieved with the museum has relevance to other settings. The more museums, businesses, universities, media outlets, councils, indeed all organisations, act on the basis that most of us prioritise ‘compassionate’ over ‘self-interest’ values, the more likely we are to build movements of people. In turn these citizens, in full knowledge of their shared ‘compassionate’ values, are likely to want, even demand, action to achieve a more inclusive, just and sustainable world.

You can find out more about the Common Cause Foundation team, and a short video on the opportunities for promoting positive values in arts and cultural settings, here. 

It’s incredibly valuable for us to hear how different people and organisations engage with the work of values. If you have any stories to share of how you’re enacting this work, or if you’d like to learn more about our insights or partnering with us, please get in touch. info[at]

Emily HowgateThe agoras in our midst
read more

Volunteering Values, community in a cultural setting

This is a blog by Shanna Lennon, who until recently was Common Cause Foundation Coordinator at Manchester Museum.

Volunteers are the beating heart of many organisations lucky enough to have them, and that’s no different at Manchester Museum.

Research conducted by Common Cause, tells us that we underestimate how widespread values like compassion, kindness and helpfulness are – and this inadvertently holds us all back from collectively addressing big social and environmental issues like inequality and climate change.

In partnership, Common Cause and Manchester Museum have used this insight to think more deeply about the Museum volunteers – all 200 of them. These are people who give their time day in and day out to help bring the Museum’s collection to life for so many different people – inside and outside of the Museum’s walls.

As part of Manchester Museum’s journey to become a Museum for Life – a civic organisation that contributes to a healthier, happier, fairer and more sustainable world – the Museum us looking for ways to promote their shared values and become a place where people can engage with what matters most. Raising the profile of the motivations that inspire people to volunteer, how volunteering makes them feel and the experiences they value, seemed a perfect place to start.

Manchester Museum began by holding the first ‘Volunteer Day’ during Volunteer Week 2017. This was a chance to showcase the large numbers of volunteers that are part of the Museum community and encourage them to share with visitors what motivated them to volunteer.

Volunteers were encouraged to tell their stories in creative ways, using collage to communicate their stories, creating a Zine to be featured in the Museums Study area with copies available for visitors and other volunteers. What volunteers shared was so poignant and resonant with the Museum’s vision of a Museum for Life that they worked with volunteers to produce posters, which are part the wider ‘Share the Love’ campaign that is aiming to use the space in the Museum to give voice to the shared values of the people of Manchester .

Now these posters part of the fabric of the Museum. This focus on shared values and promoting these is now also a firm part of the induction for all volunteers, where they are invited join the Museum community in being advocates for these values and to share with visitors how much they enjoy interacting with them and what they find rewarding about volunteering – from feedback, they definitely seem up for it!

Manchester Museum’s large community of volunteers, motivated by these ‘intrinsic’ values of care, compassion and curiosity, helps show visitors that these values are more widespread than they may believe, that they are valued by society and that the people we all interact with are likely to share the same values as ourselves. Redressing this misperception, as the research shows, is likely to contribute to the aim of Museum for Life, contributing to a healthier, happier, fairer and more sustainable future for us all.

As part of the #WeStandTogether campaign Manchester Evening News highlighted the  implications for this research and the parallel project at Manchester Museum at a wider city and societal level. As Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester Mayor, says “…while it’s clear that these are [caring] values we all share, our perceptions of each other are very different. We need to explore ways to bridge that gap, challenge these perceptions and believe in each other, so together we can build an even greater society.”

Common Cause Foundation and Manchester Museum are proud to be working in ways that are bridging the gap.
– What projects, partnerships and practices are you involved in that help us believe in each other, believe in something better?

Tell us what you’re doing – or if you are interested to engage more in work with us.
Twitter @valuesandframes


Emily HowgateVolunteering Values, community in a cultural setting
read more

Let’ celebrate the world’s 2.6 million co-ops

This is a guest blog by Ed Mayo, Secretary General, Co-operatives UK

There are around 2.6 million co-operative enterprises worldwide, with a combined membership of around one billion people.

The beauty of co-ops is that they have a global code of values and principles, so tend to be interested not just in business (as usual), but in re-imagining the economy to be fairer and more sustainable. The 1st July was the 95th annual International Day of Co-operatives, a global celebration of co-ops backed by the United Nations.

The theme of the 2017 International Day of Co-operatives was, fittingly, inclusion – that no-one is left behind. To achieve this theme across business and markets would go a long way towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations.

But do these values chime with people at large? Or are there in fact one billion hip and hippy entrepreneurial co-operators around the world, but no more than that one billion?

To answer this, we teamed up with the values experts, Common Cause Foundation. It turns out that the global code of values for co-operatives maps relatively straightforwardly onto the well-established values framework developed by Professor Shalom Schwartz and used as a basis for values surveys the world over. Above all, they line up behind the two key dimensions of ‘universalism’ and ‘benevolence’.

With this, we were able to interrogate the European and World Values Surveys and look at the prevalence of co-operative values worldwide. By comparing results for countries, subtracting for each a balancing factor of the more individual dimensions of ‘power’ and ‘achievement’, we could derive a Co-operative Values Index.

You can read the report for the full analysis, of course, but here is my interpretation…

The first and most important finding was that in all but one country of the 88 that we had data for, people ranked the values of co-operation higher than those of individual power and achievement.

The second was that there are a number of countries that have very high pro-co-operative values and, no surprise perhaps, these are countries with longstanding and proud traditions of co-operative enterprise.

Brazil ranks as the most co-operative nation on Earth. That fits. The country has two and a half times as many member owners of co-ops than it does shareholders in listed firms. One of the most inspiring health co-operatives in the world, Unimed, is Brazilian. Its work to extend healthcare across the country is an emblematic example of enterprise and inclusion.

Norway ranks second. Again, that fits well. I shared this news with my counterpart in Norway, May Woldsnes, and her response was to point to the characteristic Norwegian joke of co-operation and competition – that it doesn’t matter who wins… as long as Norway comes ahead of Sweden!

There is a wonderful short video released, with a similar dash of humour, by Coop Norway, which tells the story of how some Sharing Economy geeks reinvent the co-operative. They travel to Norway, one of the world’s richest country by GDP per capita, to test how the idea of an open access, member owned business, sharing profits and ownership would work. When they arrive, they find ‘Co-op’ signs everywhere and assume someone has stolen their brand new idea!

However, we also know from the work of the Common Cause Foundation that there is a paradox at work, which is that most people think that they themselves are more co-operative and others are less co-operatives minded. The scope for increasing co-operation in practice is therefore considerable, if the public realm of media and marketing held up were a less bleak and narrowly individualistic mirror for us to look into.

The United Nations International Day of Co-operatives, like our #coopstories campaign for Co-operatives Fortnight which culminates on the International Day, can be part of that effort.

Co-ops are the only businesses and the only business model to be back by the United Nations. According to the data on trust from GlobeScan, the United Nations is more trusted worldwide than religions and faiths – even in the USA. It is more trusted than the world of music and film. The United Nations is our celebrity backer.

In recent years, we have seen efforts to link up co-operatives across the world, through the International Co-operative Alliance. In Delhi, co-operators came together. In Germany, the consumer genossenschaften met to celebrate. In Cameroon, there was a poster campaign reaching thousands. Co-ops celebrated in Columbia, Malaysia, Spain…

Values can come off the page. I charted in an article for the Equality Trust the close connection between regions with a high penetration of co-operatives and the levels of relative equality compared to elsewhere.

My conclusion is that we should recognise and celebrate the extent to which we live in a co-operative world. For a day, we can set aside competition, power and status and learn from that for every other day.

Read the full International Prevalence of Co-operative Values report here.


Tom CromptonLet’ celebrate the world’s 2.6 million co-ops
read more

Why direct democracy needs to be part of progressive wellbeing politics

This is a guest blog by Eivind Hoff-Elimari who is a special advisor at the Research Council of Norway in charge of climate-related research in the social sciences and humanities and author of a book published under the Norwegian title Gull eller grønne skoger? Politikk for det gode liv (Res Publica, 2016). Eivind has a background as an environmental lobbyist in Brussels for WWF and for The Bellona Foundation.

Higher wellbeing is embraced by researchers and politicians as a better goal for society than GDP growth. Until now, it has been mainly centre-right governments that have pushed this agenda in Europe – from Nicolas Sarkozy to David Cameron and Angela Merkel. The United Arab Emirates recently appointed a “happiness minister”. Is “wellbeing” used as a new goal to make people forget about injustice and inequalities?

Jon Cruddas MP chaired the UK Labour party’s internal policy review ahead of the 2015 elections. He has no doubt that well-being will play a larger role in politics – and can be used by both the right and the left.

“I would give credit to David Cameron for putting wellbeing on the political agenda in the UK. The Conservatives grabbed it partly to decontaminate their own brand and brought it into government offices in 2010. We on the left have been lagging behind. We must catch-up, because talk about wellbeing provides a deeper texture to the debate about equality and justice. It is not just about economics, it is also about mental health, access to justice or simply having a voice in democracy” he told me in an interview.

A wellbeing agenda can obviously be captured by ideas reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The Legatum Institute’s 2014 report “Wellbeing and policy” emphasizes the availability of psychological treatment as a policy priority – not the fight against economic inequality.

Yet, enhancing wellbeing offers a better avenue for environmental and social progress, at least in affluent societies, than the goal of economic growth simply because (i) wellbeing can be more directly linked to social progress and (ii) there is far more empirical evidence for absolute decoupling of wellbeing growth from ecological footprints than for decoupling of GDP growth from such footprints.

To avoid a “Brave New World capture” of wellbeing, one comes a long way by keeping in mind the three dimensions of subjective wellbeing recommended by the OECD: Life evaluation (often measured through questions on life satisfaction), affect (“happiness”) and eudaimonia (“meaning in life”).

In affluent societies, life evaluation and eudaimonia are both positively correlated with pro-social values (such as universalism, benevolence and self-direction in Schwartz’ value typology). As recent work by Common Cause Foundation also finds, life evaluation is also correlated with a more accurate grasp of other people’s value priorities.

This is why we should use pro-social values as a compass to steer a wellbeing policy agenda: The content and framing of policies should reflect pro-social values: building on the priority that most people already place on these values, re-affirming this priority, and conveying a wider appreciation of the importance that typical fellow-citizens place on them

In practice, there are two answers on how to design such a policy agenda.

First, a focus on content: for example, greater economic equality, better public health services available to all, shortening normal working hours, constraining advertising or clamping down on consumption loans.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, there is an answer that lies in policy process: A wellbeing policy agenda must be based on a strengthening of democracy. In post-war Western Europe, large political projects mobilised people broadly – such as public health services, sanitation and education. Though GDP growth resulted from this, the pursuit of economic growth was not the driving force behind such public policies. Better lives were. Yet, since the 1960s we have not managed to identify political projects that mobilize people broadly enough, whilst an economic surplus can always be bigger. Thus, the political vacuum of affluent societies is increasingly filled by “economism”, with GDP growth as the overall guiding star. To fill this vacuum with something else, we need encouragement to reflect more about where we want society to go.

Convenience and market forces can take us to the supermarket several times a week, where we naturally act as consumers. We are less often reminded to act as citizens – most of us only at elections. Thus, a more participatory democracy should be part and parcel of a wellbeing policy agenda: We need to find ways of deepening people’s participation – for example through referenda designed to make clear and informed choices, more participatory budgeting, or the drawing-of-lots to appoint people to public offices.

But what if people vote, for example, for building new roads, rather than protecting green space?

Generally, this is not what happens. In participatory budgeting around the world, projects that make urban spaces greener and more human typically win – not new parking lots. Binding results of Switzerland’s popular initiative referenda include large railway investments to reduce road traffic and curbs on executive pay.

I believe that as public participation in decision-making deepens, public commitment to social and environmental policies strengthens. Perhaps part of the reason that a majority of people in the UK voted for Brexit was precisely because – particularly in a first-past-the-post political system – people protested against the difficulties of making their voices heard. Those disappointed by the recent rise of populist politics in the US, UK and elsewhere, should see the lesson as being the need to widen opportunities for direct and participatory democracy – not restrict them.

Picture: Citizens queue to participate in a referendum in Grenoble. Credit: City of Grenoble.


Tom CromptonWhy direct democracy needs to be part of progressive wellbeing politics
read more

The UK election: a triumph of values over perception?

Much of our work over the last couple of years has focused on the likely consequences of the ‘perception gap’. Most people (85% of citizens in Greater Manchester, for example) place more importance on ‘compassionate’ values of community, social justice and equality than they do on values of wealth, success or social status. But it’s also the case that most people (75% across Greater Manchester) underestimate the importance that others place on these values. Our work finds that this ‘perception gap’ is greatest among people who self-identify as ‘liberals’.

It seems that the ‘perception gap’ is related to many different outcomes – people’s well-being, their feelings of connection to community, and their concern about social and environmental issues. We have also repeatedly found that people who hold less accurate perceptions of what matters to a typical fellow citizen are less likely to vote.

One key factor in shaping the outcome of the recent UK General Election seems to have been an increase in voter turn-out.

Why might this increase have arisen?

There are many things that may influence whether people vote. But perhaps one important factor is a tension between people’s own values and their perceptions of others’ values.

A typical person’s own ‘compassionate’ values may motivate them to vote for whichever party they feel is most likely to promote social justice, equality, environmental protection and strong communities; while that same person’s perception of what matters to others may hold them back from voting at all. And remember, this ‘perception gap’ is particularly large among people who identify themselves as ‘liberal’ as opposed to ‘conservative’.

The dramatic increase in support for the Labour Party in the few weeks running up to the election did not, in all likelihood, arise because people came to attach greater importance to social justice or equality over the course of the campaign. That kind of shift doesn’t happen quickly.

But the ‘perception gap’ could be closed quickly. Perhaps, in part, what we saw in the few weeks running up to the election were the effects of people coming to realise that others held these concerns to be more important than they had hitherto thought. This realisation may have been helped by the reduced influence of newspapers, many of which seem to promote the erroneous perception that people care most about themselves.

At one level, this is simply to restate that success begets success: that is, as support for the Labour Party was seen to grow, it was likely to grow further. But if I am right that shifting understandings of what others care about played a part here, then there’s a consequence of practical importance.

The suggestion, voiced by many Conservatives since the election, that their party lost support because their manifesto didn’t make much of a “retail offer” conveys an understanding that the question uppermost in most voters’ minds must be: “What’s in it for me?”

This very suggestion is likely to widen the ‘perception gap’ – eroding people’s motivation to vote (especially among people who identify themselves as ‘liberal’).

If they are to build further on their growing public support, the Labour Party would do well to frame their success as arising not because they spoke to people’s self-interest, but because they connected with people’s concern for one another.

This framing, if adopted by any political party, but especially if adopted by political parties that appeal to ‘liberal’ voters, could be of great help in closing the ‘perception gap’ and engaging even more citizens in civic life.

(Cartoon by Bec Sanderson)

Tom CromptonThe UK election: a triumph of values over perception?
read more

Values at City Hall

With a month to go before mayoral elections in England, there is one overarching question that voters can ask of their mayoral candidates: will they organise their work around the values that citizens in these cities and city-regions hold to be most important, and will they do so explicitly – testifying publicly to the shared importance of these values?

Climate campaigners and communicators wring their hands at the fickleness of public debate on climate change: a debate does not seem to be in any way proportionate to the scale of the challenge that climate change presents, or the gravity of its consequences.

Faced with this frustration, one response is to try to link climate change more firmly to other more salient aspects of the news agenda – for example, immigration, security or economic growth.

On the face of it, this seems like a sensible approach. If, for example, people don’t seem to care (much) about climate change, but care deeply about the economy, why not focus on the potential economic benefits of a vibrant renewables sector?

But the continued failure of this approach, now over many years, suggests that it may be misguided.

It is an approach that seeks to build concern about policy areas while showing little understanding of the underlying values that drive public appetite and demand for policy change.

Values are not rooted in policy debate: they are structured very differently. Debate about policy may cut across many conflicting values, while commitment to the same coherent set of values may underpin public support for seemingly unrelated policy interventions.

Policy areas – like national security, immigration, climate change, public health care or economic competitiveness – are largely discreet. Public debate on these issues is led by experts with different areas of specialism.

These experts sit in different academic disciplines, in different government departments, in different (often competing) charities, or at different editorial desks. To be sure, links can be made between different policy areas. But where this is done, these links are material. Think of the debate about the impact of immigration on national security, or the intersection between economic competitiveness and public revenues for public health provision.

Unfortunately, most policy debate is structured in ways that fail to grasp the psychological factors that are of critical importance in shaping public support for action in these areas: people’s values.

People’s values are often blind to policy areas. In our work, we have shown that public support for conservation action may be built as effectively by communicating about disability rights as by communicating about biodiversity loss: if the values are right. If the values are wrong, then communication in one sphere is found to undermine public support for action in the other.

Crucially, it seems that the actual issues don’t seem to much matter – what matters are the values that are invoked in debate about these issues.

These insights present a crucial challenge to the way in which public debate around social and environmental issues is conducted. It suggests that the work of, say, a government department focused on child poverty may be as important in influencing public support for ambitious action on climate change as the work of, say, a charity working specifically on climate change. Even where that government department makes no mention of climate change.

Of course, these inter-dependencies are already operating – often unseen, and usually in an unhelpful direction.

So, today’s dominant narrative thread, running throughout public policy debate and focused on wealth creation and economic competitiveness engages specific values. These are values which, as demonstrated by study after study, are diametrically opposed to public expression of concern about challenges such as climate change.

The psychological evidence seems clear: systemic public support for serious action on climate change will be predicated on different values.

These will be values of community, social justice, friendship and helpfulness. And they are values that can be placed at the forefront of public policy making.  Indeed, there is a clear mandate for this because these are the values that a large majority of people hold to be most important – though, tragically, most of us underestimate the importance that a typical fellow citizen places on these values.

Though difficult, it will be necessary to effect such change at a national level. But at a local level it is perhaps more foreseeable. This is why we are working in Bristol and Greater Manchester in the UK: seeking to help place these values, and awareness of the importance that citizens place on them, at the forefront of regional public debate.

There is a single overriding commitment that mayoral candidates in the upcoming elections across England next month should make, and that we can encourage them to make at their hustings. It is this: to begin to organise their work around those values that the citizens in these cities and regions hold to be most important, and to do so explicitly – testifying publicly to the shared importance of these values.

Tom CromptonValues at City Hall
read more

International Day of Happiness

In 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which recognised happiness as a “fundamental human goal.” The following year the International Day of Happiness was born and from 2013 onwards it’s been celebrated every year on the 20th March.

Unsurprisingly it’s got us all talking about how we can be happier, individually and as a society

This year the UK has been ranked 19th with countries such as the US, Germany, Ireland and Israel ranking higher. The author of the World Happiness Report, Jeffrey Sachs commented that “The predominant political discourse in the United States is aimed at raising economic growth, with the goal of restoring the American Dream and the happiness that is supposed to accompany it. But the data show conclusively that this is the wrong approach.”

The report highlights that much more research is needed to understand the interplay of factors that determine the social foundations of happiness and consider alternative ways of improving those foundations. Here at Common Cause Foundation we know that values are crucial to the well-being of society and influence wellbeing, civic engagement and peoples feelings of social alienation.

Values are the guiding principles we hold in life, most people hold compassionate values to be most important, these are values such as broadmindedness, social justice, helpfulness, forgiveness and love. When these values are ‘engaged,’ brought to mind by certain communications or experiences, this tends to affect our attitudes and behaviours in positive pro-social ways. For instance, we are more likely to respond positively to requests for help or donations.[1]

Unfortunately there is a disparity between the values that people themselves prioritise and the values they believe their fellow citizens hold to be most important. Most people believe that others care most about self-enhancement values such as wealth, social status, dominance and popularity. It’s not difficult in the current climate to think of examples of why people may believe this to be true.

When we’re talking about happiness this perceptions gap becomes more than just interesting – it becomes crucial to our understanding of happiness. The more we underestimate the importance that others place on compassionate values, the less inclined we are to volunteer, the less responsible we feel for our communities, and the more socially alienated we are likely to feel. This suggests that this perceptions gap could be in part responsible for our constant search for happiness.

The report concludes that ‘changing the focus from the material to the social foundations of happiness will improve the rate at which lives can be sustainably improved for all, throughout the world and across generations.’

The work of Tim Kasser, professor of psychology at Knox College (Illinois) and a great help in developing the Common Cause work, agrees with this conclusion.

Tim discusses how America’s culture of consumerism undermines our well-being. When people buy into the ever-present marketing messages that “the good life” is “the goods life,” they not only use up Earth’s limited resources, but they are less happy and less inclined toward helping others.

Our social institutions have a part to play in this. Most people said that schools universities, the media, businesses, government and cultural institutions do little to encourage compassionate values. By working to stimulate and engage compassionate values of the communities and audiences they engage with, these institutions can work together to counteract this misconception. Ultimately helping to create a society that is more aware of what they have in common, come to rely on their fellow citizens and be more civically active, connected to their community, less socially isolated and ultimately… happier.

Check out how Common Cause Foundation are working with Manchester Museum and the work that’s already under-way there.

[1] Maio, G.R., Pakizeh, A., Cheung, W.Y. and Rees, K.J. (2009). Changing, priming, and acting on values: effects via motivational relations in a circular model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97 (4), 699–715; Burgoyne, C.B. and Lea, S.E.G. (2006). Money is material. Science, 314 (5802), 1091–1092; Vohs, K.D., Mead, N.L. and Goode, M.R. (2006). The psychological consequences of money, Science, 314 (5802), 1154–1156.

Shanna LennonInternational Day of Happiness
read more

Values to help heal our Brexit divisions

Tom Crompton & Paul Hanel

An understanding of values could help to heal the divisions that have been deepened by the EU Referendum, pointing to a crucial role for our cultural organisations.

Working at the University of Bath, one of us (Paul) has studied values data from across the European Union and has found that people who attach importance to the group of values called “Security” are likely to be the least trustful of the European Union.

Here concern for “Security” is defined as “safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self”. The group includes values such as “national security” and “social order” but also “family security” and “cleanliness”.

Figure 1 shows the values of a demographically representative sample of a thousand UK citizens (based on a survey that Common Cause Foundation commissioned in 2015). High numbers of us prioritise “Security”: indeed, it is the second most highly prioritised value across the UK.

Figure 1: UK citizens’ own values


But there is another value group, which is even more widely prioritised than “Security”, and which seems to be unrelated to feelings of trust for the European Union. This is the group “Benevolence”.  “Benevolence” is defined as “preservation and enhancement of the welfare of people with whom one is in frequent personal contact”. These are the values which are most widely prioritised across the UK. But Paul found that the importance that we place on “Benevolence” values is of no help in predicting the level of trust that we feel towards the European Union.

Our survey also found that, across the UK, we seem to have a relatively accurate perception of the importance that fellow citizens place on “Security” values – correctly perceiving that these values are widely prioritised. But, crucially, this research has also shown that we in the UK typically underestimate the importance that our fellow citizens place on “Benevolence” values.

Look at Figure 2. The blue line shows an average UK citizen’s value priorities; the orange line shows our average perceptions about a typical fellow citizen’s values. We typically underestimate the importance that fellow citizens place on “Benevolence” values. But we hold relatively accurate perceptions of the importance a typical fellow citizen places on “Security” values.

Figure 2: UK citizens’ own values and perceptions of others’ values


In other words, there is an opportunity to deepen our appreciation of the values that we share, irrespective of our attitudes towards Europe.

One way to begin to heal the divisions that the EU referendum has created may therefore be by working to convey a deeper appreciation of the high importance that most of us place on shared “Benevolence” values, regardless of how we voted in the referendum.

At a workshop earlier this month, organised by Happy Museum and held at Derby Museum, representatives from many different museums came together to explore the role of the cultural sector in helping to heal the divisions created by the Brexit vote.

A key focus emerging from the workshop was the potential for cultural organisations to amplify and reflect common values, particularly around “Benevolence”, as a way of opening dialogue and building understanding.

Encouragingly, research that Shanna Lennon, Common Cause Foundation Co-coordinator at Manchester Museum, recently conducted shows that visitors who left Manchester Museum feeling that their visit had encouraged “Benevolence” values were also more likely to leave saying that they felt a responsibility to become involved in their community, to support action on climate change, and that their visit had contributed to their well-being.

Such insights are not, alone, conclusive. But they suggest that, by becoming aware of the values they model, and that their visitors hold to be most important, the UK’s 2,500 museums could play a crucial role in nurturing community cohesion and healing social division.

Dr Paul Hanel is a post-doctoral research assistant with particular interest in human values, cross-cultural research and statistics. He is at the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, UK.

 Featured image: The Great North Run, copyright Peter McDermott, Creative Commons

Tom CromptonValues to help heal our Brexit divisions
read more

Values work begins in a ‘big’ way at Manchester Museum

You may have seen in our previous blog post that Common Cause Foundation are working at Manchester Museum on a programme of work to explore how the museum can convey a deeper appreciation of the values that most people in Greater Manchester share. I’m pleased to say that last month we kicked off our work in a ‘big’ way with a Big Saturday at Manchester Museum!

Building on insights from the social psychology of values, Common Cause Foundation is helping the Museum to become a ‘museum for life’: a museum which promotes strong communities, encourages people to take action in their own lives, and contributes to the wellbeing of their visitors.

Research published by Common Cause Foundation last year found that over three quarters of people in the UK underestimate the importance that our fellow-citizens place on values such as friendship, helpfulness, social justice and broadmindedness (what could be referred to as compassion values). This is likely to be important, because the more we underestimate the importance that others place on these values, the less likely we are to vote, the less inclined we are to volunteer, the less responsible we feel for our communities, and the more socially alienated we are likely to feel.

A museum could help to prompt people to reflect on what they values in life, and to convey an appreciation of the widespread concern that is placed on compassionate values. In a survey of Museum visitors conducted in December 2016, we found that people who felt their visit to the Museum engaged compassionate values were likely to report greater support for action on climate change, greater commitment to community involvement, and greater wellbeing.

North West Stroke Association Choir and visitors sing together in Manchester Museum’s Living Worlds gallery

Every third Saturday of the month Manchester Museum hosts, a day full of family activities focusing on a specific theme or topic; we used this to pilot activities that could support the Museum to communicate a more accurate understanding of what others actually value, and over a thousand visitors joined us on the day.

One example of the many activities designed to engage visitors in meaningful conversations about what matters most to them was the ‘Big Conversation’.

Artists captured the conversations as they went on throughout the day and produced this fantastic snapshot of what matters most to the people involved

At least 125 visitors, staff and volunteers took part in the Big Conversation, a long conversation relay encouraging people to share what they love and valued about life with someone they’d never met before. This idea was borrowed from the fabulous People United, an organisation whose belief that ‘being kind to one another is fundamental to making the world a better place’ really aligns with the work of Common Cause Foundation and the Museum’s aspiration to be a ‘Museum for Life’. This was all about being open to connecting with someone you don’t know and the joy of finding that spark of commonality. Snippets of these conversations were all captured in this beautiful piece of art and as you can see values such as love, family, friendship, freedom and solidarity all feature.

Amy, who was facilitating this activity, said: ‘People often looked nervous about speaking to a stranger, but then looked so happy and relaxed once they made that connection’. At least one initially reluctant participant subsequently thanked Amy for encouraging her to get involved.

Families sharing how they make people welcome as part of the World Welcome activity

There were many more fantastic activities; each creating an opportunity for the Museum to show that it is a place where values such as compassion, kindness and care are widely held to be the most important, and can be celebrated. The day was also a chance for our visitors to share what they value most with others – be it their families, our staff, our volunteers or other visitors.

When asked if Museums should be celebrating and championing compassionate values, one visitor said:

‘I think it’s very important, especially for children nowadays. I think it’s very important to try and promote things like this because it’s the basic qualities we all need to have. I found this truly amazing, a wonderful way of sharing that message – and very interactive as well’

In terms of how this Big Saturday felt for the Museum one member of staff said: ‘The overall atmosphere was great. It felt like something new and fresh for the museum.’

And one of the museum’s many volunteers said:

‘It’s lovely to come into a ‘building’ where the emphasis is on friendliness, kindness and sharing – it’s refreshing to come into a positive environment basically.’

You can find out more about some of the activities we piloted on the day:

On the Museum’s visitor team blog

On the Museum’s dedicated Courtyard Project blog

On Twitter at hashtag #Peopleofmcrmuseum or #MyMcrMuseum

By getting in touch with Shanna Lennon, Common Cause Co-ordinator at Manchester Museum

Watch this space for upcoming video from of the day

Shanna LennonValues work begins in a ‘big’ way at Manchester Museum
read more