November 9, 2020No Comments

We’re recruiting!

Common Cause Foundation (CCF) creates public momentum for systemic social and environmental change by building on the psychology of shared cultural values.

We are looking to recruit a new member to the Common Cause team to help us build on recent successes and expand our work to strengthen shared cultural values across society. We’re looking for someone with interesting experience and insight, but most importantly we’re after someone who is convinced that the best way to meet today’s profound social and environmental challenges is by working with the compassion and connection that most people feel for one another, for other living things and for the natural systems we are a part of.

Because we’re a very small organisation (currently just two other part-time staff members) we can think creatively about shaping this role to suit the skills and motivations of the person excited to work with us. We expect this role to be 3 days a week, but if you’d prefer a different arrangement don’t let that put you off applying.

If you have skills and experience in one or more of the below areas, we’d love to hear from you:

  • Building networks
  • Supporting learning
  • Delivering compelling communications
  • Delivering on fundraising strategies
  • Assessing the impact of systemic change projects
  • Managing and administering a small not-for-profit

Click here to read more about the opportunity and how to apply here.

The application deadline is 9am on 23rd November, with interviews planned for the week starting the 30th November.


Photo by Sean Stratton on Unsplash

July 23, 2020No Comments

From neighbourliness to social justice

Most people prioritize concern for their friends, family and community

At Common Cause Foundation, we draw attention to the love and concern that most of us express for our families, friends and communities - in other words, people with whom we are in frequent contact. The Schwartz model of values, which we draw on extensively, defines a group of Benevolence values which includes items such as “true friendship”, “helpfulness”, “honesty”, “forgiveness”, “loyalty”. Values in this group are held to be very important for people across almost all countries for which we have data. 

Following the Schwartz model, people’s values are structured - that is, there are compatibilities and tensions between different groups of values, and these relationships can be shown spatially on maps (see below). Values which are plotted close to one another on the map are more likely to be prioritised by someone at the same time, whereas those that are more distant from one another are less easily held to be simultaneously important. While this basic set of relationships between different value groups has been found to hold across many countries, in both the Global North and the Global South, there are important omissions - for example, to our knowledge the model has not been tested with indigenous communities.

schwartz spatial

Schwartz Value Map


For those many cultures in which the model seems to be useful as a way of exploring the relationships between people’s values, the group of Benevolence values is flanked (moving clockwise in the map below) by Tradition and Conformity values, and on the other side (moving anticlockwise) by Universalism values. 

This reflects the relative compatibility between these groups of values. Academic researchers use the rather unappealing term “bleedover” to describe this compatibility. Experiments - including ones we have run ourselves - find that by drawing attention (even implicitly) to values in one group, people come to attach greater importance to values in the adjacent groups. 

Schwartz defines Tradition values as “respect, commitment and acceptance of the customs and ideas that traditional culture or religion provide the self”, and Conformity values as “restraint of actions, inclination and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms”. It seems intuitive (from my cultural perspective at least) that values items such as “loyalty” (“faithful to my friends, group”) and “responsibility” (“dependable, reliable”) at the clockwise edge of the Benevolence group would be associated with Tradition and Conformity defined in these ways. 

On the opposite side of the Benevolence group, Schwartz defines Universalism values as “understanding, appreciation, tolerance and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature”. Here a person’s concern for their “in-group” bleeds out into wider concern for an “out-group”. One might imagine a continuum, from concern for my friends and family, my community, people more generally, and other species. 

In essence, this implies that those Benevolence values (concern for the welfare of our “in-group”) can pivot in one of two directions. In one direction a person’s sense of their “in-group” softens and enlarges; in the other it hardens and becomes more clearly defined with respect to “others”. 

We call this the Benevolence pivot. Benevolence values can pivot anticlockwise, towards Universalism values. In this case, a person’s sense of their “in group” enlarges and they are likely to express deepened concern for the wellbeing of people who are different to them, or other living beings. Or, alternatively, Benevolence values can pivot toward Tradition and Conformity values. In this case a person feels a heightened sense of the importance of delineating their “in-group” by asserting defining traditions and customs. Moving further clockwise, these Tradition and Conformity values bleed over into a feeling that one’s in-group must be protected from out-groups - and hence Security values. 

The Benevolence pivot, then, is potentially of great political significance. It provides a framework by which socially conservative politicians can build on the Benevolence values that most of us prioritise, into Tradition, Conformity and Security values. Socially liberal politicians, on the other hand, have the opportunity to build anticlockwise from Benevolence into Universalism values.

The Clockwise Pivot

Interest groups which work to deflect public expressions of concern about global social or environmental problems often work to drive public debate clockwise from Benevolence values. 

Consider press coverage or political debate arguing that migrants are likely to take local people’s jobs, local kids’ school places, or increase pressure on local health services, and that migrants present a threat to (for example) “British values”, customs and ways of life.

Such arguments have the effect of deepening an association between Benevolence and Tradition values, and driving a wedge between Benevolence and Universalism values. It is a short step from here into the Security group and heightened support for social order and national security to enforce these “ways of life”. 

Wielding an understanding of values in this way, a person’s concern for the welfare of members of their immediate community may actually become a means to undermine their concern for the welfare of other people, who they are now encouraged to see as part of an out-group, and a potential threat.

Clearly this is a move that’s seen in a great deal of contemporary political debate. For example, racism is fuelled by deliberate strategies to drive a wedge between white working class people and working class people of colour: two groups who may otherwise be expected to establish a strong sense of solidarity. Or climate action is opposed on the grounds that our communities will suffer economically if we take meaningful action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

A fisherman stands in yellow overalls by a harbour holding a rope in one hand and fish in the other. Next to his head reads the words ‘Gutted: Tony’s business has been ripped apart by the EU”. The right hand side of the image shows UKIP’s logo and the slogan “Only one party will stand up for you”.

A poster produced by the UK Independence Party, which campaigns against immigration, appeals to Benevolence values. It features a seemingly avuncular and artisanal fisherman, with coiled rope and one small fish, standing on an ancient quay. The image invokes family, community and traditional ways of life.

The anticlockwise pivot

People working for social and environmental justice aren’t usually very good at working in awareness of the connection between different groups of values. At their worst, social and environmental campaigns may retreat from connecting with either Benevolence or Universalism values, seeking to reframe social and environmental imperatives in terms of economics. Here communications connect with Power values on the opposite side of the values map: values which are actively antagonistic to social and environmental concern.

But even when social and environmental campaigns avoid this trap, they are often still not very effective at building upon the natural resonance between Benevolence and Universalism values. Rather, they often overlook Benevolence values and jump straight to Universalism values, asserting the moral imperative to address social and environmental injustices, while failing to build out from people’s concern for their friends, family and communities. 

Why should the move from Benevolence to Universalism values apparently prove to be so difficult for so many social and environmental campaigners? 

One explanation is that campaigners have come to mistrust Benevolence values precisely because these values have so often been successfully wielded by their political opponents. I remember, when working for mainstream environmental NGOs, the derision that was often reserved for people who campaigned about dog muck on pavements - as though anyone expressing concern about an issue as parochial as this couldn’t possibly be moved by ‘real’ environmental threats such as climate change. 

Here’s a second possible explanation. Most people, regardless of political orientation, tend to underestimate the importance that our fellow citizens place on Benevolence values. But this misperception is particularly pronounced among people who self-identify as socially liberal. If a typical environmental campaigner self-identifies as socially liberal, then he or she is also more likely to mistakenly believe that an ‘average person’ privileges concern about money and public image above community. Why, given this misperception, would such a campaigner seek to forge a connection between community and a global environmental threat?

Whatever the reason for this oversight, it is possible to “bridge” from Benevolence to Universalism values. Doing so can generate moving and resonant communications – testimony to the compatibility of these two value groups. See, for example, this powerful video produced by People Like Us and Mums 4 Refugees in Australia. The video begins by connecting with Benevolence values (the love and appreciation that most of us feel towards our mothers) and then pivots toward Universalism values (empathy for refugees and asylum seekers held in detention centres).


Keyboards have been worn out writing about the outpouring of community concern and neighbourliness that we are seeing during the coronavirus pandemic. 

How does this map onto the Benevolence and Universalism values groups?

A great deal of this compassionate response seems to be motivated by Benevolence values – care for our loved ones, the vulnerable in our communities, and the frontline workers who are working to protect us, our families and our friends. 

Covid-19 Face Mask Graffiti, Unsplash.

The point at which these Benevolence values have begun to “bleed over” into Universalism values is often the point where the debate - at least here in the UK - has become more contested. A xenophobic and nationalist government can only survive if it is successful in establishing and maintaining this split, and the UK government has risked a great deal of political capital in trying to hold these two groups of values apart. It is not a natural split – it requires an ongoing investment of energy by government spokespeople and sympathetic media in order to maintain it.

Consider, for example, the NHS’s reliance upon migrant staff. Here’s a point at which our Benevolence values (concern for those in our communities who are sick) become aligned with Universalism values (concern for the welfare of migrants). In a particularly conspicuous failure to read the public mood, the UK government tried to insist that migrants working for the NHS should have to continue to pay a surcharge in order to access the medical care that they were helping to provide to others. The government strived to hold Benevolence and Universalism values apart from one another, but on this occasion – unlike in so many other instances – it failed.

Black Lives Matter

Clearly, the success of the Black Lives Matter movement is attributable to the tireless work of many Black activists over many years. But given an understanding of the relationship between Benevolence and Universalism values, it seems possible that widespread public expressions of support for the Black Lives Matter movement could have been further strengthened at this time by the particular salience of Benevolence values under the coronavirus pandemic, which would have created a different context in which messages about racism were received. 

Black Lives Matter protest held in London in 2020, Unsplash.

People from all communities were provided an opportunity to make a connection (consciously or otherwise) between the concern for other people struggling under COVID (something that had preoccupied them for months during the pandemic) and concern for other people who are oppressed by structural racism.

Before the pandemic, the people comprising these two groups would be seen by many white people living in the UK as very different from one another. As a result of a worldview cultivated and upheld by both the media and structural racism, one group would be seen as an in-group – their family, friends and others like them struggling under “lockdown”; the other an out-group – people of colour often living elsewhere. But those perceived differences may have been eroded by a bleed-over between Benevolence and Universalism values, perhaps made more likely by the salience that Benevolence values have had in recent months.

Maintaining the shift

If recent months have marked a qualitative shift in people’s openness to experience emotionally the strong resonances between Benevolence and Universalism values, even in the face of divisive political debate and media coverage, how can this shift be maintained?

One lesson, surely, is for people, networks, and organisations working for social justice to begin to communicate more consciously in ways that deepen our emotional awareness of the resonances between Benevolence and Universalism values – taking communications of the kind produced by People Like Us and Mums 4 Refugees (above) as an example of how this can be achieved. It would be possible, for example, to build on the deepened relationship that many people experienced with their immediate family under “lockdown” in order to highlight the UK government’s inhumane refusal to allow child refugees in the UK to be reunited with their families. 

Campaigners for social justice would do well to embrace the potential to build on Benevolence values, and to develop a fluency in achieving this. The alternative is a capitulation. It would be to accept that their political opponents have captured these values. And that would be an admission of hopelessness. 

Common Cause Foundation will be running a morning workshop on the Benevolence Pivot at 9am BST on Thursday 27th August. Places are free. If you would like to participate, please book your place here.

June 17, 2020Comments are off for this post.

Values & Covid-19: Feel the pain: systemic racism and the social conditioning of our values

About a month ago, we reflected on what the pandemic has been revealing about the values on which our society is built. We focused on the fact that many of the “essential workers” who keep the country running, often at great personal risk, are also people who experience one or multiple forms of systemic oppression, making them even more vulnerable to contracting coronavirus. But, despite their “essential worker” status, our society places little value on their physical, emotional and financial health. As Gary Young writes, “it’s not the virus that discriminates; it is society”.

Even before the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minnesota last month, and the shooting of Rayshard Brooks a few weeks later, it was clear that systemic racism is a significant determinant of people’s health outcomes. With protests now sweeping across the world, this reality is becoming increasingly undeniable. These deaths were not isolated incidents, but consistent with over 400 years of violence against Black people, which the British were pivotal in helping to invent. They have elicited a primal scream of pain, grief and rage by so many people of colour across the world because it starkly symbolised what for generations has been an unspoken fact in our white dominant world - that the lives of people of colour, and Black people in particular, aren’t valuable.

Why were white people carrying guns being allowed to protest against the lockdown in Michigan in April, but multi-racial, largely peaceful protests against the daylight killing of unarmed Black people were met with the National Guard? The last two weeks have woken many people up to the understanding that systemic racism is not a matter of the past; it has pulled back the curtain on the values that drive American society. US racism was inherited from the British, so this very much concerns us in the UK too. Slavery was an economic institution designed for resource extraction and wealth accumulation for the white elite. Black people were seen as a cog in the machine; the human cost was negligible to the oppressors. The police force was created in part to quell rebellion and control Black bodies. The American constitution was written to protect property, not human lives. British and American racism are inextricably linked. So where does that leave us now?

Psychologists have long pointed out that a system of violence that considers Black people to be expendable was only tenable on the basis that they were seen as less-than-human. At Common Cause, we have talked a lot about the priority that most people place on compassionate, or ‘intrinsic’, values. What this doesn’t explain, however, is how these compassionate values can co-exist with the systemic dehumanisation of people of colour? This disconnect, or cognitive dissonance, is rarely mentioned in the discourse about values we’ve been a part of, including our own. Recognising this contradiction can give rise to a lot of discomfort, but it’s important to start peeling back the layers so we can see what’s underneath.

What we’ve realised over the past month is that there is a disconnect between how people see themselves and the systems of structural violence they normalise and benefit from without questioning. The social conditioning, which serves to minimise this cognitive dissonance in turn shapes the values of our (white) society. The way this functions is to maintain the safety and comfort of those in power. A great deal of energy goes into sustaining this separation - from the normalisation of violence against people of colour to the collective amnesia of Britain’s colonial history and the current negligence by the British government to protect people of colour from covid-19. To maintain itself, the system is reliant on the silence and complicity with the status quo of those who benefit, whether that’s intentional or not.

Throughout history, we’ve seen mass movements for change being led by those experiencing oppression, and this time is no different. People who for centuries have tried to carve out a life for themselves in a society that doesn’t see them as worthy of living have had enough. They are willing to pay the cost of freedom, which for many is high - more police violence, incarceration, trauma as well as contracting covid-19.

To those of us who are white, those of us with class privilege, educational privilege, those of us who are cis, straight, able-bodied, thin, neurotypical, in good mental health, those of us with secure immigration status, those of us who have a safe home and access to food, those of us not experiencing violence and trauma - this isn’t primarily an intellectual endeavour. Our response cannot be confined to reading and educating ourselves, although this is important. When we talk about dismantling systemic racism and oppression, we are dealing with over 400 years of social conditioning. Our emotions are the location of change, because one of the most powerful tools we have to counter dehumanisation is by tapping into our shared humanity and allowing ourselves to feel the pain of the thousands of people who are marching across the world.

The solidarity we’re seeing right now is showing us what is possible. It goes beyond the compassion and kindness people have been giving their neighbours and to strangers during lockdown. It shows that many more of us, in numerous countries, are starting to see the foundations on which our world order has been built  - and that to create a society led by compassionate values first requires the dismantling of the systems that systematically undermine them.

May 7, 2020No Comments

Values & Covid-19: Peering through the cracks of a pandemic

Covid-19 has changed our world in ways that we could never have imagined, and in doing so has revealed many anomalies that have challenged us. In our 24/7 world, the brakes have been slammed, a stop button has been pressed, re-focussing our gaze and bringing all attention to rest on how we live during and through this pandemic. Meanwhile, the flaws in our systems are being laid bare as we struggle to find answers to the problems confronting our overstretched and under-resourced NHS, staggering under the weight of cases. 

Amidst this we see an outpouring of compassionate responses by people: neighbours doing each other’s shopping, donations made to charities, volunteers enlisted to help and support the NHS. Suddenly, we are reminded of what really matters, what our priorities are in the face of adversity when there is a direct threat to life. 

A lot of people have expressed surprise at these individual responses of kindness and compassion. What does this say about the kind of society we believe we are? The collective care we have seen in every part of the country stands in sharp contradiction to what we have been taught about the priorities of our fellow citizens. Throughout the generations and perpetuated by media, culture, rites of passage, educational institutions and social norms, our society has applauded social status, the acquisition of wealth, academic prowess and materialism, which serve as the trophies and signifiers for having “made it”. Herein lies the offer of safety, security and means to thrive for those selected by this system. 

But there are also people for whom compassionate responses to crises are no surprise at all. People who have been practising collective care as a matter of survival for generations. Peering through the cracks, we meet those for whom the system offers no safety, no scaffolding and no covering. They have grown used to being viewed in no other way than as a problem, a drain on society, as the “deserving poor”, stamped with labels such as “immigrants”, “social misfits”, “criminals”, “low achievers”. These same people are now overrepresented among the key workers putting their lives at risk to look after those of us who are sick, to keep our hospitals and our streets clean, our transport system running, to care for our children and elderly, to deliver our food and to keep our public institutions open. And many of them are falling through the cracks of the government’s covid-19 support system.

Covid-19 has temporarily repositioned those considered to be key workers as our heroes and community champions. And while we applaud our NHS workers as we appreciate their contribution in this crisis, can we also ask why it has taken a global pandemic to open our eyes and ears to the value of our fellow human beings, to see others as we see ourselves?

There is a parallel narrative here that isn’t getting much attention. Many key workers who are migrants are deemed as “low-skilled” and will not be able to apply for UK work visas under the government’s post-Brexit immigration system. What does compassion look like for them? Can claps mitigate for the lack of personal protective equipment, low wages, inadequate employment rights, or a deeply discriminatory immigration system?

Under conditions of stress, confusion and disorientation, we are all desperate for a silver lining. Our media and institutions are equally quick to cover up the cracks in the system that are being exposed in an effort to make everything go back to “business as usual” as soon as possible. 

What we at Common Cause have been calling the Compassion Narrative is one we’ve seen all over the internet. It’s vital to share stories of collective care and kindness in this difficult time. And this is not where it stops. If we are to grow from this, let us ask questions about what we see through the cracks. Questions such as:

  • Whose contribution is deemed valuable in our society?
  • Who is seen as deserving of compassion?
  • Whose life is deemed worth saving?
  • Who is impacted the most by this pandemic?
  • Who has the most protection?
  • And, after reflecting on the above, what does compassion look like?

April 2, 2020No Comments

Values & Covid-19: The genie’s out of the bottle

The popular story tends to go that in times of fear and uncertainty the ‘us’ and ‘them’ binary strengthens, not weakens. We stick with our friends and family, putting our own needs first. But, despite being faced with so much grief and apprehension during the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen communities do the exact opposite. Across the world people have come together in solidarity, showing compassion, kindness and gratitude. Hundreds of thousands have volunteered to support the NHS in the UK, mutual aid groups have sprung up all over the world, refugee medics have stepped forward to offer their skills and expertise. This reaction of togetherness has been seen time and time again in disasters and crises the world over.

Here at the Common Cause Foundation we talk of something called the perception gap. This refers to the finding from our research that a large majority of people overestimate the importance that their fellow citizens place on ‘self-interest’ values (like public image, wealth and power) and underestimate the importance that they place on ‘compassionate’ values (like honesty, community and protecting the environment).

In the UK, for example, 74% of people place greater importance on ‘compassionate’ values than ‘self-interest’ values. But 77% of people perceive a typical fellow citizen as placing greater importance on ‘self-interest’ values, and less importance on ‘compassionate’ values than is actually the case. As we’ve discussed elsewhere, this misperception is central to maintaining the status quo.

This conceit - that most of us are more self-interested than is actually the case - propped up the old pre-corona system that we have seen crumble so rapidly. It crumbled first with a mass outpouring of public concern about those in our societies who are most vulnerable, and then second (often reluctantly and belatedly) by governments swept irresistibly along by this unequivocal statement of ordinary people’s priorities. The truth is laid bare now for us all to see: people are more concerned about the wellbeing of others than we were led to believe.

Of course, it’s not a process that’s complete. The mainstream media and our politicians still cling to the old order - peddling the “covidiot” and hollowly insisting that things must rapidly return to pre-corona ‘normality’.

As we surface from the initial scramble to adapt to physical distancing, putting in place the necessary policies and procedures to keep people safe and secure, we’re seeing organisations and individuals begin to question how this outpouring of kindness and compassion can be supported to flourish beyond COVID-19.

When the world stabilises and the restrictions that many governments have put in place are eased, will we also see an erosion of this kindness between friends, neighbours and strangers that has kept many afloat over the last few weeks? A great many vested interests will be trying to push the genie back into the bottle.

Understandably, there is a sense of urgency around making sure that this can’t happen. Here at Common Cause Foundation, we’re feeling this urgency too. But we have also been trying to resist the immediate attractiveness of reaching for some kind of strategy or action plan.

Though we see this moment as being potentially transformational for our movements, our culture and our world, we also recognise that this is a time where we each are experiencing confusion, stress and fear.

Considering our broader focus on values and culture change, we feel that our immediate contribution may be to hold a space in which we can explore the tensions between these two poles: confusion and the need for urgent action; stress and possibility; fear and hope.

Everyone will be affected by this in one way or another. Many of us will experience sickness, bereavement, mental illness and loss of jobs, income and dreams. And the pandemic is further exacerbating existing structural inequalities. Activists and communities working towards a better world on the far side of this crisis will not be spared. A question therefore exists as to how best we can support the emergence of something new under these circumstances while also taking care of ourselves?

We don’t have the answers to this challenge, but would like to offer a space to explore it together. Please join us on Monday 6th April from 1-2pm BST for a virtual conservation to look at what we might need in order to respond effectively to our current situation and to have the best chance of building a resilient, healthy and kinder society for all of us to enjoy in the future. Please find the Zoom details and RSVP here.

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

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