A crisis of values?

The ongoing refugee crisis in Europe throws up some profound questions for us all, and the place of values in our politics and lives. Maybe some of the action we have belatedly seen over the last few weeks could point the way to a new sort of politics, and a new way of living our values?

Refugees WelcomePolitics by perceived values

Have politicians misjudged the values that most of us hold? In just a few days a petition for the UK government to accept more asylum seekers was signed by over 400,000 people, compelling a debate in parliament. The government agreed to take 20,000 refugees, over five years – an enormous increase from the handful we’ve accepted so far.

Common Cause Foundation has recently conducted research in the UK and the US looking at the values people hold, and the values they think their fellow citizens hold. We’re still analysing this, but here are two early results. Firstly, a large majority of people hold self-transcendence values (generally concerned with the wellbeing of others) to be more important than self-enhancement values (based on the pursuit of personal status and success). But this isn’t seen by most people, who believe that their compatriots hold self-transcendence values to be less important, and self-enhancement values to be more important.

Perhaps this is a key reason why many people don’t get engaged and active, although sharing values that would otherwise lead them to – because they believe that they are in a minority, and that society at large doesn’t share their values. We call this the ‘perception gap’. It’s a gap that many in our media, and many in government, seem to work hard to perpetuate.

Oliver SmithA crisis of values?
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Great British Values


Do you know what the most popular television programme was last year? It was the Great British Bake Off final, and they’ve repeated the feat this year – a record audience saw Nadiya Hussain’s win, with viewing figures of up to 14.5m (and millions more watched it on catch up TV systems).

A programme about baking, where the contestant’s unknown amateurs win a magnificent prize – a bunch of flowers and a glass plaque – beat everything else hands down; it beat all the celebrity shows, the soaps, all the ‘talent shows’ with huge prizes and a sadistic whiff of humiliating the eccentric and vulnerable.

When the immigration debate has taken another nasty turn (with the spurious suggestion that immigration is bad for the country and incompatible with social cohesion) wasn’t it fantastic to see such a cross section of the UK represented?

Despite all of its flaws, we are privileged in the UK to have a national public broadcaster – the BBC – that produces this and many other programmes, without the intervention of commercials.

Our exposure to a constant barrage of advertising has a serious long term effect. The report Common Cause Foundation co-published with Public Interest Research centre in 2011 “Think of Me as Evil?” presented evidence that advertising increases overall consumption; that it promotes and normalises a whole host of behaviours, attitudes and values, many of which are socially and environmentally damaging; that it manipulates individuals on a subconscious level, both children and adults; and that it is so pervasive in modern society as to make the choice of opting-out from exposure virtually impossible.

The BBC is one place we can turn for information and entertainment without this exposure; if it didn’t exist we’d be campaigning to invent it.

PS The meringues are vegan, I made these using chickpea water, cream of tartar and sugar. No chickens or unicorns were harmed.

Oliver SmithGreat British Values
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Food Values Report Launched

“Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity.” Louise Fresco

The Food Values report has just launched! This 9-month research project has attracted a large network of teachers, researchers, community growers, farmers and campaigners working on food in Wales. Through a series of events, we’ve shared stories and recipes of soup in Cardiff,  worked on the promotion of organic food by Organic Centre Wales (OCW), and recorded traditional rural food practices in North Wales with children and older members of the community. All of our events involved sharing a meal and learning about some aspect of food.  Using this as a basis for reflection on how values-based food education is delivered,  PIRC, OCW and Aberystwyth University have pulled it all into a report (Welsh version here). We are now setting our sights further afield: on the food system in Wales.

Speaking at our launch event in Cardiff, Jane Davidson (former Minister for the Environment in Wales) and Peter Davies (Sustainable Futures Commissioner), citing the opportunity for political leverage ahead of the Welsh Assembly elections next Summer, gave an enthusiastic call for the next step in the Food Values project: a Food Manifesto for Wales.

So – what have we learned about food values?  And what’s next?

Food Values launch visual minutes

Food Values launch, Cardiff 2015 – visual minutes by Laura Sorvala

Bec SandersonFood Values Report Launched
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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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Developing Discourse or Stunted Growth? Taking the Sustainable out of the Sustainable Development Goals

Where does poverty come from?

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

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


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

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

Elena BlackmoreDeveloping Discourse or Stunted Growth? Taking the Sustainable out of the Sustainable Development Goals
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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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Ireland is ready for a conversation about values

This is a guest post by Rachel Mullen, Coordinator of the Equality and Rights Alliance and a point of contact for Common Cause in Ireland.

We have come through a difficult period of austerity, the impact of which has given rise to diminished public services, a homeless crisis, a significant increase in child poverty and growing hostility to migrants, to name but a few key issues. The community and voluntary sector has taken a battering, with many organisations under increased pressure to deliver frontline services to greater numbers and with fewer resources.

Pic for Mullen blog

Adapted from image by Saxarocks, Flickr Creative Commons –

GuestIreland is ready for a conversation about values
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Rekindling Kindliness: Learning from Hebden Bridge

Last week, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation released a report that calls for more kindness in communities, and outlines some ways that helpfulness and support can be encouraged.

It shows that kindness takes different forms,  not all of them equal in their impact, and it looks at a real British community (Hebden Bridge) to make recommendations that can be applied elsewhere.

The report reveals a perverse truth:  most people think that giving help is good, but that receiving or soliciting help is bad.

Vulnerability (exposing a need for help) is seen as the counterweight to dignity (maintaining self-reliance and independence). If we want an antidote to lonely, alienated Britain, it is this psychology we ultimately have to challenge.

Four of a Kind

When talking about kindness, its seems that people tend towards four different orientations.

4 Kinds of Helping - by Bec Sanderson

4 Kinds of Helping by Bec Sanderson, based on ‘Landscapes of Helping: Kindliness in Neighbourhoods and Communities’, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2015

Here we explore what they might mean in terms of values:

Bec SandersonRekindling Kindliness: Learning from Hebden Bridge
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Values: 58 Ideas We Live By is a beautiful deck of cards for exploring who we are, designed by Genis Carreras in collaboration with PIRC.

“Love. Creativity. Enjoyment. Curiosity. Friendship. Purpose. Psychological research shows that we are all driven by the same things – but differ in how we prioritise them. Fifty-eight values guide our lives, shaping who we are, what we do, and ultimately the kind of society we live in.”

Whether you’re just mildly interested in values or a fully fledged Common Cause geek looking for workshop material, this little deck deserves a place in your life…

Support the project and get some cards.

Richard HawkinsVALUES: 58 IDEAS WE LIVE BY
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