A major new piece of research

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

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

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

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

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

A new study

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

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

Firstly, reading about conservation or disability in ways that connect with more intrinsic values leads people to express significantly stronger intentions to help WWF or Scope respectively. The implications of this are clear, and unexceptional to anyone familiar with Common Cause: if you are interested in encouraging people to offer these forms of support you are probably better off engaging them on your cause through intrinsic values.

Secondly, this result is found regardless of the values that a person holds to be important. We asked participants to complete a values survey 3 months prior to our experiment. This enabled us to examine whether extrinsic texts were more effective in encouraging expressions of support from people who were more 'extrinsically oriented' (that is, people who care relatively more about wealth and image).

We found that they were not. It made no difference whether people were more intrinsically or extrinsically oriented. Intrinsic texts were consistently more effective in motivating intentions to help either organisation.

Results like this hammer yet more nails into the coffin of 'values matching' strategies which advocate segmenting an audience according to their dominant values, and crafting communications to connect with more extrinsically-oriented audiences using extrinsic values.

But the third result of this study is the most significant.

As outlined above, we found that an intrinsic text about conservation (one invoking people's love for the natural world) was most effective in motivating people to express an intention to help a conservation charity.

And we found that an intrinsic text about disability (highlighting the need to support disabled people in living life to the full) was most effective in motivating people to express an intention to help a disability charity.

But what about the effect of the text about conservation on people's intention to help a disability organisation? Or the effect of the text about disability on people's intention to help a conservation organisation?

We found that either intrinsic text was equally effective in leading people to express an intention to help either cause. The intrinsic conservation text was just as effective as the intrinsic disability text in leading people to express an intention to help Scope; and the intrinsic disability text was just as effective as the intrinsic conservation text in leading people to express an intention to help WWF. No cause is an island.

It seems that WWF and Scope, and presumably 1001 other charities, have the opportunity to communicate about their cause in a way that not only strengthens people's concern about this cause, but which also serves to strengthen public concern about social and environmental justice in and of itself.