All posts tagged: engaging societal values

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]commoncausefoundation.org

Emily HowgateThe agoras in our midst
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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 shanna.lennon@manchester.ac.uk

Watch this space for upcoming video from of the day

Shanna LennonValues work begins in a ‘big’ way at Manchester Museum
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Values and the outdoors

Inspired by the adventurous spirit of the Scottish naturalist who once tied himself to the top of a tree in a hurricane to experience the exhilaration of nature, the John Muir Award offers participants the opportunity to explore wild places and take an active role in conservation. In October, leaders who deliver the award, including teachers, community workers and National Park rangers, met for their annual gatherings in 3 locations around the UK, to share stories and discuss how values fit into their work.

Rosie LeachValues and the outdoors
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More responses to Tony Juniper: 
vision, experience and evidence

In the wake of Tony Juniper’s recent Independent blog on the role of values in environmental and social change campaigning, a number of people in the Common Cause network sent reflections on the points he raises about the “Values Modes” approach – which seeks to accommodate existing values, whatever they may be – and the fundamental challenge to this approach presented in Common Cause, which seeks to promote the values associated with socially and environmentally beneficial attitudes and behaviours.

We’ve split these responses into three categories: vision, experience and evidence.

Richard HawkinsMore responses to Tony Juniper: 
vision, experience and evidence
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A response to Tony Juniper

There are two questions I would like to put to the proponents of Values Modes or
Cultural Dynamics (CD).

Firstly, is systemic change necessary? In other words: in order to minimise the speed and impact of climate change, do we need to alter any of the fundamental workings of the institutions and machinery of our society so that they, collectively, produce markedly different environmental outcomes? If your answer is no, that things are basically fine and some of the outputs just need tweaking, then we can stop right here as we’ve found the point of real and absolute difference with the Common Cause approach that supersedes everything below. I’d suggest people use this difference to judge which of the two more suits them.

If, however, we do think systemic change is necessary, then that requires us to examine certain facts. Firstly, that the global political economy is built in large part around corporate consumerist values of wealth, status and power. As opposed to, say, beauty, equality or caring for loved ones. Countries must acquire ever more material wealth (or GDP growth); individuals are encouraged hundreds or thousands of times every day to dress in a certain way to be attractive, watch TV to be entertained, look younger, drive better cars, go on foreign holidays, and so on. We must look at the fact that to drive these behaviours, consumers – as we’ve become known – must actually want them; that demand is required. To create demand, peoples’ desire for (that is, the degree to which they value) their own wealth, power and status are commonly appealed to. We must circle back round to the fact that to satisfy the demand that they have spent large budgets and endless amounts of human creativity to stimulate, the vast majority of economic actors – what can credibly be called the bulk of the system – use methods of production and distribution that are directly and significantly implicated in changing the climate. Which brings us irrevocably back round to the intense focus we place on the values that drive this type of economic activity. And finally, we must accept that the intensity and self-perpetuating nature of that focus, must, at some level, be addressed if we are interested in anything but treating symptoms.

Martin KirkA response to Tony Juniper
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Building a community of practice: A view from Brussels

Guy and I spent a couple of days in Brussels working with NGO staff exploring what Common Cause means for those working close to policy-making, in communications and behaviour change campaigns.

Questions that we’re exploring:

  • Do people who take on CC approach come to different political conclusions?
  • How likely are politicians to respond to intrinsic values?
  • How can NGO community engage with this at a more fundamental level – beyond external communications?
  • How do we do work that we are not personally/organizationally mandated to do?
Casper ter KuileBuilding a community of practice: A view from Brussels
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Do we have time to shift values?

“Do we have time to shift values?” This is a question that is often asked when people respond to Common Cause. This blog, itself an expansion of the FAQ question of the same title, offers a response.

Clearly, we don’t have long to bring down greenhouse carbon dioxide emissions very markedly before we hit devastating levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – with profound, effectively irreversible, effects upon our climate. Often, when people ask “Do we have time to shift values?”, they are posing the question in the context of the urgency of addressing climate change. In this context, we need to effect major changes in how our economies are run, and we need to effect them very soon.

In formulating a response to the challenge posed by climate change, it is important to hold in mind that these reductions in greenhouse gas emissions need to be (i) sufficiently ambitious; (ii) made sufficiently soon; (iii) sufficiently durable to be maintained for a long time to come.

Implicit in the question “Do we have time to shift values?” is the belief that some alternative strategy could perhaps provide the requisite ambition and durability, and deliver these emissions reductions in a short time-frame. Also implicit is the suspicion that, while the strategy of ‘shifting values’ may be sufficiently ambitious and dependable, it is likely to take a long time. Too long.

This blog, then, provides some responses to this important question.

Tom CromptonDo we have time to shift values?
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What about people for whom extrinsic values are particularly important?

A great deal of the research that we have brought together on this site points to the advantages, on aggregate, of appealing to intrinsic values in communicating to people about social and environmental problems – and the potential costs of appealing to extrinsic values.

But, of course, people aren’t all the same, and it may be that there are some people who are simply impervious to communications which appeal to intrinsic values. We’ve argued that this is unlikely, because we all express all these values at different times – life, afterall, is a ‘dance around the values circle’!

But the original group of people who supported the Common Cause report – from COIN, CPRE, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam and WWF – wanted to test this further. So we enlisted the help of some psychologists (at Cardiff University, and Knox College, Illinois) and linguists (at Lancaster University).

Tom CromptonWhat about people for whom extrinsic values are particularly important?
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Campaign Case Study: 
Waste Watch

This third Campaign Case Study is part of a series of stories sharing the experience of organisations that grasp the importance of cultural values in third sector campaigning. We hope that these real-life examples of transformation inspire and empower you to push organisational boundaries and improve how we campaign together.

If you’d like to discuss these stories, or find out more about them, come along to the Campaigning with Common Cause get-together every second Wednesday of the month.

“How do we actually know what’s working?”

Waste Watch inspires and helps people to live more whilst wasting less.  Set up 24 years ago, it put recycling on the national agenda and led the country towards today’s improved waste policies. With 40 staff, it recently merged with Keep Britain Tidy. The team at Waste Watch have put values-thinking into the heart of the work they do, moving the idea of sustainability from windmills and recycling to a wider question of collective wellbeing and social justice. The video below gives a good sense of how they work with schools, businesses and communities.

I spoke to Tim Burns, Head of Waste Watch, and Morgan Phillips, who works on the Our Common Place project, about how redefining their work has allowed them to break free from a constraining focus, and how measuring broader impacts has improved the way they work.

What did they set out to do differently?

The team used to spend a lot of time making interventions, delivering a project and then walking away. Short-term funding projects meant that they’d run a campaign to share best practice, monitor the outputs and immediate environmental impacts without getting a good idea of what was really changing at a deeper level within the community.

Now, Waste Watch is measuring outcomes, rather than just outputs. This means monitoring the impact on the beneficiaries engaged in their projects as well as the wider community by looking at the;

  • Confidence and skills of the participants
  • Sense of connection between volunteers and their community
  • What cross-barrier relationships have been built

Practically speaking, by collecting this data, Waste Watch now has an evidence base from which to apply for new sources of funding. They’re connecting the dots between the environment, mental health and community development – and widening their scope to have maximum impact.

What does that look like in practice?

The Our Common Place project is bringing this values-thinking into the heart of Waste Watch’s work. Engaging with residents living in large blocks of flats across 23 communities in London, Morgan and his team are following the enthusiasm of the residents in deciding what projects they work on. In one case, sewing classes have been set up, in another, a ‘help your neighbour recycle’ scheme. One of the most surprising projects is working with a youth club to look at how sustainability flows through everyday life, in one session young people analysed their favourite song lyrics to see what values they espouse. Morgan explains,

“We found that the best way to start talking about what’s important to people, their values, is to start where people’s interests lie. We’re trying to allow for self-direction in how we work with local communities.”

Nobody in the sector has cracked how to create successful recycling schemes in deprived housing estates, so there is a need for innovative approaches. Morgan will be sharing the results in the summer later this year. A key ingredient to the success so far has been working with local authority partners, in some cases leading workshops on the thinking that the Common Cause report puts forward.

What have they learned?

Leadership on this new approach has come from every corner of the organisation. They’ve found that in order to start to articulate values-thinking in their external work, the Waste Watch team had to first start to transform the way they work internally. This started with a much more inclusive approach to leadership where ideas and contributions came from everyone, as Tim explains,

“At Waste Watch now, everyone has been contributing to our new strategic direction, for example through our business plan or our approach towards change – and as a result there’s a much more inclusive culture. Its not just formally but informally too – there’s a lot of sharing lunchtimes, baking cakes for each other – we’re actually building a community within the office as well as within our projects based upon the values we all live and work by.”

What does this mean for us as change-makers?

There is much to be learnt from how Waste Watch are applying an understanding of values in their work. Other case studies have picked up on the important implications for the culture of an organisation, and this is clearly something to which Waste Watch are responding. What is most exciting perhaps, is how values-thinking is infusing their project work, and opening up possibilities for new alliances with different sectors and organisations.

Importantly, the team understands that intrinsic values are already important in the lives of their audience – the question is how to engage with them, not to tell people how to live. Discussions about ‘sustainability’ aren’t likely to be the best starting point.

Contact

Tim Burns

tim.burns@wastewatch.org.uk

020 7549 0300

Casper ter KuileCampaign Case Study: 
Waste Watch
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Talks on carbon emissions not enough: governments must lead a shift in values, says new report

The transition to a sustainable economy will require governments to understand how policy and rhetoric impact public concern about environment and development issues, according to a report from think tank ResPublica published today.

The 56-page report is being launched to coincide with soul-searching in the aftermath of the Durban Climate Change Conference. It addresses the crucial question: how can governments work to create greater political space for proportional responses to environmental problems?

Supported by WWF-UK and Oxfam, the report argues that past and present political objectives have not succeeded in deepening public concern about climate change and poverty. Without such concern, technical policy interventions will never enjoy the public support and momentum that they need.

The report, Different Politics, Same Planet: Values for sustainable development beyond left and right, written by David Boyle, Tom Crompton, Martin Kirk and Guy Shrubsole, is highly critical of current approaches to environmental policy, saying that these often crowded out ordinary people.

It calls for a radically different approach to policy making in the future, one that taps into the cultural values of people and their communities in determining responses to today’s profound social, humanitarian and environmental challenges.

Writing in the Foreword, Phillip Blond argues: “The left has vacated the space that previously valued the inherent beauty and intrinsic value of the natural order, prioritising instead extrinsic values such as material wealth or a utilitarian calculus of leisure and utility.

“The right similarly appealed to extrinsic values through its adoption of market-driven strategies. The natural became a commodity that was to be addressed in a purely instrumentalist manner, with some advocating its protection not in terms of inherent worth or transcendent value, but on purely economic grounds.”

The report dismisses criticisms that such values lack support and are the pursuit of a small minority.  Rather, it points to evidence from psychology that these values are there in all of us – if politicians only found the courage to appeal to them.

Martin Kirk, Head of UK Campaigns at Oxfam, says: “The environment and development movements are energised by a concern for others, which psychologists have shown to be virtually universal. And yet, too often, governments have run scared of speaking to these values, preferring to ‘sell’ concern for the environment and poverty on the grounds of narrow self-interest. This is profoundly counterproductive.”

David Norman, Director of Campaigns at WWF-UK, says: “Public support for government action on the environment is built upon much the same values that underpin public concern for the NHS or universal education. We must begin to situate people’s natural concern for the environment on a bigger political canvas.”

The report seeks to shift the centre of gravity of political debate. It calls for a shift in the way that politicians frame international development and environment policy, advocating that they appeal to – and help strengthen – people’s inherent sense of what is right for future generations and the global poor.

Guy ShrubsoleTalks on carbon emissions not enough: governments must lead a shift in values, says new report
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