All posts tagged: Manchester Museum

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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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
LinkedIn

 

Emily HowgateVolunteering Values, community in a cultural setting
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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
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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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