This is a blog by Emily Howgate, Common Cause Foundation

In January we invited our network to help in ‘reimagining social and environmental concern’ exploring how we, collectively, can build deeper connections among groups and networks that are engaged on issues which may currently seem unrelated. In response to this we hosted four parallel conversations last month, with participation particularly from the UK but also internationally. These initial conversations were mainly joined by people from western, capitalism-dominant cultures. This is the world that we (CCF being UK based) occupy so seems an appropriate starting point, but learning from more diverse voices in future interactions feels important.

It was heartening to hear the care that participants brought to the sessions, the shared sense that this is an important enquiry. But although there was this mutual sense of need, the perspectives and priorities explored were wide ranging, and differing 'leverage points' (linking to the work of Donella Meadows) were resonant for different participants. In hosting the calls, my feelings of coalescence between us oscillated with feelings of fragmentation - perhaps inevitably this is part of working in this way (of working in this world, at this time?). If it were comfortable/easy then it would be happening more.

The shared interest that people expressed often felt quite personal, with participants reflecting on their lived experience as much as any abstract change theory or strategy. Various of us also flagged that practicing such work can chafe against the institutional constraints within organisations (e.g. charities or civil service).

Before turning to potential next steps from these conversations, it's perhaps helpful to share CCF's understanding of the level at which systemic change is pursued. From the perspective of the psychology of social and environmental concern, we draw a distinction between:
A. Interconnections between different issues that arise from a convergence between the immediate and practical means of intervention, and
B. Interconnections between different issues that arise from shared understanding of who we are as people and how we relate to others.

As an example of A., it might be argued that racism exacerbates homelessness (because of prejudice in the rental market), or that homelessness is exacerbated by migration, driven in turn by the impacts of climate change. These material connections are useful in establishing synergies between groups working on seemingly unrelated issues. As a result of exploring these connections, a group working on homelessness, for example, might come to a deeper understanding of the importance of work on climate change. Practical collaborations might emerge as a result of a deepening awareness of such interconnections. For example, a homelessness charity might lend its support to a campaign for policy changes to reduce carbon emissions.

The second kind of interconnection, B., doesn't rely on immediate material connections between seemingly discrete issues of the kind explored above. Viewed from the perspective of an understanding of the social psychology of values, many social and environmental issues are connected through a common fabric of values that motivates public expressions of concern. For example, studies have shown that speciesism predicts prejudice towards human outgroups (e.g. racism). Values that underpin concern for other species are closely aligned to values that underpin concern for human out-groups (psychologically they are neighbouring values in the 'Universalism' grouping [Using the Schwartz values model]).

From a values perspective, therefore, 'common cause' can be established between groups campaigning for deeper respect for other living beings and groups campaigning against various forms of prejudice towards humans. This is an example of where we feel a need to 'reimagine social and environmental concern'.

We believe that building awareness of this second kind of interconnection is potentially much more powerful in promoting the values upon which durable public commitment to systemic change must be built.

Viewing our collective responses to today's social and environmental challenges through this lens, we've reviewed how CCF might respond to the needs expressed by participants in the 'reimagining' conversations we've hosted.

Participants variously articulated a desire for:

  • A feeling of solidarity, belonging, and connection to others interested to work in this way.
  • Encouragement to 'step up'/'speak out', go beyond 'fear' of 'getting it wrong' or 'being alone' (for example, feeling exposed in their organisation).
  • Inspiring and informative examples of work with 'values beyond issues'.

In response, our intent is now to open and seed a network space to support practitioners in building and sharing:

  • Connectivity (critical mass/critical connections)
  • Confidence
  • Creative ideas.

Functions of this network may include:

  • Connecting and supporting peers to navigate fears, challenges and opportunities.
  • Compiling tools and training to further upskill practitioners (including hub 'ambassadors') and explore learning from the application of this work.
  • Curating and disseminating exemplars of working across issues to engage shared values.
  • Creating imaginative new content, in response to salient issues.

And could be seeded by platforms and practices from CCF, and the practitioner community, such as:

  • An online, open-source portal as a 'library' of exemplars and resources.
  • A discussion and collaboration forum (e.g. via twitter hashtag, Ning site).
  • Practitioner 'Meet-up' groups or 'hacks' (virtual, and in hub cities).
  • Online videos and webinars sharing and exploring applied values insights between practitioners.
  • Spotlight reviews of values in relation to topical public discourse and opportunities for particular issue groups to weave responses to current affairs.

We anticipate such a network will help enable and embolden more people to work in this way, supporting the emergence of:

  • Enthusiastic and emboldened practitioners
  • Skilled peer-ambassadors
  • Examples of collaborative working across diverse issues.

The benefits are multi-layered.

  • With practitioners themselves such ways of working could help build closer alignment between a person's own values and the work that they do, increase wellbeing and motivation, and mitigate against frustration and burn-out.
  • With the communities that practitioners are part of, deepening appreciation of shared compassionate values helps underpin commitment to action on durable social and environmental change (inc. civic participation, community wellbeing, policy support).

Ultimately we see this work as one of the myriad ways of contributing to increasing equality and sustainability in our cultures (and increasing resilience and adaptation opportunity amidst system change or chaos).

We envisage people participating in this network will be doing so mainly out of personal motivation as much as any organisational role they may have (this is what seems to be the case from the conversations so far).

Next steps - get involved
We're now looking to learn from others working in analogous networked ways to inform how best to organise and resource this work. We'll be reaching out to colleagues in networks we already know to invite shared learning. And we'd really like to speak to you if you have experience of, or expertise in:

  • Technology for enabling online peer discussion, or hosting a 'library of exemplars'.
  • Building and facilitating virtual networks of practitioners.

We'd also like to establish a small group of people ('critical friends') who feel particularly committed to promoting this way of working to help co-create and critique an emerging strategy.
If you feel this commitment, please be in touch.

Big thanks to all those involved in the conversations so far, we'll continue to share updates via our e-newsletter and social media as things progress and look forward to feedback and support on the ideas and needs shared here.


Header photo by Sarah Vombrack on Unsplash