The world currently faces some big, serious and growing problems. From global poverty, to human rights violations, to child abuse, to environmental destruction. Yet so far, we have been able to make only small steps towards solving them. Why? While the power of vested interests is clearly impossible to ignore, one major, connected and largely overlooked factor is the values that motivate people.
In working with national and international issues, many of us have often appealed to financial costs and benefits – or to people’s desire for status or security – to help spur lasting social and environmental change. Yet cross-cultural psychological research on human values reveals that this may be doing untold damage to the causes we care about, by reinforcing the very values that underpin unhelpful attitudes, policies, behaviours and institutions.We need a new approach: recognising the importance of values and frames; taking into account how the things we call for or do can help strengthen or weaken them; and making sure that, in doing so, we are all pulling together across different sectors. The need for trade-offs and compromises will remain – but we should make them in light of the bigger picture: an understanding of the values that will be essential to securing lasting change.
Why values matter
Values represent our guiding principles: our broadest motivations, influencing the attitudes we hold and how we act.
In both action and thought, people are affected by a wide range of influences. Past experience, cultural and social norms, and the money at our disposal are some of the most important. Connected to all of these, to some extent, are our values – which represent a strong guiding force, shaping our attitudes and behaviour over the course of our lives. Our values have been shown to influence our political persuasions; our willingness to participate in political action; our career choices; our ecological footprints; how much money we spend, and on what; and our feelings of personal wellbeing.1
Social and environmental concern and action, it turns out, are based on more than simply access to the facts3(a finding that may seem obvious, but has often proven difficult to fully acknowledge). In reality, both seem to be motivated above all by a particular set of underlying values. In what follows, we will examine what values are (and what they are not), the ways they work in a dynamic and interacting system, and why they are so important for those concerned with social and
Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) | July 6, 2011
With support from Oxfam, WWF and Action for Children, the Public Interest Research Centre wrote the Common Cause handbook to summarise the relevant research on values and frames and its implications in a clear, concise and easily-digestible form. The Handbook outlines what values are; how they relate to frames; why they are important in addressing major national and international problems; and how they change over time. It argues for more involving and participatory groups and organisations, and emphasises the importance of working together across different organisations to help foster more 'intrinsic' values in society.
Written by Andrew Darnton (Bond) and Martin Kirk (Oxfam), the basic argument of this paper is that there is a problem in terms of the UK public’s levels of engagement with global poverty. In many respects, people in the UK appear to understand and relate to global poverty no differently now than they did in the 1980s. This is the case despite massive campaigns such as the Jubilee 2000 debt initiative and Make Poverty History; the widespread adoption and mainstreaming of digital communication techniques and social networks; steady growth in NGO fundraising revenues; the entire Millennium Development Goal story; and the establishment of a Westminster consensus on core elements of development policy. This report explores what can be learned from values and frames: providing some compelling insights into the impact of our existing practices and some striking solutions to the problems that these reveal.
Tom Crompton and the Common Cause Working Group | September 15, 2010
WWF-UK has partnered with four other organisations - Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN), Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Oxfam - to explore the central importance of cultural values in underpinning concern about the issues upon which we each work. Common Cause: The Case for Working with our Cultural Values makes the case that civil society organisations can find common cause in working to activate and strengthen a set of helpful 'intrinsic' values, while working to diminish the importance of unhelpful 'extrinsic' values. The report highlights some of the ways in which communications, campaigns, and even government policy, inevitably serve to activate and strengthen some values rather than others.
Dr Tom Crompton & Professor Tim Kasser | April 20, 2010
This major new publication, written jointly with Professor Tim Kasser (Knox College, Illinois, and author of 'The High Price of Materialism') examines those fundamental aspects of human identity that operate to frustrate approaches to meeting environmental challenges. The study suggests that some environmental campaigning currently operates inadvertently to exacerbate these unhelpful aspects of identity. It also points to ways in which environmental organisations could begin to work in order to activate more helpful aspects of identity. Finally, it highlights new opportunities for collaborations across diverse civil society organisations to begin to address fundamental barriers to delivery on a range of concerns - from biodiversity loss to poverty alleviation, and racism to animal welfare abuses.