Common Cause

A few weeks ago we had a visit from Tom Crompton from WWF and Ruth Smyth from RSPB who came in for a chat about the work they have been doing on the Common Cause. Tom gave us an interesting talk about the Common Cause, describing it as a “tool in a toolbox” for behaviour change professionals. He discussed the scope for using values to connect different issues, and for building coalitions and finding common ground around values.

The Common Cause approach draws on Schwartz’s work, which identified 57 near-universal values found in human cultures. These values can be mapped on a ‘circumplex’, on which intrinsic and extrinsic values can be seen as polar opposites of each other. The approach argues that appealing to particular types of values serves to strengthen these same values. This means that environmental behaviour change campaigns that appeal to extrinsic values (for example, encouraging people to save energy because it saves them money) run the risk of undermining further change by strengthening the values which are at the root of the problem in the first place. Tom highlighted the need to be aware of this risk of ‘collateral damage’.

There are a couple of other interesting things to note about the circumplex; these are the see-saw and bleed-over effects. The see-saw effect describes how engaging one value weakens the effect of the value on the opposite side of the circumplex, and the bleed-over effect describes how engaging one value tends to also begin to engage those next to it on the circumplex – which means that people can be ‘primed’ to respond to a values-based appeal by first engaging them through a related value.

Finally, Tom also talked about framing and how people respond to the way that things are presented to them. The words and phrases we use to conjure up stories have associations and implications that affect how people relate to them.

We had an interesting discussion around how we’ve seen intrinsic and extrinsic values at work in our projects, and how we might make use of them going forward. We were left with a number of unanswered questions, including:

  • What’s the difference between ‘values’ and ‘things that we value’ – and which is it that we should be talking about and concerning ourselves with?
  • Advertising is the elephant in the room that there’s no getting away from – it can’t but strengthen extrinsic values. Will appeals to intrinsic values get lost in the ‘noise’ of advertising, or will they take people by surprise and grab their attention?
  • We see a lot of behaviour change projects that aim to change what people do and how they go about it – but if values are an integral part of who people are, is it ethical to try and strengthen certain values amongst them?

Answers on a postcard, please.

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  1. [...] to Ellie Kivinen of Brook Lyndhurst, the Common Cause approach draws on the work of Shalom H. Schwartz, which identified 57 [...]

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