1 July 2012

Common Cause: the case for working with values and frames

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In 2009, the chief executives and a few staff from a handful of UK non-governmental organisations (including WWF and RSPB) came together to discuss the inadequacy of current responses to challenges like climate change, global poverty and biodiversity loss.

This led to the Common Cause initiative: a series of reports, a handbook, and now an online toolbox for behaviour change professionals.

Common Cause uses recent research in cognitive science and social psychology in order to create an empowered, connected and durable movement of citizens aimed at building a more sustainable, equitable and democratic world.

“Fostering “intrinsic” values—among them self-acceptance, care for others, and concern for the natural world—has real and lasting benefits. By acknowledging the importance of these values, and the “frames” that embody and express them; by examining how our actions help to strengthen or weaken them; and by working together to cultivate them, we can create a more compassionate society, and a better world.”

According to Ellie Kivinen of Brook Lyndhurst, the Common Cause approach draws on the work of Shalom H. Schwartz, 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, thus running the risk of ‘collateral damage’.

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