By Common Cause
This handbook is a practical and accessible introduction to the importance of values and frames for organisations working towards a more sustainable and just society.
Examining values more closely reveals some deep connections between seemingly different issues —and a wealth of opportunities to bring about lasting, systemic change.
The Common Cause Handbook makes the case that civil society organisations can find common cause in working to engage and strengthen intrinsic values – such as concern for others, social justice, creativity, self-acceptance, and a connection with nature – whilst working to diminish the importance of extrinsic values – for example, social status, material success, image, wealth, and power.
It highlights some of the ways in which communications, campaigns, and even government policy, inevitably serve to engage and strengthen some values rather than others. The handbook was inspired by WWF’s groundbreaking report Common Cause: The Case for Working with our Cultural Values and its sister publication, Finding Frames: New Ways to Engage the UK Public in Global Poverty.
After a quick introduction (pg. 5) and discussion of what values are guiding principles based on what people think is important), we’re going to talk about why values matter (pg. 8–9). There are many other things that influence any human being in individual moments and across entire lifespans, but our values are a guiding force—abstract ideals (such as equality, tradition, wealth, creativity) that shape our thoughts and actions. This means they influence important aspects of our lives, such as how we vote, what we buy, our choice of friends, and how happy we are. Research supports some fairly commonsense observations of how values work (pg. 12–21).
Some values are compatible, likely to be held strongly together; others—wealth and equality, for instance—not so much. But the research also shows that even in simply talking to one value, you find yourself talking to a range of related values and suppressing the opposing ones. This means, worryingly, that if you’ve tried to get people to care more about equality by appealing to their desire for popularity, you might have accidentally harmed your own cause.
Humans use values (pg. 24–27) to guide behaviour, then—but there are contextual and habitual reasons which mean that not all our behaviours are in line with our values. We also use values as guiding standards, for instance in making judgements—and one result of this is that we find it weird when we’re presented with something that seems to convey conflicting values strongly. We’re then going to look at how values change (pg. 30–31) and how values have shifted in the past (pg. 32–33).
Throughout our lives, we experience opportunities for, and constraints on, the development of specific values. We might learn to value tradition while watching history documentaries or to want social recognition from reading gossip pages in the tabloids. There are also bigger things that have an impact—large societal or economic changes that make us more concerned about different things.
The values we develop affect how we look at the world. This is partly through frames (pg. 36–39), which are bundles of associated knowledge and ideas in our memories. ‘Framing’ is also an important tool in communicating—and refers to the information and underlying values we leave in or out when conveying a message.
All of these insights have implications (pg. 42–53) for the work of those wanting to bring about lasting changes in the world. We’re going to lay out some guiding principles (pg. 44–47) to help align our actions with our values, see the bigger picture, think about the values we’re all endorsing, and work together more; some specific thoughts about the areas in which we are working for change (pg. 48–51) and some thoughts on different spaces for (pg. 52) and degrees of change (pg. 53) in using this approach.
These will be useful for creating campaigns, organising community events, teaching and learning, improving sustainable business practice and policy, and more. We’ve put in some examples (mostly from the third sector—reflecting our own bias!) of where we think this kind of approach is already being done well. And we finish with some FAQs (pg. 58–63) and some thoughts on what to do next (pg. 54–55).
We’ve developed a workshop to familiarise, engage, and start conversations with groups on all of this. In the back of this handbook, you’ll find a set of exercises (pg. 66–73) to carry out yourself, individually or in a group, based on the workshop. You’ll be pointed to them in the main text. We have found them useful in getting a grasp on the concepts and we recommend doing them—go get a pen! If you’ve only got five minutes, read the guiding principles (pg. 44–47) and then skip to the FAQs (pg. 58–63).
Finally, go and visit the website valuesandframes.org
Download the resource below.