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Meeting Shalom Schwartz

Shalom Schwartz is the psychologist behind the values model that inspires Common Cause, a values-led approach to social change. This summer, I met him at his home in New York.

We talked about the connection between values and behaviour, some of the strangest applications of his theory (to architecture, to dance!) and, of course, the values that matter to him most: read the full interview in The Psychologist.

Here’s an extract:

He remembers feeling doubt about [Milton Rokeach’s] methods of changing behaviours through values: ‘I was very sceptical about it, but it stayed with me.’

He shakes his head, laughing, and addresses himself in the second person: ‘Really, why are you so interested in this?!’

I suggest that part of the draw is that values matter: they matter in the sense that they help us understand and change behaviour.

But Schwartz seems curiously on the fence about this. ‘I still tend to be sceptical about relations between values and behaviour. I think they exist, and I’ve built a lot of my work on that assumption. In fact, I never would have gone into the field if I didn’t think there was a relationship to behaviour.’

But? There’s clearly a ‘but’. For one, he says: values do not mean the same thing to everyone. People can associate different behaviours with the same value.

So even if two people can agree that justice is important, they might not apply this value to behaviour in the same way. They might not have the same ‘instantiation’ of justice. Instantiations can also vary across culture. Greg Maio, Head of Psychology at Bath University, gives the example of family security, which is universally valued but will give rise to different behaviours for people in Brazil compared with people in the UK.

Schwartz seems hopeful about this avenue of research. ‘Greg Maio has a very important argument when he says the instantiations are critical, and when you change people’s instantiations you can anchor change in values.’

Read the full interview here.



Shalom Schwartz and Bec Sanderson have both authored chapters in the recently published Values and Behavior: Taking a Cross-Cultural Perspective, Roccas, S. & Sagiv, L. (Eds.), available from Springer.

A new framing toolkit for equality campaigners and activists across Europe…

Download our new toolkit for Framing Equality here! 

Interested in attending or hosting a workshop in the UK in the new year? Get in touch!

LGBTI Flag and Symbol

We’re in Poland in the unpredictable summer of 2013. Progressive movements are collectively rolling their eyes at an attack on gender equality from the fringes of the religious right. It looks ridiculous: an attempt to discredit what they call ‘gender ideology’. The gender equality ‘agenda’ is denounced as a threat to social order; sexuality education, they say, is a tool used by paedophiles. Members of the progressive movement—including feminist and LGBTI groups and academics—are writing sneering responses in the media: teaching gender equality in schools is about improving the prospects of young girls; and no, masturbation lessons are not on the agenda.

But by 2014, the progressive movement is in emergency response mode: it’s no longer just the fringes of the right-wing who are using these arguments. They’ve spread across the establishment and, despite facing ridicule from much of the media, are deeply embedded in the (particularly rural) public consciousness. Academics in the field of gender theory are receiving death threats. A ‘Stop Gender Ideology’ committee is set up in Parliament. And it actually looks as though the Istanbul Convention (which sparked off the whole debate) might not be ratified by the Polish government.* On the other side of Europe, in France, these arguments were being simultaneously used in protests that erupted around the legalisation of equal marriage, largely under the banner of La Manif Pour Tous. They were victorious in halting the extension of adoption and surrogate rights to gay couples.

Across the water, in the Irish Republic, the received wisdom at this time has been that this traditional, Catholic nation will never accept rights for LGBT people. By early 2015, this is completely overturned, when the public discourse is claimed by campaigners for equal marriage. The Yes Equality campaign successfully tells the story of an inclusive, fair, generous and equal Ireland that the population agrees with. The shift is palpable: and the referendum for marriage equality results in a resounding win.

Understanding framing is key to understanding social change

What do these stories have in common? They’re all about dedicated and effective campaigning. And they’re about effective framing: telling stories, creating meaning, shifting discourse, influencing thinking. The different ways the issues we care about are framed can dramatically impact how we respond to them. Understanding framing strengthens our movements. Read more

PIRC goes flat: Twelve steps to organisational structural change 2

“It has been a bit of rollercoaster, albeit it one with no height restrictions and an office-based theme. During the process I have fluctuated between hopeful, frustrated, excited, bored, interested, determined, happy, grumpy, thankful and something that could only really be captured in a facial expression.”—Ralph

Two years ago, PIRC transitioned from a slightly dysfunctional, hierarchical organisation with a lone director to something more systematised, functional, and non-hierarchical. It’s been a proper rollercoaster. And it’s an ongoing process of experimenting and iterating.

Let me outline our experience of the twelve steps (sorry) to organisational structural change: Read more

Pride & Prejudice: Six framing lessons from London Pride

This month, people marched across London in the culmination of Pride. But in the lead up to the festivities, the organisers faced some pretty fierce criticism for this year’s Love Happens Here campaign. The PR company behind the campaign apologised after receiving complaints about the centring of straight people’s voices, the use of homophobic slurs and stereotypes, and the exclusion of trans* stories.

Sounds kind of like the opposite of Pride, right?

Tweet showing an example poster, responding "Sylvia Rivera didn't throw bricks at cops for this."

There are some juicy lessons in this experience for a framing geek like me. And they chime pretty well with a lot of the lessons we’ve learnt over the past couple of years in our Framing Equality project (read more here). Read more

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General Election Framing Guide 3

For anyone working towards a more equitable, democratic and sustainable societyOccupy Protester Shouting

It’s just seven days until the polling stations close.

Depending on your constitution (and/or the most recent poll you have seen), you might feel we are living in exciting (or terrifying) political times, or you might agree with Brenda in Bristol that there is just too much politics these days. Either way, it’s important not to lose sight of the long-term changes we are working towards. Knowing how to communicate effectively is a key part of creating this change.

At PIRC, we work with others to explore how to best frame the issues we care about (creating a nicer, more equal, happier, greener world). From the varied groups and issues we’ve worked on (including our current work on Framing the Economy), we’ve summarised five things anyone working for a more equitable, democratic and sustainable society should keep in mind when communicating with people in this week before the election (whether you’re out door-knocking, sending your final email campaigns or writing blogs). Read more

Beyond “The Game is Rigged” – Finding a New Story of the Economy 1

“If you think about it, the economy is rigged. The banking system is rigged. There’s a lot of things that are rigged in this world of ours… and we’re going to change it. You know, the system, folks, is rigged. It’s a rigged system.”

If we take the word ‘folks’ out, this quote from Donald Trump could just have plausibly been from the British Prime Minister Theresa May or leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn. In her speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in November 2016, May said that “a minority of businesses and business figures appear to game the system and work to a different set of rules”, and in his address to the Fabian Society this January, Corbyn used the word rigged in relation to the economy or the system no less than ten times, concluding that he stood “for a complete break with this rigged system”.

‘The system is rigged’ is a frame that implies a minority of elite humans who have intervened to twist the economy to their own advantage, and it brings to mind the corruption of supposedly faraway governments, and the imagery of seedy casino interiors where money sloshes around and the house always wins.

This a) captures something true about our present economy and b) connects with public opinion in the UK and US.  That means it’s effective, right?  Not necessarily.

It’s a frame that resonates, but at the same time can stir anger and reinforce fatalism.  Anger can impair thinking and narrow our ability to evaluate solutions, and, as communications expert Anat Shenker-Osorio puts it: “anger dismantles; it doesn’t create”.   Fatalism is demotivating, and in this context reinforces the belief that it’s ‘just human nature’ for people with wealth and power to try and stay at the top; that there is nothing ordinary people can do to change things.  

‘The system is rigged’ needs situating in a strong story of how the economy can be transformed for the better–a story that is very different for Trump, May and Corbyn.   When Corbyn, like Trump, says ‘the system is broken, but if I’m in power I can fix it’, he might instead offer a more creative and hopeful solution that gives people efficacy (appealing to active citizenship, direct democracy and collective action).  He might aim to clearly differentiate his explanation of how a system supposedly so rotten and entrenched can change so fast.  

The job of ‘framing the economy’ is not about landing on one message that resonates and hammering that home. It’s about telling a compelling and coherent  story about what the economy is, how it works and what needs to be done. This story needs to provide meaning for messages like ‘the system is rigged’ and be repeatedly told by people who, for whatever reason, bring credibility and charisma into the telling.

The problem is that progressive spokespeople are too often failing to build a coherent story of the economy into their communications.  How can we change this?  

The first thing to do is to step back and ask what is ‘progressive’ supposed to mean? This is a good question.  Actually, it’s the starting point for the project I’m about to outline. Let me explain.

Read more

Can you help reframe the economy?

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Call out for literature!

PIRC, New Economics Foundation, NEON and the Frameworks Institute are starting an 18 month project on Framing the Economy, helping social movements tell a better, more compelling story about what our economy is for, how it’s broken, and how we can fix it. It’s an ambitious project and we want to kick off with a review of what research is out there already so that we don’t reinvent the wheel.

Can you help?

The big question we’re asking is: How does the British public think about the economy? And, to break that down ever so slightly: what do people think, and why?  We’re trying to understand how people interpret new information on the economy, through the filter of existing knowledge, beliefs, values and emotions.

If you have access to any reports or research findings on this (rather broad) topic, we’re casting the net wide, so please help us by filling out this quick and easy form!

These are some of the specific areas we’re interested in:

    • Beliefs – what beliefs do people use to interpret information on the economy? i.e. beliefs relating to society, human nature, ethics, wealth, power etc.
    • Trust – who is trusted to talk about the economy and where do people typically get information and news about it?
    • Moveability – when do opinions about the economy shift, and why?
    • Audience – how does thinking about the economy change, based on people’s demographic or economic background?
    • Framing – what research has already been done to understand the stories that are told (or stories that could be told) about the economy?

Please send us what you can. We’re focusing on the British public in particular, but do send us sources from other cultures if you know of something excellent that we should be aware of.

The form, again:

And if you want to chat about this project,