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In our experience, the work of social change is often misaligned with its own values and vision. We definitely felt as though this was the case for our own organisation.

We’re committed—personally and organisationally—to helping to build a more equitable, liberatory, sustainable and connected world. Our work is all about the ways our culture shapes us: how the stories we hear and tell affect how we understand ourselves and the world around us; how the values promoted by our society can make us more fulfilled or more depressed, more or less connected with the natural world. And yet neither our vision nor our theory of change have always been reflected in our own working practice.

Looking around, we can see that this is a common problem. We become divided: our moral and emotional selves left at the door when we go to work. The harmful, oppressive and unsustainable systems that we are seeking to dismantle in the wider world are reproduced in our own organisations. There’s a dissonance between what we practise and what we preach. And ultimately, this is damaging both to ourselves and to the work we’re trying to do.

What do we mean by this?

We reward values that aren’t aligned with our causes

The Common Cause work has powerfully shown how the values that we engage affect how we behave towards each other, how we feel, and how we approach problems. More individualistic, money-oriented values tend us towards caring about each other less, behaving in more domineering and prejudiced ways, and looking for short-term results. More compassionate, human-centred values encourage our more caring sides, in which we are more likely to look after each others’ wellbeing, behave with concern for the environment, and approach problems holistically and with an eye to the longer-term.

While our organisations are filled with passionate and caring people, the values that are rewarded (i.e. those that are given validity or legitimised) often tend us towards individualism, and tangible and quantified results over wellbeing.

We demand too much of ourselves

We know that our neoliberal economic system requires that we overserve (listen to Desiree Adaway talking about this about ten minutes into this podcast). Social justice movements are not immune to this: in fact, a ‘culture of martyrdom’ and the precarity of the funding environment may exacerbate this, and lead to an unsustainable culture of burnout.

A summary of the impacts of burnout caused by emotional labour, which may sound familiar:

“Burnout is related to serious negative consequences such as deterioration in the quality of service, job turnover, absenteeism and low morale…[It] seems to be correlated with various self report indices of personal distress, including physical exhaustion, insomnia, increased use of alcohol and drugs and marital and family problems”.

Doesn’t sound like the a manual for how to create a happy and productive workforce or a sustainable movement, does it?

We reproduce oppressive structures in our organisations

The diversity of the charity sector is a (questionable) starting point, but more importantly, we need to talk about the power structures in our organisations. We know that oppression is structural, and at an individual level humans are biased, and therefore our experiences of life are different. We also know that if we can acknowledge that there is an imbalance of emotional labour in our personal lives, we can probably extend that into our working lives.

We can change the way we organise

Having spent some time interrogating and redesigning our internal structures here at PIRC, we know that this can feel difficult.

But we know that our movements are filled with passionate, caring, thoughtful people. The wealth of knowledge in our various experiences is vast.

So as we continue to develop these systems internally, we’d love to build a community of practice around the work of organisational cultures. We’d like to share, and learn from others, and so this has also become a core part of our strategy.

Some of our goals:

  • Build a community of practice. We’d like to build partnerships with others who are already working to organise better, and to support each other in continuing to do this work.
  • Review the current organisational challenges of the movement. We’ve worked with a really large range of organisations and groups, but a lot of what we know is anecdotal. We’d like to get a clearer picture of what we’re all up against!
  • Create and share resources and tools for healthy and effective organisations. Sharing the learning and tools we develop through carrying out this work.

If you’d like to talk to us about any of this, get in touch!

Some more resources & bits of inspiration:

A new guide to testing your communications

When you communicate you usually have a good idea of what you want to say and the change you want to make. But when it comes to crafting a message, how do you know whether it will work?

Testing helps you find out whether your choice of framing (the emphasis you put on particular concepts) is likely to lead to the outcomes you are aiming for.

We believe that every campaigner can improve their communications with testing, and we insist that it’s possible to do this even on a low budget!

Read more. 

Framing the Economy report

Today PIRC, the New Economics Foundation, NEON and the FrameWorks Institute are launching two story strategies that progressives can use to shift thinking on the economy. They’re built on values and metaphors that encourage the hope that change is possible and increase people’s support for progressive policies. Read more

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 and, of course, the values that matter to him most: read the interview in The Psychologist. Read more

A new framing toolkit for equality 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. 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?

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