Common Cause

To build a more sustainable, equitable and democratic world, we need an empowered, connected and durable movement of citizens. We cannot build this kind of movement through appeals to people’s fear, greed or ego. Such motivations tend to produce a shallow, short-lived types of engagement. Rather, we need to foster intrinsic values – those values centred on concern for others and the natural world, connectedness, and self-acceptance.

Common Cause is a network of people working on this premise – aiming to help rebalance cultural values to create and maintain a fairer world. Between 2010 and 2015 PIRC helped facilitate the network and coordinated a number of Common Cause projects. Find out more about Common Cause.

Common Cause for Nature: Why conservation needs to change, if it really cares

Ralph Underhill worked on planning casework and water policy at the RSPB for seven years, before joining PIRC to work on the Common Cause for Nature project. He would like to hear your thoughts on this piece and would like anyone interested in the project to get in touch.

Conservation is a dam. It tries to hold back a tide of potentially damaging impacts, that, if unleashed, would overrun the natural world and destroy the wildlife we care about.

With the increasing challenges brought on by economic development this dam is reaching its limits. Numerous biological indicators (such as this) are showing that the cracks in it are widening and water is spilling out at a rate not previously seen.

To date, the role of those working in the conservation sector has to been to try to maintain the integrity of the dam. Whenever a new threat emerges (be it a new infrastructure proposal, breeding failure on a particular reserve or a damaging government policy) it creates a fresh crack and we rush to stem the flow. Although some water gets through, it is never as much as would have done if we weren’t there.

We are making a difference, yet somehow things continue to get worse. Read more

Vision, experience, evidence – a response to Tony Juniper

In the wake of Tony Juniper’s recent Independent blog on the role of values in environmental and social change campaigning, a number of people in the Common Cause network sent reflections on the points he raises about the “Values Modes” approach – which seeks to accommodate existing values, whatever they may be – and the fundamental challenge to this approach presented in Common Cause, which seeks to promote the values associated with socially and environmentally beneficial attitudes and behaviours.

We’ve split these responses into three categories: vision, experience and evidence. Read more

The Common Cause Handbook

We’ve just completed our latest piece of work, The Common Cause Handbook.

It’s a practical and accessible introduction to the importance of values and frames for organisations working towards a more sustainable and just society. Read more

Pickles’ ‘big society’ recycling scheme is a nudge in the wrong direction

On the Guardian’s Comment is Free, the Communities Minister Eric Pickles has made some bold claims about ‘human nature’ in introducing the coalition’s household recycling policy. Under the new policy, householders will be rewarded for recycling with points that can be cashed in at ‘local businesses’ such as Marks and Spencer and Cineworld. Bravely summarising decades of behavioural research in just two sentences, Pickles states that:

“There are some basic truths about human nature that the previous government found hard to grasp. If you want people to do something, then it’s always much more effective to give them support and encouragement – a nudge in the right direction – than to tell them what to do and then punish them if they don’t obey.”

He later goes on to claim:

“What’s really important about this scheme is that it treats people like adults. There’s no compulsion to participate, no penalties for opting out. It works because there’s a clear incentive to get involved. You put something in, you get something back. This is the Big Society in action.”

Unfortunately, the one basic truth about human nature that Pickles overlooks is the one that seems most essential for the Big Society: people respond to what others around them are doing, and don’t just behave in a rational, individually beneficial way. If they did, far less people would play the lottery.

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Money, money, money?

A recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) asked what it would take for action on climate change to be ‘mainstreamed’[1]. The IPPR conducted research with ‘Now’ people – perceived as leaders of public opinion and a supposed barometer for the acceptability of behavioural norms. A key conclusion was that for these trend-setters to change their behaviour, there would have to be something in it for them. That something, according to the IPPR, was the promise of financial gain for their adventures in sustainability.

On these pages, Tim Holmes has already questioned some of the methodological assumptions of the study, and the predictable media response to it[2]. But there is a further problem with the logic of the report that raises a serious communication challenge for environmental campaigners: Using money as a motivator of sustainable behaviour simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

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Evidence is not enough

Much commentary on politicians, and the political establishment in general, is heavily loaded with the rhetoric of corruption, personal accusation and recrimination. Politicians are accused of being greedy, corrupt, and contemptuous of the public. Many of these charges no doubt contain more than a grain of truth. Yet such personal accusations tend to miss the point.

Governments and political parties operate within an institutional framework that, while not entirely determining their actions, maintains intense pressures, and sets the limits of what can be achieved – the boundaries of the politically possible. As political analyst and former Downing Street insider James Humphreys suggests, the best way to understand how such political institutions work is to place oneself in policymakers’ shoes – what are the obstacles, blockages and pressures constraining your behaviour? Read more