PIRC http://publicinterest.org.uk Sustainability, Equality, Democracy Tue, 02 May 2017 11:20:51 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Framing The Economy http://publicinterest.org.uk/framing-the-economy/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/framing-the-economy/#respond Mon, 06 Mar 2017 16:20:12 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=5212 Read more]]>

Over the next 2 years, PIRC is partnering with the New Economics Foundation, the New Economy Organisers Network and the FrameWorks Institute to find out how people across the UK think about the economy and how civil society campaigners can use this understanding to better communicate.

In the coming months, we’ll organise interviews, surveys, focus groups and literature reviews, working alongside a network of campaigners and communicators to help apply this research to areas such as housing, energy and tax.

An economy is a collection of a human systems invented to help us harness resources to provide for human needs, inside or outside the marketplace. The way people think about these systems is deeply affected by what stories (explicitly or implicitly) of the economy are told, how often, and by whom. It’s subject rich in metaphor (economy as a pie, household budget or force of nature) and linked to our deeper beliefs about how the world works (who has power and why, how wealth is created, what’s the role of Government etc.)

We’re interested not in word smithing or message tinkering, but in helping civil society actors craft and enact a powerful new story about the economy.

Get in touch!
If you would like to find out more about this project, contact Bec Sanderson:

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Beyond “The Game is Rigged” – Finding a New Story of the Economy http://publicinterest.org.uk/beyond-game-rigged-finding-new-story-economy/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/beyond-game-rigged-finding-new-story-economy/#respond Mon, 06 Mar 2017 15:29:57 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=5744 Read more]]> “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.

It starts with a common agenda

In the summer of 2015, just after the Conservative Party won the general election in the UK on a straightforward ticket of security, and when Labour’s reputed economic competence was at rock bottom, the New Economy Organisers Network (NEON) embarked on a process of interviewing their membership about the political economy they wanted to see. The NEON network, broadly brought together under the banner of replacing neoliberalism with a political economy based on social and economic justice, houses activists from different schools of thought. There are social democrats, left-libertarians, deep green environmentalists, liberals, anarchists, socialists, the list goes on. But despite differences in approach, almost everyone could agree a certain vision of the economy—for instance, that it should be run on the principles of:

  • Collective provision of basic needs, outside the market
  • Redistributing power (not just wealth) through active liberation and economic democracy
  • Democratic and common ownership of resources,  like land and energy

Principles like these illustrate what ‘progressive’ means to us, and the work to find a common agenda in NEON was an all-important first step in the strategic communication work that has followed. NEON teamed up with the British think-tank New Economics Foundation,  research charity Public Interest Research Centre (where I work), and American framing experts the FrameWorks Institute to support civil society groups in the creation and communication of a new economic story.

We will be sharing everything we find in October, so no big spoilers here (sorry folks), but if, like me, you’re as interested in the process of framing projects as the findings, read on.

Framing the Economy: a participatory process

Our project draws on FrameWorks’ Strategic Frame Analysis Method, and the logic runs thus:  

  1. Draft the ‘movement’s message’. First, we must have some idea of the kind of economy we want to see and not, as is traditional, spend all of our time analysing what is wrong with it at the moment. This is what we got by interviewing people in the NEON network, above, and FrameWorks call it the untranslated story because it’s raw material of what we want to say, without any consideration about how we are going to say it. Our untranslated story contains the values and principles of the economy we want to see, as well as some of the more specific mechanisms of how the economy should work (for instance, how wealth is created and the role of public investment).
  2. Involve aligned spokespeople.  A crucial step in this project has been to identify the people who already communicate on the economy, and bring them into the design and running of the project. We’ve approached this by recruiting a Network of more than 30 people – activists, local councillors, journalists, press officers, and so on – to  help develop the frames, and a Steering Group to advise on a strategy to mobilise them.  We’ve looked for people that work in different areas and have a diversity of life experiences to contribute wisdom that we wouldn’t get if we just sat round the table trying to figure it all out.  The network is absolutely integral to the project, and without their participation, the impact would not stretch much further than a few shares of a PDF report.
  3. Find out *how* people think about the economy. This is the part where we listen to the people we want to talk with. Important and often, strangely, overlooked. We have done this in two ways. First, we did a short scope of existing literature (polling data, focus groups results, academic papers) to get a sense of public opinion, then we ran 40 of FrameWorks’‘cognitive interviews, across the country, with a representative sample of the British public. These interviews were carefully designed to open up conversations and allow us to see not just what people think (e.g. attitudes towards tax), but how people think (e.g. beliefs about the way the economy works, how taxes fit into that and why). Our audience has been broad, the ‘general public’, and our interest is in the ways of thinking that are culturally strong across Britain.
  4. Map the gaps. This is the stage we’re working on, as I write, where we compare our untranslated story to the results from the interviews and findings, above, with the goal of identifying what the two have in common and where they diverge.

  5. Develop re-framing strategies. Time to take stock and decide what direction to go in. To do this, we’re holding a retreat with the Network and Steering Group where we can all look back at our untranslated story in light of the findings. We want to identify a framing approach that’s true to our principles and likely to resonate with what the general public already think. This is a chance for us to think about not just the message itself but also some of the other considerations of messaging, for instance, mediums and messengers.

  6. Test new frames. The last six months of this project are packed with several cycles of testing and reflection. We’re going to do another round of interviews, this time on the street in public spaces (with a video team) to capture snapshots of how passers-by respond to the frames we’ve come up with.  We’ll follow that with a series of focus groups, then workshops with activists and eventually a series of national survey experiments. Each step will be designed, with our network, to build most usefully on what we’ve found so far.

  7. Develop new progressive projects and infrastructure.  Working with the Network, the final stage is to communicate these frames as widely as we can.  A couple of years ago, NEF and NEON set-up a spokesperson network which has trained and booked more than 400 media appearances.  We’re currently researching what aspects of progressive infrastructure to work on next, because having the right story is no use without the capacity and training to communicate it well.  With an honest assessment of what is needed – training, investment, access to knowledge, support of institutions – civil society groups can begin the work of building up infrastructure, potentially setting up new organisations and training programmes.

This is the work we are doing to build up a new economic story, with many of the people who can eventually be its storytellers.  

We think this kind of work is necessary, but not sufficient. It’s necessary, in that progressives will only influence public debate, and ultimately economic practice, if they have something to say that is compelling, coherent and plausible. But it’s not sufficient, in that no message, however beautifully crafted, has the power on its own to turn the tide of the political economy.

‘The system is rigged’ may be the message of the moment on all sides of the political spectrum, but progressives will fail if their communication strategy is centered on a string of populist frames.

The work that needs doing, in this project and beyond, is the work of aligning people behind a good story of the economy, and developing the long term capacity of progressives to get their story heard.


Framing the Economy is a project hosted by Public Interest Research CentreNew Economics FoundationNew Economy Organisers Network (NEON) and FrameWorks Institute.  To find out more contact Bec Sanderson:

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Can you help reframe the economy? http://publicinterest.org.uk/can-help-us-re-frame-economy-call-literature/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/can-help-us-re-frame-economy-call-literature/#respond Tue, 24 May 2016 10:33:48 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=5302 Read more]]>

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: http://publicinterest.org.uk/framing-economy-literature/

And if you want to chat about this project,

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Come and work with us! http://publicinterest.org.uk/work-with-us/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/work-with-us/#comments Wed, 02 Mar 2016 16:23:35 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=4951 Read more]]> Applications now closed, thanks for all the interest.

We’re looking for someone to join our small team who can help us make ourselves and the broken stories of our current system a little better. It’ll be a varied role within a flat structure in a dynamic charity based in Machynlleth, in the beautiful green hills of mid-Wales.

bcr-130637-800The Team

We’re an organisation working for a nicer, greener, fairer, more compassionate and more democratic society, through participatory approaches to connecting, learning and research. We’re particularly looking for an excellent communicator (any medium considered*) to help us develop our exciting new strategy (well, we’re excited about it).

It’s a four day per week role, and you’ll be paid £22,000 pa pro rata as part of a flat pay structure (with regular increases).

We’ve recently moved to working non-hierarchically. This means that every team member has equal input and decision-making power in the direction and running of the organisation, and we share many of the tasks related to general organisational management as well as project work.

What you’ll be doing:

  • Working with other members of the team on existing projects: including action learning programmes and framing research. In particular, this might include working with Ralph on our Framing Nature project; Elena on our Framing LGBTI Equality project, or Bec on our Framing the Economy project.
  • Writing reports, articles and blogs and helping us jazz up our general communications.
  • Facilitating workshops with varied groups, mostly on framing and story, and liaising with external partners and networks (which may include travel to London and elsewhere).
  • Updating PIRC’s website and social media.
  • Working with all of us to develop our strategy, new projects and associated fundraising tasks.
  • Carrying out selected organisational responsibilities which may include team support, programming, strategy and web maintenance, depending on skills and motivation.

You’ll definitely be:

  • Committed to equitable and sustainable social change.
  • A great communicator: you may include among your skills writing, running workshops, designing publications or producing web content.
  • Experienced in facilitating or organising groups.
  • Organised and capable of effectively managing projects.
  • Flexible, with the ability to manage multiple projects and tasks simultaneously.
  • Committed to collaborative working.

It’d be an added bonus if you had:

  • Excellent writing skills – clear, quick, and with experience of being published.
  • Knowledge and experience of participatory tools and approaches.
  • Experience of designing, carrying out and writing-up research.
  • Web skills (ranging from social media to programming and design).
  • An understanding of how frames and stories shape the world we live in.
  • Experience of managing budgets and fundraising.
  • Prior experience of working or volunteering in the third sector.
  • A fondness for Frisbee / board games / the outdoors / K-pop.

Other things we’ll expect:
Our flat structure means that we share the responsibilities involved in managing and developing an organisation. Part of this happens through rotating roles in Core Groups focused on Resources (finances, fundraising and office supplies), Communications (publications, web, social media), People (staff wellbeing, cohesion and training), Programming (capacity and planning) and Direction (strategy, ideas and development) so we would also expect any new team member to participate in one or more of these Groups. We don’t expect you to have any particular skills in any of these areas, but it would be a bonus if you did.

In addition to all of this, we try to cultivate a culture of awareness around the multiple systems of oppression in our society and our own role in these so that we can be better allies to those who experience these oppressions. We’d hope that any addition to our team shared this thinking.

Applications now closed.

Tell us why you think you might be the one we’re looking for: what makes you tick, how you meet the criteria we’re looking for, and what you’d like to bring to one or more of our Core Groups. We’d also love to see a piece of your work that you’re particularly pleased with (such as a website or article, a report, a picture of some artwork you’ve done, an audio clip of a beautiful song you’ve made). You’ll get a confirmation page when you submit, and an email. If for any reason you don’t get this acknowledgement, send us your attachments by email, just to be sure.

Please note that we will consider applicants who wish to work remotely, or for fewer days a week, but we have a preference for someone who can live in Machynlleth and fulfill the full role. Email if you have any other burning questions!

Deadline for applications: Thursday 31st March 2016 (now passed).

Interviews will be held on Tuesday 12th and Wednesday 13th April– please indicate on the form whether you can make these dates. We will let you know if we would like to interview you by Thursday 7th April.

If you want to know more about what we do, have a look around the website, or just email get in touch!

*Though contemporary dance will require us to rethink our current strategy a bit.

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Framing LGBTQI Equality http://publicinterest.org.uk/framing-lgbti-equality/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/framing-lgbti-equality/#respond Wed, 02 Mar 2016 14:35:12 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=4943 Read more]]>  


Why did a group of people in Russia want to ban LGBTI groups from using the rainbow flag (stolen from nature and the children, apparently), and how have movements like La Manif Pour Tous in France, protesting that sex education must ‘leave my gender stereotypes alone’ (not a joke), gained any serious support?

We’re working with ILGA-Europe on a project aiming to better understand the narratives around LGBTI equality across Europe, and how we can tell new stories that shift the way we think about family, gender binaries, and sex. We know that the way anything (such as the myriad issues involved in LGBTI equality) is framed shapes the way a person will respond to it: whether they respond positively or negatively, and what type of solution they believe is appropriate.

This is an exploratory project and we’re interested to understand what cultural and other contextual differences there are across the region.

Our research currently falls into three main areas of questioning:

  • How do people in Europe currently think about LGBTI equality? Here, we’re particularly interested in attitudes and beliefs about LGBTI people and related issues that will help us understand the models that people use to reason about these issues.
  • How is LGBTI equality currently framed in Europe? How do advocates, opponents, and the public currently talk about LGBTI equality? What can this tell us about how people think about these issues? Which issues are most contentious?
  • What do we currently know about the effectiveness of communicating LGBTI equality? What has and hasn’t worked in advocating for (or opposing) LGBTI people? Has research been done prior to or following particular campaigns or advocacy to measure their effectiveness?

Do you know the answers to any of these questions?

Get in touch! The project is being coordinated by Valeria of ILGA-Europe &  Elena of PIRC and we’d love to hear from you.

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Framing Nature http://publicinterest.org.uk/framing-nature/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/framing-nature/#respond Wed, 02 Mar 2016 14:13:18 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=4941 Read more]]>

PIRC’s follow-up project to Common Cause for Nature

We all share values that are associated with justice, compassion and environmental concern, and we also all share values associated with image, competition and self-interest. These two sets of values are psychologically in conflict. This means that reading about the beauty of nature – or the experience of being in a park – can engage environmental values and at the same time suppress self-interested or materialistic values. It also means that being encouraged to think about profit and image will suppress environmental concern.

How can the conservation sector – and all nature lovers – seek to encourage our better selves and those of the wider public? Framing Nature (and Common Cause for Nature before it) seeks to explore this question and find practical, unifying techniques for doing so. We do this in the firm knowledge that we can create a greener, fairer, more wildlife rich world if we work together.

The project is in its second phase.

Phase 2: Framing Nature

Framing Nature builds and expands on the findings of Common Cause for Nature and is focused on practical advice and implementation. The project aims to bring the sector together through:

  • Providing tools and resources to enable conservation practitioners to understand and apply framing and values in relation to their work
  • Providing real-time support and advice to partners
  • Piloting new approaches to engaging the values associated with our better selves through engagement with conservation.

Get in touch

If you’re interested in a workshop or would like to find out more about Framing Nature contact Ralph: .

Phase 1: Common Cause for Nature

Thirteen UK conservation organisations, including WWF and RSPB, came together in 2012 to commission this project. Tom Crompton of WWF-UK, Ruth Smyth of RSPB and Catrina Lennox of MSC were key to initiating the project which was subsequently led by PIRC. Original linguistic analysis was carried out by academics at Lancaster and Essex Universities of six months of external NGO communications. Through this analysis, and supplemented with input from interviews, workshops and surveys, Common Cause for Nature explores the values the sector promotes in its communications, campaigns and activities.

By learning from what works, and reforming what doesn’t, the sector can ensure its work cultivates the values that inspire lasting action.

The research built on the work of Common Cause. Common Cause: The Case for Working with our Cultural Values, was written by Tom Crompton and published in 2010 by COIN, CPRE, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam and WWF-UK and has since led to extensive debate within the third sector.


Find the Common Cause for Nature reports at the Common Cause website:

Download the Practitioner’s Guide | Buy a copy.
Download the Full Report

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Open Framing http://publicinterest.org.uk/open-framing/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/open-framing/#respond Wed, 02 Mar 2016 13:58:39 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=4936 Read more]]> Civil society creating powerful, shared stories

“Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Author

What we’ll do

Through our work and many conversations with people across civil society, we’ve seen a need for a better understanding of strategic communications: on how to build stronger movements with the capacity to tell stories that create a better society for all. And we also know there is a lot of knowledge and creativity within civil society.

We aim to harness this potential through providing accessible tools for understanding story, such as:

  • Exciting workshops where we explore narratives and create new ones;
  • Cool, open-source online tools and printed resources;
  • Connecting with multiple movements and sharing learning;
  • Researching the best ways to frame stuff.

Why we’re doing it

“It is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are. They do their work in silence, invisibly. They work with all the internal materials of the mind and self. They become part of you while changing you. Beware the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.”
Ben Okri, Author

In the past year, we’ve definitely witnessed the power of stories. The mainstream media cast the already marginalised as undeserving: disempowering people and deepening divisions within communities. But we’ve also seen stories that transform society for the better. During Ireland’s equal marriage referendum, the ‘Yes’ campaign told a powerful story of the Irish people as generous, inclusive and fair. Its authenticity and the engaging methods used to tell it resonated, bringing about an historic ‘yes’ to equality.

We believe that social change requires deep shifts in thinking. We must still reform laws and technology – but neither is sufficient in solving entrenched social problems. Rather, we need to change public and political discourse: the stories we tell ourselves. We can easily get trapped in a story that restricts the possibility for change. A new story – a new way of thinking – can help new worlds come into being.

To address poverty, inequality, exclusion, conflict, and climate change, we need new stories. These must connect rather than divide, explain rather than obscure, and offer hope rather than fear. Yet civil society is often surprisingly ill-equipped to navigate this terrain. Many of the largest and best-resourced organisations have become overly-technical and risk-averse, struggling to tell authentic stories. Those with the best stories often don’t have the resources to develop or share them. Strategic communication – ‘framing’ – has been an expert-led field, requiring large consultancy fees and research budgets, inaccessible to most. Further, stories are at their most powerful when they’re shared and told widely: an organisation can’t shift stories on their own. Civil society must connect and support each other.

Through the Open Framing Project we want to better equip civil society to tell world-changing stories. We’ll forge partnerships and networks across organisations, movements and borders, and create open, collaborative and accessible tools and resources.

“Narratives and melodramas are not mere words and images; they can enter our brains and provide models that we not merely live by, but that define who we are. Language is an instrument of creativity and power, a means of connecting with people or alienating them, and a force for social cohesion or separation.”
George Lakoff, Cognitive Linguist & Author

And we’d love it if you wanted to be involved.

We’re interested to hear from you if you have ideas, want to hear more, or want to work with us. We’ve loved working with the European LGBTI movement, international development organisations, people from the sexual and reproductive health and rights sector, economic justice campaigners, environmentalists and many more in developing this work so far, and we’re keen to take it further …

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Developing Discourse or Stunted Growth? Taking the Sustainable out of the Sustainable Development Goals http://publicinterest.org.uk/developing-discourse-or-stunted-growth-taking-the-sustainable-out-of-the-sustainable-development-goals/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/developing-discourse-or-stunted-growth-taking-the-sustainable-out-of-the-sustainable-development-goals/#respond Thu, 11 Jun 2015 10:28:03 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=4453 Read more]]> Where does poverty come from?

Whatever your answer, it’ll shape what you think we should do about it. If you think it’s natural, for example, then perhaps all we can do about it is alleviate suffering rather than get rid of it. Perhaps we shouldn’t do anything about it at all.

Your answer will subsequently have an impact on how effective you are at addressing poverty. Will you introduce incentive schemes because you believe poor people are just not trying hard enough; or higher taxes for the rich because you believe historically there has been an unfair allocation of resources? Do you reduce or increase social benefits, like unemployment or child benefits?


In other words, the way we ‘frame’ poverty has a direct link with our political response.

It’s worrying, then, that an upcoming report from /The Rules suggests that the understanding of poverty that underpins the Sustainable Development Goals  (SDGs) is faulty. Worrying because the SDGs, which replace the Millenium Development Goals, represent the political response of the entire international community to global poverty.

How do the SDGs frame poverty?

Poverty in the SDG documents is consistently framed as a disease. The authors of /The Rules’ report suggest that given that eradication is unlikely with disease, the best we can hope for is to manage poverty rather than rid ourselves of it altogether. This would be in direct contradiction to the Goals themselves.

image (3)

The metaphor also suggests that poverty is naturally occurring and something to be expected. The question of where poverty comes from is thus never addressed, and the result is clear: we lose any reference to the structural changes that might make a genuine impact on poverty.

How do we solve poverty?

The architects of the SDGs are critical of the growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a tool for eradicating poverty, but then fail to suggest an alternative, revert quickly back to using GDP as a measure of progress, and are constrained by a very particular model of how the world economy should run. How development is connected to the environment is confused at best. Instead of moving beyond the current, narrow model of economy and progress, as the authors of /The Rules’ report suggest, ‘it passes this challenge to future generations’.

This is inescapably ironic.

Perhaps most worrying, there’s a glaring omission of any reference to the role of corporations. But we know how much power and influence corporate interests wield; and we know that they have been involved in shaping the SDGs. That they aren’t included as a relevant political actor raises concerns that we might not like how corporations are going to be involved.

How do we really solve poverty?

If we don’t tell the real story of poverty, we’re stuck at the first hurdle. So we first need to tell a clear story of how poverty was created: through our colonial and imperial histories, and through stories of domination, control and the linear nature of ‘progress’.

We need to talk about how poverty is maintained through unjust trade laws, tax rules and labour practices. And we must acknowledge the interconnection between the wellbeing of human and non-human nature.

The solutions fall out of this understanding. We must strengthen the bonds between people and the natural world: no targets we make can be truly sustainable without doing so. We must rethink the meaning of work and purpose so that we can adequately sustain the full spectrum of human needs: not just financially but in having time to enjoy, garden, and spend time with loved ones. Lastly, we must fix the rules of the game so they’re fairer, such as by implementing progressive taxes that begin to redistribute power and resources.

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Strivers and skivers? We’re all in this together http://publicinterest.org.uk/strivers-and-skivers-were-all-in-this-together/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/strivers-and-skivers-were-all-in-this-together/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 09:11:34 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=4419 Read more]]> The binary rhetoric that currently surrounds the welfare state reflects a deep moral narrative with a crippling social impact. ‘Strivers’ and ‘skivers’ are two sides of the same coin. That coin is shame.

One side represents the deserving, and the other side the undeserving. Rachel Reeves, the UK Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary, recently said that: “We [the Labour Party] are not the party of people on benefits.” She faced some criticism for these words, but these are messages we hear daily, from government and opposition alike.

We’re here for hard-working families. We’re here for the taxpayer.

In this narrative, employment equals worth, while unemployment casts you into the world of the untouchables.

Economic policies are created around this notion of worth. Unemployment must be a choice—you’re shirking—so let’s coax you out of it. You don’t need benefits in your first week of unemployment since you should be looking for work. We’ll put sanctions on you if you’re unemployed for too long.

Shame on you for being unemployed.

You don’t deserve the same basic things as other people—the strivers—like a bedroom if you have a disability, or enough money to live reasonably well. You’re a scrounger; you’re scrounging. Unemployment is immoral, and you must be punished for it.

The moral choice, clearly, is to be employed. But don’t go resting on your laurels—having a job isn’t enough. You have to be a striver: you must strive.You can’t just work: you must be hard-working. Your worth is based purely on your continued commitment to the rat race.

If there’s a destination, it almost doesn’t matter. Whether or not your job is making any kind of contribution to the functioning of society is irrelevant. You’ve just got to aspire to be more than you are. Your worth is dependent on it.

Behind these aspirations—the need to prove ourselves, to achieve greater social status and material wealth—are a highly destructive set of values which underpin rampant consumerism and discriminatory attitudes. They lie behind the arrogance that puts profit before planet. They fuel anxiety, stress and depression. And, as the writer David Graeber asks: “How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist?”

Both strivers and skivers are cultural representations of the belief that we aren’t enough. This belief is the foundation of shame. The welfare state is really a state of shame. And the not enough mentality is bolstered by a host of other fears that we’re reminded of daily: not enough jobs, money, not enough international cooperation or environmental action to name but a few. The mainstream media and a noisy chorus of commercial advertising only serve to fuel this culture of fear and shame.

It’s difficult to avoid absorbing this mentality. It runs deep in our narratives and spills over into our policies, seeping finally into our souls. And it’s one of the most destructive emotions, with a vast ripple effect.

Shame stifles creativity and innovation, and erodes relationships with friends, families and communities. Shame creates vicious cycles. Researcher Brené Brown describes one aspect of these cycles in two core thoughts: what’s wrong with me? And who’s to blame? We quickly move to pass our shame onto other people: we criticise, we’re cynical, and we’re violent in our words and actions. If I’m not worthy, then you definitely aren’t. The oppressed become the oppressors.

In other words, and somewhat ironically, believing that we’re not enough actually makes us worse.

So how can we be better?  Brown says that the opposite of shame is empathy, and calls the compassionate and courageous acceptance of yourself and others ‘wholeheartedness.’

Placing wholeheartedness at the center could build much more virtuous cycles between personal change and political action. But what might wholehearted attempts to change the economy of shame look like in practice?

One radical shift would be to decouple human worth from our economic role or employment status. We could just call ourselves people, and let that be enough. “We are the party for everyone who lives here,” we could say.

We could give people the dignity of a citizen’s income rather than subjecting them to a punishing benefits system—an income given to every person, universally and unconditionally. No scrounging: we’re all in this together. No need to strive. We’d be freed from the need to serve capital. We could view all of our activities—childcare childcare, creative practice, nurturing our relationships with nature—as more valuable.

Mincome” for example, a pilot citizen’s income scheme carried out in Canada in the 1970s, found that women took more time on maternity leave and young people were likely to stay in education for longer.  But aside from these benefits, and busting the shame-fuelled myths of detractors, very few people stopped working as a result of receiving this unconditional income.

Another pilot scheme in the United States did show a small reduction in working hours, but alongside a significant increase in health, wellbeing and educational attainment. Which would you prefer to strive for?

The cultural shift afforded by such schemes could be huge: if people are told that they are enough as they already are, they will be better. When we feelworthy we are more creative and supportive of others—we care and we love and we look after one another.

To support a more compassionate economy, we can also introduce empathy into other institutions like schools, something that’s already been tried in thousands of classrooms across the world by an organization called Roots of Empathy. A baby is brought into the classroom for a number of sessions, and children are encouraged to think about what the baby is feeling. The learning that takes place is described as “caught rather than taught” by the programme’s founder, Mary Gordon.

If you only care about the economic contribution of your citizens, says Gordon, then teaching technical subjects like maths and science would be enough. But, she says, “If you look at the developmental health and wealth of a nation, it’s undeniably dependent on the emotional health of its citizenry.” Empathy lies at the heart of our emotional health.

Children who go through the programme are often happier, more connected, less angry and anxious, and more aware of each others’ feelings. Imagine the domino effect of those improvements on the rest of the society.

Building society around understanding and compassion? Facing shame head on, with self-acceptance and compassion for others? Now that could be revolutionary.

This was originally posted on Open Democracy’s Transformation.

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Common Cause Training: Values, Leadership & Social Change http://publicinterest.org.uk/common-cause-training-2015/ http://publicinterest.org.uk/common-cause-training-2015/#respond Thu, 16 Apr 2015 14:52:12 +0000 http://publicinterest.org.uk/?p=4279 Read more]]> 23rd – 26th June 2015

A residential training course in the applied psychology of human motivation for communicators, organisers and leaders of social change

This summer, we’re offering three days of practical and inspiring participatory learning in the beautiful mid-Wales hills. Together, we’ll be using the Common Cause approach to explore the psychology of values and develop tools for applying it to our work.


Wise, expansive wonderful ‘weekend’ with time to think and be. Exceeded my expectations… Facilitation was excellent, responsive. In the weeks since the course ended a definite shift has taken place at my organisation.”

Susan, Buglife

Application form

What you’ll leave with

By the end of the three days, you’ll know how to:

  • frame messages in a way that will coherently and effectively engage with the values of others, help your own organisation’s goals, and benefit the rest of civil society;
  • create strategies and campaigns that will be effective in the long-term and short-term alike;
  • understand the role of values in organisational dynamics and in change programmes;
  • identify disparate organisations working towards the same values and understand how to build alliances with them;
  • communicate your insights about values and frames to others, including the rest of your organisation.

We will also help you to establish a network of support in the months following the training.

“This training was the perfect way to get to a new, deeper level of understanding. It was absolutely inspiring, brilliantly facilitated with a great mixture of expert input, group discussion and personal reflection, and ideally ‘framed’ in the gorgeous setting of CAT. I came away with loads of ideas, more confidence to apply values and frames thinking, and even more conviction that this is something my organisation needs to be doing. I totally recommend the training to anyone who is itching to know more about how to work with Common Cause principles.”

Fran, Friends of the Earth Europe

Why you’ll love it

On the training you’ll get a chance to connect with with a diverse group of inspiring people, in the beautiful surrounds of the Welsh mountains. There will be time for personal reflection, for sharing each other’s experience and understanding, and also for working together to come up with solutions to challenges in your work.

“It was an inspiring subject, setting and group of like-minded people which allowed for an exciting development of teachings, ideas and creative development over a course which was just long enough. I arrived not sure what to expect and was blown away on every level. The facilitators do an incredible job of making it accessible to everyone and the approach to working and teaching techniques is unlike anything I’ve ever done for that extended amount of time. It really helped us retain a lot of the ideas and teachings.”

Dom & Jimmy, MinuteWorks

Who it’s for

To make sure the group gets the most out of the three days, we ask a few things of you. You’ll be working for social change or interested in ensuring that your organisation does as much as it can to protect the environment and to promote a just world, and it’s critical that you: 

  • Have had a prior introduction to Common Cause: preferably through a workshop (please get in touch if you haven’t been to a workshop before to discuss whether this training will be suitable for you).
  • Are enthusiastic about applying Common Cause in your own work
  • Are motivated to work with other people and from different organisations and sectors

If you’d like to read up on Common Cause work, start with our publications here.

When & where 

23-26 June 2015 at the Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth


Shared (4-bed rooms): £450
Shared (twin rooms): £550
Single rooms: £660

Prices include accommodation, meals and refreshments, and course materials.

The accommodation is in CAT’s rustic and communal Eco Cabins, powered by their own solar panels, hydro turbine and wood-burner. It’s cosy but basic. Please bring towels and anything else you need to feel comfortable, and get in touch if you’d like any more details.


Want to come, but can’t afford it? We will be offering a few full and partial bursaries for people working for small organisations, with networks on a voluntary basis, or in low-income social change work. Please contact us if you would like to be considered for a bursary.

We’d also love to hear from you if you could support us giving out bursary places – perhaps, for example, you’d like to come and your organisation could afford more than the costs we’re asking. You’re doing something great!


Please fill in the application form. If you would like a form sent via email or snail mail for you to fill in, please email Jamie. All applications should be received by us no later than April 22nd, and we will let you know within three weeks of this date whether your application has been successful.


Pamela Candea, The Surefoot Effect; Rebecca Nestor, Learning for Good; Elena Blackmore, PIRC; Richard Hawkins, PIRC; Tom Crompton, WWF; Ralph Underhill, PIRC; Jamie McQuilkin, PIRC.

Detailed programme

Will be circulated nearer the time.

Want to know more?

If you want to discuss your participation with one of the workshop organisers please email Jamie. 

More from last year’s participants: 

“Inspiring AND practical…”

James, National Union of Students

“This is an eyeopening course that got me to totally re-evaluate the way we interact with and communicate with our members. It doesn’t only get you to question what you are doing but provides a really useful toolkit of what you can do instead. All round, very worthwhile.”

Marina, The Mammal Society

“Common Cause training sessions open you up to a new perspective on the power of values in our culture; you’re given the space to question the assumptions you brought with you, while being provided with the support needed to see the process through. It’s engaging, compassionate, and manages to resonate across sectors. The training challenges and uplifts at the same time, and you won’t see your work in quite the same way afterwards.”

Roy, World Animal Protection

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