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 a longer response from Martin Kirk here.


Matt Williams

We need culture change, not just piecemeal behaviour change. We in the NGO movement have been attempting to appeal to people on the basis of extrinsic values through our campaigns for a while now, whilst emissions increase and biodiversity disappears. If we want a better world where no one is left behind, and want to address the social as well as the environmental problems we face, shifting values is a more sustainable solution than trying to fix one problem at a time, and fighting lots of different fires.

Casper ter Kuile (Common Cause)

Campaigners today operate in a rapidly-changing landscape. Our economic, social and environmental systems are failing us – whether we look at rates of mental ill-health, inequality or climate change. Tony is right to argue the need for a deeper engagement with the public on these issues. If we want to shift some of the fundamental systems that underlie our failing institutions and political processes, it is my belief that we need an empowered, durable movement of citizens taking action together.

What the research, and many campaigners’ own experience, reveals, is that we cannot build this kind of movement through appeals to people’s fear, greed or ego. Such motivations tend to produce shallow, short-lived types of engagement. They are also likely to backfire, actually reinforcing values that undermine social and environmental concern. I often describe the Common Cause approach as appealing to people’s best selves; knowing that all of us have the capacity for great compassion, creativity and sense of social justice. To do that, we do need a different approach to engaging with people – different skills are needed in addition to a campaigner’s usual toolbox, including the ability to create experiences for the public that shifts their preconceptions, something that Tony acknowledges in his piece. Many NGOs are already managing to do this in practice. We’ll shortly be publishing a practice guide exploring exactly these questions of how to move towards a campaigning model that uses Common Cause.

What I find so exciting about the potential for this intrinsic-approach to campaigning is that we are working at a cultural-change level. It is not enough for us to look towards incremental legislative or behaviour change alone, we have the opportunity to re-imagine how we live and work together as a society. If we are to create a just, democratic and sustainable society – then that is our job as campaigners, let us embrace the challenge!

Ali Freeman

I think Tony is falling prey to narrow and short-termist thinking. It’s the difference between transactional and transformational leadership, and about how we define success. Does getting the job done mean using the most familiar tools to hand and tallying up membership numbers, click rates or petition signatures? If we are sincere about wanting a longer-term, sustainable transformation of human-environmental relations, we have to take values seriously. My experience is that you can relate to anyone with intrinsic values if you capture their attention in the right way.


Ro Randall (Carbon Conversations)

Tony says:

“I think we are most likely to get positive change … in the second approach, whereby campaigns are designed to work with the grain of the fundamental psychological needs that people have …”

But to me, as a psychotherapist, the Values Modes designation of psychological needs is crude and static. These are psychological needs as seen by a salesman. This view pays little attention to people”s subjective experience or to how people change, ignores the influence of family, history, culture and inner conflict. We need to understand how people respond to the complex and anxiety-provoking need for environmental change rather than try to figure out the best way to sell them an environmental product.

In all my conversations with people Tony might call “prospectors” (and I”ve had many) I have never found it effective to emphasise that green cars are “the latest, most modern and best vehicles”. Most “prospectors” see through this sham faster than the ice is melting in the arctic. Like everyone else they are caught up in a society that emphasises and promotes some values over others. Like everyone else they suffer from a reluctance to face difficult issues that they feel little control over. Like everyone else they try to avoid having nightmares about the future. It”s only when I”ve listened to the person talk about their life and their concerns that I”ve found some common ground that allows us to see that we might share a desire to solve this desperate problem. Positioning myself as a salesperson doesn”t help. Listening, understanding, encouraging, reflecting and drawing out people”s desire to participate in a solution do.

Anthony Morrow (The Conservation Volunteers)

Tony’s piece would have made sense to me in the past, before I really got my head around Common Cause and how it is put into practice. What I have learned since then is that values shifting is happening all the time, through community learning and development (CLD) practice on projects that I work on and actively see happening in Scotland. Those projects are in fact the most successful ones. I think it”s the language of Common Cause that can prove prohibitive to people more than anything, and the challenge of “changing values” seems a big one, but I really think it”s successfully happening and on-going across the country – it”s just not framed explicitly that way.

Morgan Phillips (WasteWatch)

New ways of engaging individuals in volunteering and collective action focus on engaging and strengthening intrinsic values such as care for others, equality, kindness, concern for the environment and altruism. These values are reinforced experientially by involving individuals in a variety of activities that allow them to connect with others and the environment, learn and create new things, engage in physical activities and volunteer time, money and/or skills to help others. It is the gains to personal, community, environmental and even local economic wellbeing that result from engagement in such activities that are key to them being sustained. Rob Hopkins points this out in the Transition Companion:

‘Transition works because it cultivates intrinsic values: feeling connected to other people, working together, making positive change happen around us where we live, and so on, rather than appealing to extrinsic values. It is already showing that a cultural shift to more intrinsic values is a shift that can inspire sustained change.’

Important here is the recognition that appeals to extrinsic values as a way to get people involved in community and/or environmental action are unsustainable in the long term, undermining deeper, intrinsically-motivated engagement. Transition initiatives, similar to initiatives run by People United and by Waste Watchthrough Our Common Place, are most successful when people find the activity they are involved in inherently rewarding, or more plainly, useful and fun!

The New Economics Foundation identify five ways to wellbeing: connect, be active, keep learning, take notice and give. There are thousands of ways to fulfil these ways to wellbeing. With sufficient sustainability literacy, very few need have an adversely negative impact on the environment and society – on the contrary (and this is my point) they can have positive impacts on both – and potentially on the economy too, especially at a local level. Two of the most important ways to wellbeing are connecting with others and giving; they overlap. Both involve and reinforce values of care. Care, respect, empathy, kindness and trust are key to sustaining the human relationships upon which healthy society is built. Sustainable development is about sustaining society as well as the environment. Both are threatened (yes, society is threatened) when what Bill McKibben has called ‘hyper-individualism’ and its associated extrinsic values are reinforced by the consumer culture that currently surrounds us and detaches us from each other and the natural world. Why? Because this detachment breeds mistrust, power struggles, anxiety, concern about image, intolerance of other cultures, self-interest and, ultimately, belief that material consumption will protect us from outside forces and make us happy.

Richard Sennett tells us, in his excellent book on cooperation Together that people need time together doing things if cooperation is to flourish. By doing things together bonds of trust, empathy, kindness, care and so on are built; intrinsic values are reinforced and activated, communities and workforces become more cohesive and function better. The jump from caring about people and environments we know, to caring about people we’ll never meet and the global environment, is an easier one to make than trying to make that jump from a position where we care most about our self, our image, power, status and security. This is why projects such as Transition Towns, People United and Our Common Place are so important. They are a form of experiential education; they bring people together who learn by doing that caring for people and issues ‘bigger than self’ are fulfilling things to do. They don’t need a pat on the back, or a financial incentive: it is the connecting through active learning, doing and giving that is rewarding.


Tom Crompton (WWF-UK)

There are a number of crucial points where I think Tony reiterates perspectives that have been ascribed to us, rather than those that we have actually advanced. This is totally understandable given the number of commentators who have waded in on this from different points of view!

So, to clarify, these misunderstandings include:

  1. We have always been clear that the Common Cause approach does not depend upon “shifting people”s underlying values”. The large peer-reviewed evidence base upon which we draw points to intrinsic values being those that are most important to almost everyone – even those who are more “extrinsically” oriented. The point is to appeal to the values which we know to be associated with environmental concern and commitment.
  2. Tony is absolutely right to suggest that communicating differently is unlikely to have any major impact in “changing” values – something about which we have also always been very clear. We list a very wide range of aspects of people”s lived experience that is likely to have a more profound impact on people”s values than the NGO communications that they encounter! Our point is that NGOs need to start addressing these factors, through what they campaign on as much as how they communicate.
  3. As Tony says, we have been critical of “simple and painless steps”. But we are also clear why: that the dangers we highlight arise mainly in framing appeals to take these steps through extrinsic values. We have pointed to experimental evidence of the dangers of this (for example, Greg Maio at Cardiff finds that including appeals to money-saving in information about car-shares reduces people”s likelihood to recycle). We cannot afford to be indifferent to the ways in which messaging on one environmental behaviour change has knock-on effects for others.
  4. Common Cause argues very explicitly for meeting people where they are.
  5. While the very extensive research upon which Common Cause builds is all in the public domain, we have repeatedly requested sight of the data upon which Values Modes is based. This has never been shared. (See this briefing for example.)

Laurie Walmsley

I am studying values theory for my MSc dissertation and feel compelled to point out a few misconceptions/misrepresentations on which Tony Juniper seems to have based his arguments.

1. “[The values modes (VM) proponents] point to quite a lot of evidence that suggests [changing values] can’t actually be done, at least not without changing people’s life experiences …”

The argument that changing values can”t be done without changing experiences might hold water, but what isn”t an experience? It might include the type of advertising seen on the tube, the framing and interpretation of government communications (for instance the government”s “red tape challenge”, which frames regulation as a negative thing, despite the ongoing banking crisis, or the Department of Energy and Climate Change”s celebration of issuing a record number of North Sea oil & gas licences) or a first experience with a community group.

As for the claim that “in the end it will be far more effective to work with the values people already hold, rather than trying to convince them to adopt new ones”, I believe this assertion is a fallacy. The extensive literature shows that across western nations, people largely share 19 broad value groups. In terms of values, what differentiates us is not usually “the values that people hold” but their relative importance – the way people prioritise values relative to one another. Most people hold all values to be important, but some are held to be far more important than others.

As I understand it, VM is mainly a way of categorizing people into three groups according to the relative prioritisation of their values. One of the fundamental differences between VM and Common Cause (CC) is that VM asserts that values can become “satiated”, resulting in an evolution of needs: that settlers can thereby become prospectors, and in turn pioneers. This is, in my opinion, a fatal and dangerous flaw in their argument. My understanding is that not only is there no evidence for this in the literature, it is actually the opposite of what an extensive body of research has found. Activating a given value makes it both easier to activate later and, crucially, over time increases its importance relative to other values.

2. Juniper writes:

“I am very clear as to where I think we are most likely to get positive change, and it is in the second approach, whereby campaigns are designed to work with the grain of the fundamental psychological needs that people have, rather than trying to persuade people who are not environmentalists to adopt the values that would cause them to become so.”

This misses one of the central points of the Common Cause thesis and the research that underpins it: that the activation of certain “self-enhancement values” (e.g. self-image, power and achievement”) suppresses values of social concern and concern for nature, which are key for driving the transformational social change needed to address humanity”s myriad sustainability crises. It is worth remembering that the way a given person prioritises values derives both from their upbringing as well from their ongoing life experiences and is therefore not entirely “fundamental” but susceptible to change.

I am not under any doubt as to the difficulty of strengthening “helpful” values such as social justice, connection with nature and autonomy of thought and action. However, I believe that the fact that such values can improve wellbeing presents a significant avenue of opportunity and reason for hope. Trying to reinforce values (e.g. power, status, wealth) that underpin the behaviours that have caused environmental degradation, social inequality and a resistance to change, will of course only make our problems worse.

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Originally posted on Common Cause.

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