If you have an interest in psychology and society, change and attitudes, values and propaganda, we keenly recommend you read the recently published Common Cause report written by Tom Crompton, change strategist at the World Wildlife Fund (among other things). We also recommend that you see if you can make it to the workshop (more on that below).
It considers our values and propaganda in a fascinating way and confronts us with some challenges which illuminate the frustrating pace of change. Here’s the blurb:
Common Cause: The Case for Working with our Cultural Values makes the case that civil society organisations can find common cause in working to activate and strengthen a set of helpful ‘intrinsic’ values, while working to diminish the importance of unhelpful ‘extrinsic’ values.
The report highlights some of the ways in which communications, campaigns, and even government policy, inevitably serve to activate and strengthen some values rather than others.
As well as making us all go ‘corr, that’s interesting, ooh yes, well I never… ‘, the report got Shaun Chamberlin, author of the Transition Timeline all over-excited on his Dark Optimism website last week:
I have just spent an intrigued couple of hours musing over the outstanding new Common Cause report, which explores the battle over cultural values that underlies communications and marketing, while keeping one eye always on our environmental challenges.
The report has both stimulated a fair bit of controversy (as I will explore below the cut) and, excitingly, provided an answer to a question that has been bothering me for many years now, since reading Edward Bernays’ influential 1928 book Propaganda…
And just yesterday, George Monbiot was moved to write on his website:
… The acceptance of policies which counteract our interests is the pervasive mystery of the 21st Century. In the United States, blue-collar workers angrily demand that they be left without healthcare, and insist that millionaires should pay less tax. In the UK we appear ready to abandon the social progress for which our ancestors risked their lives with barely a mutter of protest. What has happened to us?
The answer, I think, is provided by the most interesting report I have read this year. Common Cause, written by Tom Crompton of the environment group WWF, examines a series of fascinating recent advances in the field of psychology(1). It offers, I believe, a remedy to the blight which now afflicts every good cause from welfare to climate change.
Progressives, he shows, have been suckers for a myth of human cognition he labels the Enlightenment model. This holds that people make rational decisions by assessing facts. All that has to be done to persuade people is to lay out the data: they will then use it to decide which options best support their interests and desires.
A host of psychological experiments demonstrates that it doesn’t work like this….
Meanwhile, Pete Lipman (Transition Network chairman) has surfaced some interesting ‘Mauss-ian’ theories on the gift economy and gift culture which overlap with Toms’ work. Well I never indeed.
As well as the excellent report, The World Wildlife Fund is hosting a full day workshop to think about it in depth on Thursday 9th December in London. Places are filling up very fast (no surprises there), so if you’re keen, email Tom Crompton for a place. Here’s the outline.
Over the course of the morning session prominent international experts will provide an in-depth understanding of values, frames and their link to behaviour. This will draw on input from:
· Professor Paul Chilton, Department of Linguistics and English Language, University of Lancaster
· Professor Tim Kasser, Department of Psychology, Knox College, Illinois
· Professor Greg Maio, School of Psychology, University of Cardiff
We will ensure that there is plenty of scope for exploration and interrogation of the approach advocated in Common Cause over the course of this session.
The morning session will be followed, after lunch, by exploration of practical approaches to applying an understanding of values and frames to address specific campaign and communication challenges. Here we will workshop challenges that are brought to the table by participants themselves.
Participation in the morning session will be necessary for subsequent participation in the afternoon session. But people who are interested in acquiring an oversight of the theory underpinning the approaches outlined in Common Cause are free to attend the morning session only.
We encourage participation from a wide range of third sector organisations – not just those focussed on environment and development issues.
Some pretty serious business going on there, we’re sure.
Good work all! Keep it up! Britain’s winter needs stirring workshops like this. Please make sure you report it well so we can share the day widely.