EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND GUIDE TO THE COMMON CAUSE REPORT
This executive summary is more than a condensed
version of the overall document: it also provides a map
of the report. The report itself amasses a considerable
body of empirical evidence in support of the case that
it builds. This evidence is presented both in the main
body of the document and in the appendices. This
summary provides an overview of the case that the
report builds, and a guide to finding particular parts of this argument substantiated
in the main text.
Note: Concepts and key arguments in bold type are indexed to the relevant sections of the
Common Cause Report.
We are confronting profound challenges
This report is intended to catalyse debate on current approaches to tackling a wide
range of challenges including global poverty, climate change and biodiversity loss.
Whatever the success of civil society organisations in beginning to address such
challenges, these often seem to be intractable or worsening. Throughout this report
such challenges are referred to, collectively, as 'bigger-than-self' problems
[Section 1.1]. This is to distinguish them from another class of problem: one that it
is clearly in an individual's immediate self-interest to invest energy and resources in
helping to tackle (for example, an insensitive development in their neighbourhood).
For someone involved in civic engagement in the UK, bigger-than-self problems may
include those which face people elsewhere for example, human rights violations in a
distant country. They may also include problems that will affect people in the UK, but
where the 'return' on an individual's personal effort to help address this problem is
unlikely to justify his or her expenditure of resources in helping to tackle the problem.
Bolder leadership from both political and business leaders is necessary if
proportional responses to these challenges are to emerge, but active public
engagement with these problems is of crucial importance. This is partly because
of the direct material impacts of an individual's behaviour (for example, his or her
environmental footprint), partly because of lack of consumer demand for ambitious
changes in business practice, and partly because of the lack of political space and
pressure for governments to enact change.
Our dominant model of human decision-making needs updating
There is mounting evidence from a range of studies in cognitive science that the
dominant 'Enlightenment model' of human decision-making is extremely incomplete.
According to this model we imagine ourselves, when faced with a decision, to be
capable of dispassionately assessing the facts, foreseeing probable outcomes of
different responses, and then selecting and pursuing an optimal course of action. As
a result, many approaches to campaigning on bigger-than-self problems still adhere
to the conviction that 'if only people really knew' the true nature or full scale of the
problems which we confront, then they would be galvanised into demanding more
proportionate action in response.
But this understanding of how people reach decisions is very incomplete. There is
mounting evidence that facts play only a partial role in shaping people's
judgment. Emotion is often far more important [see Section 1.3].
It is increasingly apparent that our collective decisions are based importantly upon a
set of factors that often lie beyond conscious awareness, and which are informed in
important part by emotion in particular, dominant cultural values, which are tied
It seems that individuals are often predisposed to reject information when accepting
it would challenge their identity and values. Campaigning approaches that rely on
the provision of information may well work for people whose existing values are
confirmed through accepting, and acting upon, that information. But for others,
the same information (for example, about the scale of the challenge climate change
presents) may simply serve to harden resistance to accepting new government
policies or adopting new private-sphere behaviours. This points to the need to
incorporate an understanding of people's values into civil society campaigns.
It is inescapably the case that any communication or campaign will
inevitably serve to convey particular values, intentionally or otherwise.
Moreover, in conveying these values, the communication or campaign will
help to further strengthen those values culturally.
People's decisions are driven importantly by the values they hold frequently
unconsciously, and sometimes to the virtual exclusion of a rational assessment of the
facts. In particular, some values provide a better source of motivation for
engaging bigger-than-self problems than other values.
The conjunction of these two insights that communications and campaigns
inevitably serve to strengthen particular values, and that a person's values have a
profound and usually unconscious effect on the behavioural choices that they make
raises profound ethical questions [see Section 1.6].
The practical response to this ethical challenge cannot be to strive for value-neutral
communications (this would be impossible). Rather, it is to strive for transparency,
communicating to an audience not just what values a particular communication or
campaign is intended to convey, but also why those values are considered important.
In the light of this, if one accepts that there are ethical imperatives for
addressing bigger-than-self problems, one is presumably also likely
to accept that there are ethical imperatives for conveying some values
rather than others provided that these are conveyed with a high degree
This points to an important role for civil society organisations, which have long
focused mainly on examining the factual basis for addressing bigger-than-self
problems, and engaging in debate about the best practical approaches to achieving
this. Now it can be seen that civil society organisations must also develop expertise
in examining and laying bare the values that particular communications promote:
starting with their own, and then moving on to begin to examine the values implicit
in the communications of a range of participants in public debate including those
of vested interest groups.
Values and behaviour are intimately connected
There is a large body of evidence about the way in which people's values are
organised across cultural contexts, and this report reviews some of these results.
In particular, two research findings are of importance: First, people's values
tend to cluster in remarkably similar ways across cultures; second, the
relationship between different values is such that some sets of values can easily
be held simultaneously while others oppose one another. [This evidence is
summarised in the main report, in Sections 2.1 and 2.2. But, because it is of central
importance to the subsequent arguments that are constructed in this paper, the
research is also examined in more detail in Appendix 1.] A person's values comprise
an integrated and dynamic system, such that activating one particular value affects
other values (activating compatible values and suppressing opposing values).
or campaign will
inevitably serve to
values, intentionally or
People's decisions are
by the values they
sometimes to the
virtual exclusion of a
rational assessment of
an integrated and
dynamic system, such
that activating one
particular value affects
other values (activating
compatible values and
Simplified, the work presented here on values points to a distinction between two
broad classes of value: intrinsic or self-transcendent values, and extrinsic or selfenhancing
values [Section 2.1 and Appendix 1]. Intrinsic values include the
value placed on a sense of community, affiliation to friends and family,
and self-development. Extrinsic values, on the other hand, are values
that are contingent upon the perceptions of others they relate to envy
of 'higher' social strata, admiration of material wealth, or power.
These two classes of value act in opposition. For instance, to the extent that a
person considers the intrinsic value of 'community feeling' (which includes the desire
to improve the world through civic involvement) to be important, they are less likely
to place importance on the extrinsic value of 'financial success' (which encompasses
an individual's desire for money, possessions and his or her envy of those who have
these things). Indeed, these two values are almost perfectly opposed. But note,
of course, that this is not to neglect the importance of relative financial success
for people who have too little money to live decently [see Section 2.1 for further
discussion of this point].
Intrinsic values are associated with concern about bigger-than-self
problems, and with corresponding behaviours to help address these
problems. Extrinsic values, on the other hand, are associated with lower
levels of concern about bigger-than-self problems, and lower motivation
to adopt behaviours in line with such concern [Section 2.3 and Appendix 2].
The evidence for this is drawn from diverse studies and investigative approaches,
and represents a robust body of research results. So, pursuing the example
above, experimental studies show that a strong focus on financial success
is associated with: lower empathy, more manipulative tendencies, a
higher preference for social inequality and hierarchy, greater prejudice
towards people who are different, and less concern about environmental
problems. Studies also suggest that when people are placed in resource
dilemma games, they tend to be less generous and to act in a more
competitive and environmentally-damaging way if they have been
implicitly reminded of concerns about financial success.
Of course, extrinsic values can motivate helpful behaviour, but this will only happen
where extrinsic goals can be pursued through particular helpful behaviours: for
example, buying a hybrid car because it looks 'cool'. The problem is that, in many
cases, it is very difficult to motivate helpful behaviours through appeals to extrinsic
values, and even when successful subsequent behaviour tends to relapse into that
which is more consistent with unhelpful extrinsic values. Moreover, such strategies
are likely to create collateral damage, because they will also serve to reinforce the
perceived importance of extrinsic values, diminishing the importance of intrinsic
values and undermining the basis for systemic concern about bigger-than-self
problems. So responding to an understanding of the integrated nature of values
systems requires that communicators and campaigners should consider both the
effects of the values that their communication or campaign will serve to activate (and
therefore, as will be discussed, also tend to strengthen) and the knock-on effects of
their campaigns on other values (some of which may be helpful, others unhelpful).
A range of factors (such as a person's upbringing, their exposure to social norms in
the media, or the values held by their role-models) determine which of the full range
of values are particularly important for an individual (and these can change with
circumstances). In determining a person's concern about bigger-than-self problems,
it seems that what is important is not whether an individual holds extrinsic values
per se (this is probably inevitable), but rather the relative importance that he or she
attaches to extrinsic as opposed to intrinsic values. So it should not be concluded
with concern, and
that bigger-than-self problems will only be properly addressed if extrinsic values
are expunged. But it is crucial, from the point of view of concern about bigger-thanself
problems, to ask how intrinsic values can be encouraged and extrinsic values
Values can be strengthened culturally
Values can be both activated (for example, by encouraging people to think about
the importance of particular things), and they can be further strengthened, such
that they become easier to activate. It seems that one way in which values become
strengthened is through their repeated activation [see Section 2.5]. This may occur,
for example, through people's exposure to these values through influential peers, in
the media, in education, or through people's experience of public policies.
It is sometimes argued that self-interested values are inevitably dominant (perhaps
because these are biologically innate, for example). There is mounting evidence that
this is not the case [see Section 2.6]. But even if it were the case, this would serve
to underscore the importance of ensuring, so far as possible, that cultural cues
contribute to activating and strengthening intrinsic values.
An understanding of values must be incorporated into civil society campaigns
As discussed, on the one hand, simply conveying information about bigger-than-self
problems is likely to leave many people unmoved or perhaps even more resistant to
change. On the other hand, appeals to values that are in opposition to the emergence
of widespread concern about bigger-than-self problems are likely to contribute to
further strengthening these values culturally. What alternative response might be
This report builds the case that bigger-than-self problems will only be systemically
addressed through the conjunction of:
- An understanding of the effect of cultural values upon people's motivation to
change their own behaviour or to demand change from political and business
- An understanding of the range of factors that activate and strengthen some
values rather than others.
- Widespread public debate about the ways in which government, business and
civil society organisations serve to strengthen particular values through their
communications, campaigns and policies.
Frames offer a vehicle for promoting values
This report then brings two streams of research alongside one another: i) studies in
social psychology and sociology which examine the importance of particular values
in motivating concern about bigger-than-self problems (that is, the work discussed in
the section above); and ii) research on the importance of 'frames' as vehicles for
working to activate and strengthen helpful values [See Section 3].
Frames are of key importance in thinking about values and how these are activated
and strengthened culturally. [Section 3.1 introduces frames.] "Frames", writes the
cognitive scientist George Lakoff, "are the mental structures that allow human
beings to understand reality and sometimes to create what we take to be reality.
[T]hey structure our ideas and concepts, they shape how we reason, and they even
impact how we perceive and how we act."
Values can be both
activated and they
can be further
strengthened, such that
they become easier to
Frames are of key
importance in thinking
about values and how
these are activated and
Some cognitive scientists use the term 'deep frames' to refer to cognitive structures
held in long-term memory that contain particular values. They tend to be relatively
stable but they are not unchanging or unchangeable.
Work on framing is often misunderstood: it is sometimes assumed that framing is
just about 'getting the message right' as though a particular choice of language can
motivate us, en masse, to want to embrace a particular worldview. 'The message'
is of course important in activating particular frames, but it is only the
beginning [Section 3.2]. Conceptual framing (crafting wording and phrasing to
focus on particular issues) will not have an effect unless these messages resonate
with a set of deep frames.
So there's an important distinction between processes that lead to the activation
of frames, and processes that help to strengthen frames (that is, make frames more
easily activated). [This distinction is discussed in the context of values in Section 2.5,
and in the context of frames in Section 4.3.]
'Activation' refers to the process of eliciting particular frames. Once culturally
established, a deep frame can be activated very easily through the use of just a few
words (for example, the phrases 'War on Terror' or 'tax relief' activate deep frames
relating to a whole understanding of security or the proper role of government,
respectively). What is of particular interest is how deep frames are strengthened
that is, how a deep frame comes to be more easily activated through the use of
simple cues. Crucially, activation of a frame through use of particular language is
an important way of helping to strengthen it repeatedly activating a frame has
the effect of making it easier to activate. But language doesn't stand alone. It
is part and parcel of the institutions and policies that we live with and
interact with. Deep frames (and therefore the values that these embody)
are activated and strengthened through many aspects of our lived
experience including our experience of living with particular public policies and
There is a mutual process by which public policies and social institutions shape
our deep frames, which in turn shape our policies and institutions. For example,
interacting with particular policies or social institutions such as the electoral system,
aid agencies, planning policy, or the national health service, has an effect upon which
deep frames come to dominate. Research on policy feedback reveals that perhaps
unsurprisingly public policy has an impact in shaping dominant public values,
which in turn impacts on public support for new policies [Section 3.2].
Deploying an understanding of frames raises profound ethical issues
The power of deep frames to promote particular values-based agendas is well known.
It is something to which many political interest groups have responded. For example,
George Lakoff argues that American neo-conservatives have assiduously set about
establishing "their deepest values into the brains of tens of millions of Americans",
by working to strengthen deep frames consistent with their politics. There is some
evidence for similar effects in a UK political context [Section 3.2], though not in an
analogous party-political way.
An understanding of deep frames can be hugely powerful to political strategists
attempting to build public support for their programmes. Unfortunately, the
way in which this understanding is deployed is not always transparent, and this
lack of transparency may be seen to serve the interests of those designing these
programmes: while deep frames provide a set of extremely powerful tools, working
Deep frames (and
therefore the values
that these embody)
are activated and
many aspects of our
with them can be seen as manipulative and it is undoubtedly the case that this
perception is sometimes justified.
But that is not to suggest that framing can be exposed and then ignored any more
than an understanding of the importance of values in motivating public concern
about bigger-than-self problems can be ignored. We think, inescapably, in terms
of frames, and any communication therefore necessarily conveys a set of frames
whether it does so deliberately or inadvertently. In the same way, any public policy
creates expectations on the part of a citizen an understanding about their role and
that of government, for example and this, too, serves to activate and strengthen
particular deep frames. There is no such thing as value-neutral policy.
So deep frames won't go away they structure our thinking, and will probably
continue to be deployed by political interest groups of all political persuasions. How,
therefore, should civil society organisations respond to an understanding of the
importance of deep frames? Two responses are needed:
- Civil society organisations should champion public scrutiny of, and debate
about, the role of deep frames in activating and strengthening particular values
culturally, and the consequences of this.
- Employing utmost transparency, civil society organisations should deploy an
understanding of deep frames in their own public-interest communications
and campaigns, thus helping to strengthen values that will leave society better
positioned to tackle bigger-than-self problems. In doing so, these organisations
should take scrupulous care to explain to their audience what deep frames a
communication or campaign is intended to activate (and therefore strengthen),
and why this is important.
Examples of frames that may be important in tackling bigger-than-self problems
In this report, three pairs of deep frames [Section 3.5] are presented that seem
likely to be of significance in influencing the cultural importance accorded to the
helpful values discussed earlier. Each example was developed by drawing, in part,
on the specific survey items used to establish these values [these survey items are
presented in detail in Appendix 2].
In time, important frames will need to be identified and validated through empirical
methods. To conduct detailed frame analysis would be a major undertaking, beyond
the current scope of this project (Appendix 3 outlines some of the techniques that
would need to be deployed in the course of such analysis). It is for this reason
that this section draws on the judgment of experienced frame analysts. Future
work would deepen an understanding of the way in which the frames that are
highlighted here and others that are overlooked are used in public debate.
However, for current purposes to demonstrate the importance of incorporating an
understanding of deep frames into civil society communications and campaigns
this less rigorous approach is adequate.
These three pairs of frames are summarised as follows:
'Self-interest' versus 'common-interest' frame [Section 3.5.1]
According to the self-interest frame, individuals inevitably and properly pursue their
own self-interest, and this interest is to be assessed primarily through individual
cost-benefit calculations conducted in economic terms.
There is no such thing
as value-neutral policy
There is an analogy between the individual and the nation-state. Nation states will
inevitably, and rightly, operate in their own economic self-interest and there is no
scope for the morality of shared wealth in international relations. International
alliances are therefore inherently unstable, and will begin to break down as soon as
the national interests of individual states begin to diverge.
In contrast, the common-interest frame views individuals as inherently concerned
about both themselves and others, and the value that they place on these things
cannot be fully captured in economic terms. People, other living things and nature
have an inherent value that is irreducible to economic value. Freedom is to be
assessed through the extent to which people are unconstrained in developing as
human beings in the manner they desire. Individual nation states are part of an
international community with many shared dependencies and responsibilities.
Note that these two frames include two dimensions that are conceptually distinct,
but which are very closely associated psychologically: the extent to which people
value common interest above self-interest, and the extent to which such interests are
to be assessed in economic terms. Of course, conceptually, it's perfectly possible to
value common interest and to assess this interest economically. But for psychological
reasons [discussed in Section 3.5.1] a deep frame that conveys the importance of
self-interest is also likely to establish the importance of assessing this interest in
'Strict father' versus 'nurturant parent' frame [Section 3.5.2]
George Lakoff suggests that there is a direct correspondence between models of
family and models of a nation. In particular, he highlights two different ideals for the
family the strict father and the nurturant parent family, and he suggests that these
two different models produce deeply contrasting views on individual freedom and
the role of government. These two concepts are of course key in Western society, and
comprise important frames in relation to action on bigger-than-self problems.
The strict father frame emphasises the role of government in exercising authority
and control, of establishing moral order, commanding obedience, and punishing
dissent. It views social support for people who are less fortunate as morally
dubious, because people's misfortunes arise as a result of their own lack of
discipline and morality. By comparison, the nurturant parent frame stresses the
role of government in ensuring social justice (built upon empathy for everyone) and
responsibility towards others.
Although these frames were developed as a result of analysis of the deeply partisan
American political context, it is nonetheless important to explore them in a UK
context: the strict father frame is still of great importance in UK political thought.
These frames underscore the importance of conceptual metaphors for understanding
political visions. Conceptual metaphors project a frame that we know well (for
example, 'family' or 'battle') on to something more contested ('the nation' or one's
career trajectory) [Section 3.3]). Adaptation of these frames to a UK political context
would necessarily be less partisan for example, elements of progressive thinking
from both left and right are found in variants of the nurturant parent frames.
'Elite governance' versus 'participative democracy' frame [Section 3.5.3]
The elite governance frame holds that political power is properly consolidated in
the hands of elites. People cannot be trusted to solve their own problems through
deliberative means: strong leaders must take control and act on their behalf. It is
important to note that this frame is quite powerful among some sections of the
environment movement with some environmentalists openly questioning whether
democracy can respond to environmental problems with sufficient speed.
In contrast, according to the participative democracy frame, citizens hold political
power, and should exert their influence through effective organisation. The
government is of the people, by the people, and for the people the question becomes
one of how to make citizen participation in democratic process more effective.
Implications for how civil society organisations work
An understanding of values and framing has far-reaching implications for how civil
society organisations work.
It is crucial that civil society campaigners and communicators grasp the importance
of values and also of frames (as vehicles for promoting particular values). An
understanding of values and frames opens up opportunities for important new
campaigns and collaborations. First, it implies that civil society organisations
should develop an explicit awareness of the values that their campaigns
serve to activate and therefore strengthen, and then strive for complete
transparency in acknowledging that they are working to promote these
values [Section 4.1]. Having achieved such transparency, civil society organisations
should then encourage other organisations (government and business) to work
towards similar openness. Only in this way can civil society organisations begin to
work to safeguard against the tacit and potentially manipulative use of deep frames,
and to begin to open up public scrutiny of, and debate about, cultural values, the
influence of these, and the way in which they are shaped.
Civil society organisations should also work towards embodying the values that they
seek to promote through their communications and campaigns in the way in which
these activities are themselves conducted [Section 4.2]. Even if a campaign is
unsuccessful, it will have impacts on the prevalence of particular values
and deep frames because people will see the campaign materials and
unconsciously respond to the deep frames that these enshrine.
Of course, this strategy can be pursued in parallel to more issue-specific
campaigning [Section 4.3]. Moreover, an understanding of values and frames points
to new opportunities for potentially powerful collaborations across
organisations working on disparate issues: there will be common interest
to promote values that will help build public demand for action on a wide range of
bigger-than-self problems. [Some of these opportunities are discussed in Section
4.4.] So, for example, a wide range of organisations could partner on a campaign to
limit commercial advertising, recognising that there is an extensive body of research
showing that increased exposure to commercial advertising increases the prevalence
of materialistic values, which are in turn antagonistic to public concern about a wide
range of bigger-than-self problems.
Values are also shaped by people's experience of public policies and of
interacting with public and private institutions. For this reason, any piece
of public policy will have both material impacts (the effect of the policy in directly
changing the outside world) and cognitive impacts (the effect of the policy on
citizen's values). This is related to a phenomenon, well-known in political science,
called 'policy feedback'. Policy feedback refers to the influence of people's experience
of public policy upon their values and, in turn, the demands they make on the
decision-makers they elect [see Section 4.5 for further discussion]. It is not sufficient,
therefore, to examine the impact of communications upon cultural values: we must
also examine the impacts of public policy and public institutions. Public debates
about policy should properly reflect not just the likely material impacts of these, but
also the 'cognitive' impacts the effect a policy has on people's values. [There are a
range of implications of policy feedback, discussed in Section 4.5.]
develop an explicit
awareness of the values
that their campaigns
serve to activate and
Values are also shaped
by people's experience
of public policies
Ideally, both systemic and specific objectives can be optimally and simultaneously
pursued through appeal to the same set of helpful values although this is not
inevitably the case. Responding to an understanding of the importance of values
and framing may entail the need for trade-offs: it may sometimes be the case that
specific campaign goals are best delivered through appeal to frames that serve to
undermine more systemic change (for example, through appeals to social status or
financial success). One key implication from this study is therefore that civil society
organisations should become far more aware of such potential trade-offs, and
work to respond to them in a strategic way. [Trade-offs are discussed in detail in
Campaigns may serve inadvertently to strengthen unhelpful frames in
several ways: through particular communications approaches (for example, what
language do they use?), through the mode of engagement with their target audience
(for example, how do they encourage people to act? Do they embody principles of
public participation?), and through the policies that they demand (for example, if
these policies were adopted, what values or deep frames would people's experience of
those policies help to convey?).
As has been discussed, an understanding of values and deep frames must prompt
circumspection before invoking unhelpful frames in the course of motivating
particular helpful behaviours. This means that it is short-sighted to conduct audience
segmentation exercises and then tailor communications and campaigns to appeal to
the values that dominate within a particular segment irrespective of whether or not
these values are socially and environmentally helpful. But audience segmentation is
still important in order to better understand particular audience segments, with a
view to better engaging them in debate about the implications of values and frames,
and in order to effectively work to strengthen helpful values [see Section 4.7].
Finally, it is crucially important that all this weighty discussion about values and
deep frames should not obscure the importance of fun, compelling, inspiring
communications. Many communication organisations have developed particular
expertise in this area and this is expertise that is needed. But care should be taken
to ensure that enthusiastic pursuit of particular communication approaches does
not lead campaigners to neglect the importance of examining the values which these
communications serve to activate and strengthen
Note: Debate relating to this report can be found
at the Common Cause Working Group website,
where the Working Group encourages you to contribute your own views.