The Values Choice

The Values Choice: Cultural Values in the short and long-term – the debate continues

Three years ago I wrote about the ‘Values Gap. This was a blog posting that has been cited in RSA reports on the psychological basis for active citizenship. Now is the right time to talk about what one might describe as ‘The Values Choice‘. This is about the evolution and transmission of cultural values over the long and short terms and the difference between strategy and tactics in achieving it.

The Choice

There is an ongoing public debate on how human values will evolve and what those involved in ethical pro-social behaviour change might do to encourage change. There are two approaches:

  • Some see promoting inner directed intrinsic values and seeking to displace or reduce in importance outer directed extrinsic values as absolutely vital for long-term human survival at a time we are by our actions impacting on climate change – Naomi Klein has just written a book on the urgency of this issue
  • Some see more of an interplay between values and people with inner directed values will have to learn to work with those who hold other values for a long time to come. There is also an inner directed ethical issue of should we impose our own values on others? Whether this is seen as part of cultural relativism or not it is itself something to consider

This is a choice but within it there are further choices from current and ongoing debates as I explain below.

Motivators for taking sides

Before I explore the debate, it is important to get what will be a mainly inner directed readership to understand the nuances so the first question to pose is do you think there is a choice or not? Your own values  are likely to impact on your view on this:

  1. If you are inner directed but pessimistic about the future (eg not enough people are changing fast enough in a climate challenged world and the optimistic are open to ‘magical thinking‘). This can lead to adopting an approach that errs to ethical certainty and pushes for your values to overcome those values you see as particularly damaging to the environment.
  2. If you are inner directed but optimistic about the future (eg technology will sort it out). They tend to think in terms of ethical complexity and that some valid ethical issues are often in conflict.

Some might think this is a minor thing, but it probably a deep dividing line for the future that exists now in debates around ethical pro-social behaviour change, so better to understand it as part of more immediate issues.

In 2006 Jonathan Porritt in his book ‘ Capitalism as if the world matters‘ inadvertently came up with the description of this choice in terms of climate change which he called the ‘LovelockLomborg Axis‘ reflecting the divergent views on the future of climate change of those people at the time.

As an aside, if one were to speculate  in projecting forward one might realise that traditional utopians or philosophers are likely to be wrong about the chances of future spontaneous harmony leading to just the ‘administration of things’ in an overwhelmingly inner directed world where networks may hold a stronger role compared to hierarchies and markets than they do at present. Serious debate would still exist between those who we in our era might define as ‘autonomists/socialists’ versus ‘libertarians’ on that axis for a very long time into the future even if authoritarianism, traditionalism and consumption within society declines with a decline in the numbers holding significant sustenance and extrinsic values. Indeed we already see a vast mix within intrinsic values from traditional Greens and the political left all the way through to Pirate Parties and Anonymous. We also see climate change activists in conflict with environmental bird protection groups over energy generating sea barrages to know that the inner directed values set will contain its own conflicts.

One of the continuous drivers for this conflict is that it is very hard to simplify people’s needs down to something all people would actually agree on. Some needs around autonomy may still clash with collective action problems for a start. As this will be a lengthy blog posting, I have written a lot more on the requirement for a wider shared understanding on motivational needs here saying this on the subject of community cohesion in communities that are rapidly changing through migration: “Needs are the base from which people then express their Values. Some communities are still seeking to satisfy needs in terms of safety and security and communications need to address the values that derive from those needs far more in order to be able to have an effective two-way conversation. It enables us to gain insight into those communities where, for example, its economic development is being held back by unsatisfied needs around safety and security so that a range of new approaches are needed to develop new needs within communities to influence values to increase levels of motivation. and community resilience”.

Values Awareness

Whatever their view on this choice all the inner directed are confident, well-educated with strong views and surrounded by networks of bridging social capital full of people who are confident, well-educated with strong views. This can lead to two elements being  strongly reinforced as part of the inner directed mindset

  • Confirmation bias – This is the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses. Very strong in those who are very confident and intelligent
  • Modal Bias – This is the automatic assumption that our idea is always best.

Because education is so important to the inner directed, this can lead to the values gap I have previously described opening up as the values group-think is so strong for such fundamental elements of our being. In addition as Oliver Burkeman suggests, can the inner directed also get far too empathic and second guess that a person might be offended when they haven’t even thought through the issue to such a degree?

If you have inner directed values, your big picture is a better world, but how do you get through to those who see you as a ‘politically correct do gooder’ as your values will often tend to make you insufferable to those who do not hold those values.

It is important for all those holding inner directed values to bear this in mind when taking part in debates across the values gap but also in the developing debate over the values choice.

The Debate over the values choice

Having set out some of the motivators to how people might respond to the debate, lets return to the view of the protagonists within it. There have been two main aspects put forward in discussion on the values choice:

Tom Crompton and Common Cause versus Chris Rose and Pat Dade

Full disclosure here. The Campaign Company continues to work closely with Pat Dade on projects. It should also be added that we have never had a disagreement with Tom Crompton’s long-term approach to promoting intrinsic values. Indeed of the 10 core points his website Common Cause sets out we would agree straight-away with 9 of them.

There are two approaches that space does not permit to go into detail, so I recommend you read the links for each approach first. In summary:

An important and neutral authority Brian Lamb OBE in 2011 explored the issues of values for campaigns drawing from sources that significantly influenced TCCs learning such as Drew Westen”s Political Brain and the behavioural economics Nudge agenda. He set out three elements that we would heartily agree with:

  • Campaigns which are trying to appeal to the public or change behaviour have to be calibrated towards the values of the public rather than simply presenting arguments around interests or facts
  • This has lead to a great deal of interest in Marketing based analysis-mapping the value sets of the public, where they sit on the spectrum of views and how they could be addressed by reframing issues to sync with those views
  • Segmentation against values becomes the key to successful campaigns aimed at public change

Lamb then very effectively summarised the two theoretical approaches:

Pat Dade and Chris Rose: Matching Motivations

  • Campaigns look to align values
  • Then secure behaviour change in line with values by modelling behaviour-but does not matter if starting point is different – green consumerism an example
  • Opinions adjust to align with behaviour
  • This can then be utilised politically

Tom Crompton: Framing Intrinsic Values

  • Campaigners need to align frames with values
  • But we should only secure those frames and values that appeal to the right values-using the oppositions frames will undermine the whole project
  • Psychology shows that you cannot lead people to good behaviours through promoting frames that undermine what you are trying to achieve

He then synthesised the two approaches as follows:

  • One key conclusion-its easier to sell positive visions that align with values than negative ones-but need to be careful not to over claim
  • Common Cause approach holds out significant hope for broader behaviour change but needs testing and is more complex
  • But can you really expect to change fundamental underlying values and affiliations if they are as deep rooted as the theories suggest?
  • If so suggests much more cross working to promote values that sustain the concerns encapsulated by the sector

George Marshall of the Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN) and who wrote Carbon Detox and is about to publish Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change has also talked about the debate in guides to community level engagement on climate change (the level TCC is most interested in) and says: “A communications strategy called ‘social marketing’ argues that people can be categorized into different attitudinal types which can then be the basis of Climate Change communications. This approach is useful for developing messages, especially around certain behaviours, and is the basis of much current government thinking. Other theorists argue that this approach often focuses on material values and that to achieve real and lasting change we need to appeal to people’s deeper values, for example: their sense of identity, their desire to grow as a person, and their belonging to a community. Once again, messaging that stresses a shared sense of local identity and pride is most effective but be aware that changing fundamental values is a long term process!“.

TCC have tended to side with Dade and Rose in this debate because of its more immediate and useful application for immediate health social marketing activity and tackling the community cohesion challenges in parts of East London – examples of these are all through this blog – whilst recognising the long-term benefit of the latter in responding to big picture issues such as climate change or world development. It is arguable that the first is about tactics and the second about strategy though both sides may not see it  like that – which goes back to my points right at the beginning. Lamb himself seems to recognise the differences rather than simply taking sides.

Tom Crompton and Common Cause in response to the debate published the following paper: Limitations of Environmental Campaigning Based on Values for Money, Image,and Status Eight Psychologists Reflect on the Disagreement between the Value Modes and Common Cause Approaches. It is essentially sets out a case against Values Modes use of ‘matching motivations’ (ie getting people in different values sets to behave the same way for different motivational reasons) as opposed to the other values approach.  I think Crompton may be broadly right over ‘big picture’ environmental issues, which are about a ‘strategy’ for ‘saving the world’. However for all his optimism his approach will require values to change over time and require much bigger resources than the actions of a number of NGO’s.

At the same time I think his case is much weaker over issues such as community cohesion and public health where matching motivations can be a good short-term ‘tactic’ to changing behaviour where certain actions are small, tangible and immediate.   He has strong views over ‘spillover’ effects saying that just because someone follows one environmental behaviour but not others this is in effect not good enough. This is because his longer-term view means he in effect wants to fight a war on all fronts. The only problem as I have blogged here is that is cognitively exhausting. It is the environmental equivalent of asking people to give up smoking and lose weight at the same time and we know from habit research that doing that is difficult.

A strategy that has frames as the only significant tool in its tool-kit is also problematic for the following reasons:

  • Frames come as Tim Holmes points out come from “several intellectual traditions” and can be “conflicting”. It also when you think about it seriously requires a vast degree of consistent and long-term messaging from the inner directed, who love intellectual debate, that I would find surprising bearing in mind my earlier points about the dividing lines around pessimism and optimism within inner-directed values itself. Of course the ethically certain will be confident they are right whilst those who are intrinsically motivated but see ethical complexity and be far more cautious promoting those agreed frames. Going about constructing a vast social norm within the inner directed is an interesting challenge that has not been explained yet. Will ethical considerations stop the use of the behavioural tools that we do know work to help create such a social movement promoting those frames?
  • Framing is up against most of the marketing departments of almost every commercial marketing organisation in the world – the most effective ever independent ‘revolutionary cells’ – in this case promoting extrinsic values. The ethically certain have already got to the stage where they want to legislate to ban advertising to the under 16s – not necessarily a bad thing if done carefully in my view. However we may see some people’s ethics lead them to move to increasingly authoritarian positions – in the eyes of people who do not share their values – of banning all advertising to reinforce intrinsic frames – despite being in the Canute-like position of a free internet immediately undermining any attempt at doing this to any age group……unless of course some of the ethically certain continue to follow through and advocate ‘censoring’ that too?
  • In any case a more practical and less authoritarian approach might be to expand ethically driven  social marketing to counter commercial marketing. This is something a much wider coalition of people might go along with much more quickly. The case for that is probably best left for another blog posting

Framing as the only tool sends the message that Common Cause is just a, no doubt very worthy, training course for NGO communications and marketing departments and not about the building of a wider social movement. This is significant when there are a wider range of on the ground interventions which I won’t go into detail here , but are covered or are planned to be covered in this blog. For as well as framing and values matching locally there are on the ground based interventions such as:

  • Network mapping and enrichment
  • Habit formation and choice architecture design
  • Assisted based community development and resilience building
  • Relational training to help frontiline staff of organisations to engage more effectively on complex issues when the people they are dealing with are desiring simple solutions

When Common Cause advocates Donald W. Hine and Aaron Driver criticise segmented messages and describe social marketing as shallow, they do not seem to have seen the range of possible community based interventions there are. However more significantly they do recognise the difference I make between local health based targeting and big picture climate change which is fundamentally my point, saying, “And the lit­er­ature is clear: tailored health com­mu­nic­a­tions are more likely than non-tailored con­tent to be con­sumed, under­stood, recalled and per­ceived as credible. Social marketing’s suc­cess has nat­ur­ally gen­er­ated sub­stan­tial interest in how these prin­ciples and prac­tices might apply to cli­mate change. However, not everyone shares this enthusiasm“.

In return I think those on the values matching side of the fence do need to consider their point, “In their excel­lent review of the cli­mate change social mar­keting lit­er­ature, Corner and Randall (2011) argued that audi­ence seg­ment­a­tion may diminish a sense of shared col­lective respons­ib­ility within com­munities by accen­tu­ating dif­fer­ences between audi­ence seg­ments“. This point about collective responsibility issues is a fair one.

George Monbiot and the Values Ratchet

More recently in June 2014 George Monbiot talked about the ‘values ratchet’ and how simply matching values does not make change.

At the time I made the following points in response:

  1. Is he advocating what is a sensible values strategy to address issues which are also about tactics? The big danger is confusing a good strategy for long-term as a replacement to effective tactics
  2. No explanation of an effective response against those who use 1.Threat  2.Reframe & 3. Values Ratchet?
  3. The strategic approach he implies seems to be 1. Education 2.Reframe 3.Value ratchet the other way….but this will take years
  4. Values Matching is a legitimate ‘tactic’ in response to immediate ‘threats’ Monbiot describes. It does not aspire to be the strategy he advocates though
  5. The Values ratchet point does not explain the rise of progressive social issues such as feminism or gay marriage. The Schwarz Values Circumplex shows values can shift in various ways and intrinsic values that are more libertarian can advance as much as more socialist intrinsic values
  6. The political right also has its own values ratchet narrative of the ‘slippery slope‘. For many years this played to their own pessimism to the future. Perhaps it is because some inner directed have their own pessimism for the future -see my introductory points – that they have adopted the values ratchet as their version of this

Monbiot is confusing long-term societal change (post-materialist intrinsic values does tend to correlate at least in the west with levels of higher education). with the need for day to day campaigning tactics around narratives and values.

Values matching (the use of a person’s current values to engage with them even if they are not intrinsic) is a good idea especially to address short-term issues such as getting them to take up a life-saving public health change or to stop them rejecting community cohesion where often the symptom of the underlying issues is voting for a far-right party. It is though not something one would necessarily use to stop people over long-termist big picture issues such as consumerism or climate change.

There is a difference between the two. They are not in contradiction, but we should use the strategy and tactics in the right places and can often promote both at the same time.

One of the reasons values matching may be disliked by some inner directed people is that (unlike the Crompton model which is just unidirectional) they can be used both ethically to tackle problems but they can also be used the other way as ‘the dark side of the force‘. For example they will have been used effectively by short-termist politicians to motivate people’s behaviour and build a coalition of support when it comes to voting. Mrs Thatcher fought on a a very aspirational extrinsically motivated platform of right to buy, cheap utility shares (with their Tell Sid adverts) and trade union reform. Have a look at the Values differences in Newspaper readerships on page 33-34 of the Chris Rose report and page 18 of this IPPR report on values and politics by TCC’s Nick Pecorelli. to illustrate how getting the support of newspapers over a prolonged period can have an impact on voters views towards issues such as immigration and benefits reform. As an aside, multi-segmented messages across different values do have a long pedigree in politics, when you think of the values it touches the famous political slogan Peace, Bread and Land is in order about the intrinsic big picture, sustenance and aspiration all in one phrase!

Monbiot in a follow-up article to his values ratchet criticises parties on the left for playing follow my leader to the right on this. However let us spell out from Monbiot’s own words what they have been up against. If the right focus on ‘threat’ and ‘money’ to motivate humans is  post-materialist big picture politics going to immediately trump that except with people who have the current luxury in this world of being in a position to be post-materialists? Monbiot does at least admit that those working from a pessimistic position have themselves used ‘threats’ about the future, and does say he would prefer to stick to his intrinsic motivations, saying “Almost everyone I know in this field is motivated by something completely different: the love and wonder and enchantment nature inspires. Yet, perhaps because we fear we will not be taken seriously, we scarcely mention them. We hide our passions behind columns of figures. Sure, we need the numbers and the rigour and the science, but we should stop pretending these came first. Without being fully conscious of the failure and frustration that’s been driving it, I’ve been trying, like others, to promote a positive environmentalism, based on promise, not threat.” The question then gets back to can a ‘promise’ trump ‘money’ and ‘threats’ in the average life of people. The onus is on Common Cause to show the effectiveness of their approach over a period of time. They will be up against the evidence from many elections where we clearly do have good metrics which indicate that a ‘promise’ on its own is very difficult to achieve desired objectives.George Marshall talking about his new book (see above) also says a promise based approach is  “a way of thinking about it that’s just going to have to come further down the line“.

Perhaps the recent result of the Scottish referendum where 85% voted illustrates the challenge for a ‘promise’ based campaign bearing in mind the drivers for the successful No vote? It is a country where we know from Pat Dade’s research that it had the highest figure in the UK for inner directed at 50% (perhaps with its good education system helping to build its distinctive ‘social democratic’ culture) with 30 % outer directed and 20% sustenance driven. The figures also explain to me why in England certain people I know who liked a ‘promise’ message were sympathetic to the highly promise-driven Yes campaign.

The Brazillian Presidential election was another recent one where a Environmentalist candidate Marian Silva was at one stage the front-runner with a message of ‘Promise’ but whose poll rating in the last few days collapsed as ‘threat’ and ‘money’ within the messages of the two main parties came back the fore with negative ads having an impact on her result and the person who knocked her out of the run-off promising ‘safe change‘.

Even the famed Barack Obama campaigns in the U.S. that had the message of ‘Hope’ also had a lot of ‘threat’ and ‘money’ messaging that was targeted through Big Data.

Conclusions and the way Forward

Why is all this important to the debate as to now we change behaviour to support more pro-social behaviours? I would argue this gets to the crux of what causes and campaigns, politicians and those fighting to improve public health are all about and the choices they will increasingly face between short-term tactics and long-term strategy.

My view is that there is no contradiction and both elements have their place as long as we are clear about this and recognise the need for ongoing research and insight and scope for understanding unintended consequences. I thus tend to look for the commonalities of approach from those on the various sides of the debate

Framing is a favoured approach of all those in the values field, so I would suggest the following frame to encourage debate:

Table 1 – Values Approaches
Approach  Objective  Main Tool    Levels
Strategic Promotion of wider intrinsic values to tackle a collective action problem eg climate change Framing International, national, local
Tactical Solving an immediate community or individual problem eg break down in community cohesion, smoking cessation, reducing obesity Values matching Mainly local

Is there a contradiction? Tom Crompton and George Monbiot might fairly reply “we are not into short-term change, the issues are far too big and we are into long-term societal change”. The question is does behavioural activity in areas such as community cohesion and public health hold them back over their priority around the field of climate change?

My own response would be “good luck I personally agree with your long-termism on this, I just don’t feel threatened by some of the short-term work”. This may go back to my point earlier about people with inner directed values thinking they have the ‘right’ answer’ when I think we are all still at early days in values research and we are still exploring the potential for a synthesis. Using values matching to support local community cohesion projects or tackle local and personal public health is not going to hold back the long-term  promotion of intrinsic values for a more sustainable world, an objective which I too would agree will assist the creation of greater human co-operation and pro-social behaviour. This will take longer than some protagonists assume and this is where the actual values metrics produced by Pat Dade come in very helpful as we have seen some significant values shifts around pessimism and optimism over the course of the current recession.

Having set out how we use tactics, I also think we can deepen the values strategy and there are two further elements I would add to the broadly two-prong Common Cause approach. As well as the two Crompton suggests:

  • Understanding values and the values segments within
  • Framing

I would also add:

  • Promoting Education, enquiry and knowledge – this seems to be a massive driver of post-materialist inner-directedness
  • Understanding and mapping social networks which are likely to have to ‘take the strain’ much more in reinforcing intrinsic values

On the last point, I have blogged here a hypothesis about the deep interplay between networks and values and the early research seems to indicate that different values lead to different sized networks leading to people with different values holding different types of social capital. TCC found the inner directed held more bridging social capital whilst the sustenance driven tend to have much more bonding social capital. Networks and values also interconnect with levels of optimism and pessimism in a community as earlier research by TCC has already shown. The combination of all that is vital for community resilience. This is why I think Networks are an important additional element for long-term strategy. In recent years Paul Ormerod , the RSA and TCC have contributed insight to the networks debate. I now look forward to Paul Mason’s spring book on the rise of flat networked communities in the field of protest.

Naomi Klein in her book references the Tom Crompton model (page 60) and also concludes by arguing for climate change to be more than economics and a moral crusade and about right and wrong like the campaign to abolish slavery. The point to bear in mind from both Crompton and Dade/Rose models based on the schwarz circumplex is that morality is more of a sustenance driven value and the intrinsically motivated see things in terms of ethics and not morals. Building a coalition encompassing both ethics and morals needs very good framing and at a local tactical level may even need to values match to a degree – subject to the caution set out by Crompton above. One of the best recent examples of this sort of ethical/morality coalitions is how society and its political and online twitterati representatives forced the closure of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World. Ethically driven people already despised the News of the World; it was when the Milly Dowler phone-hack scandal came up that it became an intensely moral issue too and an ethical/moral values coalition drove the paper out of existence in less than a week.

Thus from the lessons of this there are four elements I would suggest to any strategy to raise the issue of climate change

  • Build an ethical/moral coalition on the issue – this means assembling people with differing values motivations
  • In order to address moral values which tend to be sustenance driven you need to make the issue tangible. Just as stories of individual slaves fuelled the abolitionist campaign, those fighting for earth sustainability need to make the stories of the climate change threatened tangible. This needs the 20 year plus stories of people living in the Ganges delta or in places where there is deforestation to show the impact of tangible change
  • Focus the change demanded on a specific. What is the climate change campaign equivalent of the specific abolitionist demand of a law ‘abolishing slavery’?
  • Recognise that abolishing slavery did not end the challenges faced by the freed Anti-American community in the South and the ‘Civil Rights’ movement had to build its own offer for many years until it too achieved its own ethical/moral coalition explosion in support in the 1960’s. This of course does not invalidate the massive achievement abolition was; it means we have to recognise the unintended consequences and the need for continued ongoing campaigns on the next challenge. Even if we reduce carbon usage to minimise impact in time we will still face new climate challenges in world with complex and chaotic climate for those who already know about climate change and temperature in the Permian, Cretaceous and Eocene geological periods. Perhaps that very early environmentalist William Morris had it about right with his quote here.

I hope that all sides in the current debate will feel I have characterised the core elements of it fairly. People working in the values field have got to learn to work together where they can see what might be perceived sometimes as a choice is more of an opportunity to share valuable experiences. A Values Choice may always exist, but even if it does a choice within an intrinsically motivated world would still be an improvement on where we are at present.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer at The Campaign Company. You can read more about our behaviour change work here and our work into values here.