Change strategies: start where people are

This is a guest post by Chris Rose, Director of Campaign Strategy Limited, in response to a challenge by Professor Tim Kasser at Knox College, Illinois, and Dr Tom Crompton at WWF-UK.

It is part of a pair of articles debating how to promote greener living.

The article by Tom Crompton and Tim Kasser misrepresents our views. I am a campaign and communications consultant and use Cultural Dynamics Strategy and Marketing (CDSM)’s values mapping system because I have found that it works.  Like many communications practitioners I have found that the approach advocated by Common Cause – trying to change people’s values or attitudes and beliefs by arguing with them or telling them they are wrong, does not work. 

It is not necessary to try and ‘improve’ a whole population, or “change their minds”, to bring about good things through campaigning, even if that were possible. Almost no decisions of importance involve an entire nation agreeing both on what should be done and why it should be done.  Politics is the art of the possible because you often have to garner support from people who disagree on many things, in order to make progress on one.  Similarly, businesses succeed if their products or services are bought for many different reasons.  Effective campaign designs target the fewest number of people possible in order to take the actions needed to achieve the objective.

Surveying people
CDSM  asks 8,500 real British people over 1,000 questions and maps the results as statistically connected sets of attitudes and beliefs. Environics (Canada) and Sinus Mileu/Sociovision (Germany/ France) also have large dataset population models which are used by companies and others because they work in practice.  These models have common research roots – they started by looking at what was actually happening in society and then, when they plotted the results, it became apparent that the big differences matched the groups in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Not the other way around – they did not start with Maslow’s theory.

They break society down into three broad categories of people, who have different motivations arising from their dominant unmet needs: Settlers (who are broadly security driven), Prospectors (driven more by success and the esteem of others) and Pioneers (more inner-directed).

Many of the academic studies Tom Crompton cites are based on very small samples, often of young people (students).  Instead of trying to use theories based on these studies to criticise our work, WWF could use CDSM’s model in a realistic campaign test to see if it can persuade real outer-directed Prospectors, or security-driven Settlers, to change behaviours for inner-directed Pioneers reasons. I would be delighted if groups such as WWF could get them to abandon their sets of attitudes and beliefs and adopt the Pioneer tendencies towards emphasising universalism, care for nature, doing things for ethical reasons (etc) but all my experience is that it does not happen – see for example

Sadly, many Pioneer-framed NGO campaigns (e.g. tcktck) are inadvertent tests of this notion, reaching only those who are already like the green messengers

We do not claim that getting an individual Prospector to take an environmentally desirable action such as buying a greener car (the example used in Crompton’s letter to psychologists) will sufficiently satisfy their esteem needs to convert them into Pioneers.

Values can change
Eventually the net experiences of their lives do lead some of them to become Pioneers.  This is reflected not just in the growth over time of the Pioneer segment of the UK population (now over 40%) but the way younger cohorts start out more as Settlers, then Prospectors and then stretch across the three Maslow Groups into the Pioneers. See CDSM data on age at Note that students are more Pioneer than non-students – presumably because they have had more esteem-giving experiences. These age differences are also reflected in Inglehart’s measurements of generational scale changes for numerous countries (

Nor of course do we advocate simply promoting attitudes like it’s important to ‘get more stuff’. But to get more ‘environmentally friendly behaviour’ you are going to have to make it more fun and rewarding in Prospector terms, to get more of it from Prospectors.

There is evidence – summarised in Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion – that taking an action tends to shape our opinions: this is called the “Consistency Heuristic”. People’s opinions tend to come into line with their actions: they think “because I am sane, what I am doing must make sense.”

So our green car buying Prospector may be expected to develop opinions consistent with green cars making sense – for example buying a green car is a smart purchase [i.e. it makes me look smart] – and there is a good reason to have one [e.g. climate change exists].  And they are more likely to repeat a similar action so long as it is inside their values set.  CDSM’s data set measures 100 different aspects of peoples values sets.

If and when they change to become Inner Directed then you can start using a different campaign pitch – e.g. do it because to help a farmer in Bangladesh. But it’s unrealistic to think you can provide them with enough esteem-giving experiences to do that through NGO campaigns.

Changing behaviour then opinion creates an opportunity to capture and utilise that opinion in a campaign.  For example by getting ‘green car’ buyers to voice opinions about what a good idea green cars are, and then projecting those views at politicians via polling etc. In advertising it’s sometimes called ‘catching people doing something good’.  But to do that we first need to get the people to take the action. You are unlikely to get an outer-directed person to do that by telling them they are wrong to want status. You need to start from where people are, not where you are.

Read Tim Kasser and Tom Crompton’s article


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  • Great to see this debate happening.

    It’s unfortunate that there seems to be claims of “misrepresentation” on both sides. I’m not sure what misrepresentation Chris is referring to from Tim and Tom. I’m clearer the other way as Tom and TIm at least cite quotes and clearly reference claims from Chris’ work. Certainly, in this article Chris misrepresents – or misunderstands – the Common Cause approach.

    Before I go on, I should say I have been working with Tim and Tom so start from being very familiar and convinced by that approach. Still, it’s worth pointing out that Chris here starts from an inaccurate place when he says the Common Cause approach is “trying to change people’s values or attitudes and beliefs by arguing with them or telling them they are wrong” because that, “does not work”. Of course that does not work. Lucky, then, that Common Cause doesn’t advocate that.

    What the CC approach does recognise is the fact that everyone has all the Schwarz values all of the time. The question is the balance between them. This balance shifts moment to moment, and over the course of a person’s life. The values that are at the fore you when playing with your children are different than those that guide you when you are arguing for a pay rise at work; think of what is important to you when you’re in church versus when you’re shopping. You’re values are dynamic; they work in a system.

    The question for NGOs, then, is which values are more helpful to behaviours that benefit others and the environment. There is a wealth of evidence that demonstrates the values-attitudes and behaviour link. Intrinsic values such as mature love and community are much more closely correlated to behaviours that are caring of others and the environment both in the moment and over time. Similarly, values such as power and financial success actively suppress those other values and lead to attitudes and behaviours that are more self-enhancing AT THE EXPENSE OF the caring values. The evidence suggests this seems to be true both in the moment and over time. In other words, if a person has their financial success and power values validated, they will become stronger.

    It’s true that the experiments that Tim, Tom and the Greg form the University of Cardiff have recently conducted are with small numbers. This is why it is constantly referenced in relation to wider studies, and analysis is dome to see how it fits in what earlier work would predict. They are not claiming that these studies stand alone as proof, only that they are ANOTHER piece in a far bigger puzzle, and that the results do correlate and support each other. That’s how science

    ON the question of whether NGOs can affect the values balance (note; not CHANGE the values of) of whole populations – that, I would suggest, is not quite the right question. The question is: what is NECESSARY for the change we all know is needed? To this I would make 2 points:

    1. There is a difference between our immediate political strategies – where we do sometimes need to play by the rules of politics as the art of the possible – and the larger public campaigning questions. NGO campaigning has,for too long, separated the two out and acted as if campaigning was an extension ONLY of political work. It is, of course, but it is more than that as well. We should be working as much with our fundraising colleagues as our policy colleagues. We are so conditioned to look ONLY outwards for our targets – it’s the government and the private sector – that we can sometimes forget that our own practices are deeply implicated in setting public norms around our issues as well. We are the embodiment for many people of the issues we work on. That carries an enormous responsibility. So OF COURSE we must focus on political targets but we should also realise that there is more to the problem – and the solution – than blaming others.

    2. Collectively, the NGOs have a huge footprint in this country. We spend several hundreds of millions of pounds a year projecting ourselves into the country (there are over 8000 charity shops, for example) and raise multitudes of that in funds. All that money is most certainly validating SOME values. The question, when we are at that size, should not be “what do we think is possible” but “what is beholden on us”?

    If this is sounding like I’m advocating some form of whole cross-3rd sector changes in practices, then good. Because I – we – are. That’s why Common Cause is called Common Cause. And if anyone thinks we don’t have the assets or influence to work at this level, I’d suggest a quick skim through the annual reports of the big orgs to see just how big we really are.

    This is a critical debate. I hope it continues and that people will approach it with an open mind and a vision commensurate with the challenges we say we are all involved in. It’s not to make small incremental steps towards a slightly less dangerous future; it’s to help bring about transformational change to deliver true social, economic and environmental justice. And for that it is absolutely clear that the NGOs need to be a validating force for the sort of compassionate and intrinsic values that all people have all of the time. The alternative is that we play a small role in helping to foster an even more selfish society, one that will not be able to protect the environment or help feed the 1 billion people who go hungry every night.

  • Pingback: Value Modes and Common Cause: Response to Rose | Common Cause

  • They don’t really lend themselves to inclusion in a comment box, but Tim Kasser and I just posted some reflections on Chris Rose’s response to our blog and briefing here:

  • As advocates of the Values Mode approach here at Global Cool – the organisation cited as a good example of Values Mode campaigning by Chris (who, to follow the lead of full disclosure from Martin above, is on our advisory committee) – we thought it would be useful to set out how we’ve used values modes in our comms and why we think it work…

  • Pingback: Change strategies: there is room for status and ethics | the green living blog

  • you honestly think this nonsense is sustainable? and do you honestly think that our government is doing anything but playing a waiting game for 2014 when they’ll sacrifice the idiot Libs, get a hefty majority and quietly let the green/watermelon policies wither on the vine.

    In three years when we are heading towards the centre of a 3rd little ice age (read up on your science rather than your psychology) you’ll be begging for cheap energy and your windmills will be rotting in the ground.

  • Pingback: Change strategies: does one green thing lead to another? | the green living blog

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