Values and Frames

From the Common Cause handbook, based on values circumplex by Schwartz, S 1992,

Common Cause is the organisation behind important work on Values and Frames They offer resources and training in working with people’s underlying mental frames to shift them towards more beneficial behaviours. They believe in fostering intrinsic values:

  • self-acceptance
  • care for others and benevolence
  • concern for the natural world

…and they work to explore the ‘frames’ that embody and express these values.

Common Cause did some research in 2013 that showed that even environmental organisations appeal in their communications to people’s less benevolent values. They use transactional language that assumes people identify as consumer rather than citizen. Instead they should aim to tap into existing values that people do indeed hold that are adjacent to the Universalism and Benevolence frames (the green corner). They have found that most people rate their compassionate values higher than ones relating to power or self-interest. If they are allowed by their social milieu to express their more benevolent values, they will do so, but equally people can be easily shamed or led not to do so. If you can nurture self-directed creativity, or with other people, humility or a sense of belonging, you can point them towards related ways of thinking and acting that are more ‘bigger than self’.

Other campaigners believe that we should accept that people are geared to reproduce and therefore to attract and impress each other. They argue that extrinsic values are so dominant in our culture that they are impossible to shift within the urgent timescale in which change is needed. These campaigners suggest the best tactics are ones that make people feel sexy and comfortable while they are nudged to make changes.

It may be that the most effective tactics lie in combinations of the two, and that the arts have a particular role to bridge this gap between ‘worthy’ and ‘sexy’.

Different camps tend to agree that the root of necessary solutions is a shift in social behaviours – whether a big shift to empathy or small nudges towards greener consumption. There are good technical fixes, many building on the existing systems of industry and capitalism, but implementing them still relies on people demanding them, convincing politicians and resisting the status quo. Also, implementing fixes in ways that are positively beneficial to the environment will take enormous imagination.


Gather a range of your strategy and marketing documents, or programmes or funding bids. Working together, fast and informally, collect examples of key phrases. Write them on post-its and match them to the frames of this Values wheel.

What motivations are you trying to appeal to?

What does it tell you about how you perceive your relationship with stakeholders and audiences? What kind of culture are you creating?

How could you change phrasing to shift people towards more benevolent frames?

Take this further by reading guidance produced by Common Cause and Manchester Museum on how Values and Frames can work in a cultural setting.