Archives for 2014

Measuring Sustainability in Organisational Culture

The original version of this article appeared in Awake’s ‘Wake-Up Call Nov/Dec 2014 newsletter.

graph mapping SCI results

It’s been a big year of applying psychology to sustainability, and especially for implementing the Sustainability Culture Indicator (SCI).

SCI is a survey tool for measuring sustainability within your organisational culture. It has been developed so that organisations have a standardised measure of employee attitudes and engagement in sustainability, can track their progress over time, and can compare their results to their peers. It is designed to bring some rigour and metrics to the ‘soft science’ of culture and engagement in sustainability.

I’ve recently spent some time reviewing the SCI results for over 2000 employees of a variety of organisations, including local councils, multinational corporations, NGO’s and more. The SCI was even recently adapted to implement in a number of schools in Melbourne. In the future I’ll be writing up the results for peer-reviewed journals, but in the meantime I thought it would be timely to share some of the initial observations.

Firstly, a very brief overview of the SCI. It measures 13 enablers of sustainability within organisational culture. These are divided into individual enablers and organisational enablers.

The individual enablers are the psychological and attitudinal factors which employees need to engage in sustainability, such as relevant beliefs, responsibility, knowledge and control.

The organisational enablers are mechanisms which support employees to engage in sustainability, such as leadership, processes and facilities.

The presence of high levels of these enablers indicates sustainability is well embedded in the culture. The SCI also asks survey respondents to indicate the frequency they undertake a variety of behaviours such as recycling and minimising energy use, both at work and home.

Across the organisations which have completed the SCI, the individual enablers which tend to score highest are Beliefs about Sustainability and Personal Responsibility for it. That means people believe sustainability is important and consider it to be something they should personally play a part in. That forms a great basis for organisations to embed sustainability in their culture, as they don’t need to convince too many people it is important.

The lowest-scoring individual enablers tend to be Sustainability Knowledge and Perceived Support. This indicates that one of the big barriers to embedding sustainability is people knowing how to do their jobs differently in order to be ‘more sustainable’, while they also don’t always feel like sustainability is part of the culture and norm in the organisation. Given the role of social norms in promoting sustainable behaviour, this latter finding demonstrates a need for organisations to ensure people feel sustainability is something valued and reinforced in the culture.

In terms of organisational enablers, those which scored highest across all those surveyed were Strategic Commitment and Innovation. These indicate that the organisations in question are doing a good job of defining and communicating their sustainability goals, and that they effectively support new ideas for sustainability.

The least highly rated organisational enablers are Rewards and Recognition, and Processes. People often feel like they are not explicitly rewarded for engaging in sustainability, while processes are regularly misaligned with sustainability goals (printing policies and processes are the most commonly cited of these in the written comments).

When it comes to on-the-job action, the sustainability-related behaviour which people most commonly report is shutting down their computer at the end of the day, followed by recycling. Respondents are less likely to report choosing low-impact transport options and influencing others for sustainability.

Outside of work, energy and water conservation behaviours are the most commonly undertaken by respondents. Transport again features as an uncommon behaviour, along with making environmentally-friendly food choices.

One common perception is that people are more likely to undertake sustainability-related behaviours at home than they are at work. The story goes something like ‘people are not paying the power bill at work, so they don’t bother saving energy’. The SCI results indicate that this may indeed be an accurate assumption in the case of most behaviours measured. As shown in the graph below, people are more likely to conserve water, energy and other resources at home, as well as influencing other people. The exception is recycling, which people report more frequently at work. This may be due to the likelihood that workplaces are often set up to make recycling simple for people. It may also be something to do with the role of social norms in recycling behaviour.

All the differences below are big enough to be statistically significant, although we should also bear in mind that these are self-reported behaviours (and possibly overstated).

One area of great interest is the correlation between enablers and behaviours. Identifying which enablers have the strongest link to behaviours can help us prioritise our efforts to support and engage employees for sustainability.

For a start, all of the individual and organisational enablers measured by the SCI correlate significantly with behaviours at work and at home. This means that, for instance, the higher we score for Beliefs about Sustainability, the more likely we are to engage in such actions as recycling and conserving water.

The individual enablers with the strongest correlations with behaviour are Responsibility and Perceived Support. This tells us that those who have personal convictions aligned with sustainability, and perceive that those around them are supportive, are most likely to engage in sustainability-related behaviours.

Of the organisational enablers, the analysis shows that Job Responsibilities and Activities to Embed Sustainability are the strongest predictors of behaviour. Those most likely to adopt the relevant behaviours are clear about how sustainability fits into their role, and perceive the organisation’s efforts to educate them to be effective.

In summary, making a deliberate effort to engage people in sustainability on an attitudinal and psychological level, as well as supporting them with education, clarity and supportive processes, is most likely to result in an organisation which has sustainability truly embedded in its culture.

If you’d like to chat about implementing the SCI in your organisation, I’d love to hear from you. Email

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headshot of Tim Cotter

Tim Cotter is an environmental and organisational psychologist with extensive experience in organisational culture change. Tim founded Awake in 2005 to provide resources and leadership in applying psychology to sustainability to support organisations and communities to develop a culture of sustainability.  Visit for more info, or download the Sustainability Culture Indicator brochure.  


Wicked Problems, Wicked Delight

and change is nature's delight - Marcus Aurelius quote on forest background

I am of the generation of the wicked problem. At twenty-seven, most of my life has been lived amid global complexity, connectivity and uncertainty. I’ve watched the world become rapidly more connected, and I’ve cut my academic teeth on issues such as climate change, global poverty and viral pandemics. Like many, I’ve felt the need to be more than a passive observer, and to work towards a world of human and ecological wellbeing.

In 2007, I was working as an environmental officer at an Australian university. I’d been in this role for years, and was disillusioned about my ability to effect the kind of change that I believed in and that my job required. My task was to encourage social change and thus establish new patterns of resource consumption – a job more complex than the boss liked to believe. I was frustrated by the inaction of such a highly educated population and needed a new approach, something to energise both me and the campus community.

Around this time I attended the Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability (ACTS) conference and there, among papers on the implementation of energy monitors, recycling infrastructure and duel-flush toilets, I attended a presentation on delight that fundamentally changed the way in which I relate to complex problems. Delight. We change by delight. I could feel my ears prick up and my mind begin to whirr.

The woman who gave this presentation disappeared, much like a genie, and my efforts to trace her have been fruitless. I hope my paraphrasing does her words justice. She said: I used to be an activist. An angry activist. I used to yell at people, bang my fist at meetings and use any chance I had to make a point. I would abuse meat-eaters at barbeques and social events, taking any opportunity to rant on about something. Suddenly people stopped inviting me to parities. And I like parties! So I began making cake. Gorgeous, in-season, local, organic, beautiful, ethical cake. And people started inviting me to parties again. To quote St Thomas Aquinas, ‘we change by delight.’

Aesthetically pleasing, ethically sound and absolutely delicious: people were more willing to engage with a person peddling pleasure than with an approach based on anger and guilt. It struck me that although I believed in the devastating consequences of environmental inaction, I didn’t need to be sombre in my approach. And I didn’t need to change the world by laying weight on other shoulders.

A couple of years after attending the ACTS conference, I returned and spoke with some of the environment officers from other universities. Talk turned to previous conferences, and I discovered I had not been the only one significantly moved by the idea of delight as an approach to change. While we may never know whether the presenter has continued to bring about significant change through delight, the significance of her impact on us makes her idea worthy of further exploration.

I believed so strongly in the potential of delight as a tool for change that I began a PhD on the topic, and headed straight to the books for some sort of accepted definition. My favourite was an amalgamation of various definitions and came from Joel Davitz in his book The Language of Emotions(1969): a combination of joy and surprise.

Combining joy and surprise in practice can be found on The Fun Theory website, the introductory blurb claiming that the site is ‘dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better.’

A favourite example is an attempt to get more people to take the stairs, rather than the nearby escalator. The stairs are converted to a working keyboard and people’s reactions videotaped. The footage shows people gravitating towards the stairs and tentatively stepping on the keys. Realising they make a noise, serious, suited business people started jumping up and down the stairs, slowly making their way to the top. The experiment saw a two-thirds decrease in people using the escalators, and facial expressions showed that the experience was joyful, surprising and also a bit different. Much like the guerrilla gardening movement, the piano stairs are about subverting a norm in order to bring about change.

Yet it would be perhaps naive to think that joyous surprise is the simple answer to complexity. I’ve come to realise the importance, indeed the unavoidable nature, of the difficult, the sad and the scary, all of which are fundamental components of wicked problems. Delight on its own is far too simple a concept for such complexity and paradox. As John Law states in the opening sentence of After Method: Mess in Social Science Research (Routledge, 2004), ‘if this [indicating a complex and messy picture] is an awful mess…Then would something less messy make a mess of describing it?’ I believe delight has the potential to create a far richer approach to wicked problems than merely a naive belief in joyful surprise.

Einstein is often famously quoted as saying, ‘we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking that created them.’ As I see it, the only hope of taming the slippery and mischievous beast that is a wicked problem is to beat it at its own game. Wickedness and delight are, in themselves, slippery, surprising, unruly, harsh, edgy, mischievous and playful. By using these characteristics as strengths for strategically challenging existing problem-solving habits, and normal behaviour, I believe we might have a chance at understanding and better coping with wicked problems. Wicked delight captures this as an unexpected experience in which old perspectives and norms are suddenly viewed in a new and different light.

Arthur Koestler, famous for his anti-totalitarian novel Dark Noon, also wrote The Act of Creation (1964), setting out what he sees as the three main elements of the creative process. One is the importance of humour in creating new technologies, and also in facilitating new ways of seeing the world. Koestler describes humour as the result of two different planes of understanding clashing. Humour is essentially the experience of paradox exposed: two rational truths are presented in a context in which they both maintain their truth and in which truth cannot actually be possible.

Let’s say I have an uncle, a much-loved uncle, who has long been an authoritative, well-dressed and rather intimidating figure in my life. I am also used to seeing my nieces and nephews in neck-to-knee swimsuits, designed to protect delicate young skin from the sun. Both of those things are normal to me and I accept them. Imagine my surprise, then, at seeing my serious uncle take to the beach in a tight-fitting wrist-to-ankle sunsuit and froglike goggles – the joy and surprise at seeing this normally serious person become, in my eyes, a figure of fun. The humour in this is the combination of two normal things in a way never before experienced by me. This clash of expectation is what generates the humour in the situation, and is thecreation of a new way of seeing – to me, the creation of a small new truth. My old perspective on the possibilities of my uncle is challenged. What else might he be capable of?

To my uncle this would be no laughing matter and there would be an element of wickedness in my laughter. Koestler acknowledges that in all humour there is an element of nastiness and that a laugh is always, in at least some small way, at the expense of another. Yet the truth held within this laughter is potentially of great value. Thus learning about humour helps in the exploration of wicked delight as a valuable tool for addressing wicked problems.

David Engwicht, an artist and social innovator, draws on elements of wicked delight – intrigue and uncertainty – in his work on traffic. In Mental Speed Bumps: The Smarter Way to Tame Traffic (Envirobook, 2005), he argues for the removal of road markings, lines and signs, an approach at odds with traditional traffic-engineering solutions. Engwicht works on the assumption that speed signs, road bumps and other on-road instructions and intrusions leave the motorist feeling secure and certain about the conditions he or she will encounter. By removing these clues, the driver is required to learn to expect the unexpected and to slow down. And to further encourage an appreciation and awareness that something surprising may happen, Engwicht asks people to gather in the streets: on their doorsteps, in the front garden, on the footpath. Participants find themselves engaged in unusual activities such as eating breakfast in the front yard, putting up decorations or creating a temporary living room in a car space.

Motorists begin to slow down in order to try and understand what is going on, as well as to ensure they are able to react to the unexpected, which suddenly seems much more likely. Walking becomes an interesting and social way to travel, and cycling safety improves. Engwicht finds ways of encouraging the unusual and the different.

A shift towards safer and more sustainable transport is one step towards addressing the many small parts that make up wicked problems. Such innovative and counter-intuitive solutions need to be applied in all contexts, as well as at the higher conceptual level. By approaching the need for change through the lens of wicked delight, thinkers may be able to do away with some of the mental lines and signs that shape our thinking and help us avoid the confronting and the unexpected.

One of the most insidious elements of wicked problems is the way in which factors that contribute to them are often imbedded into the everyday. Elizabeth Shove, an English sociologist, uses the history of washing practices to highlight how consumption of resources is determined by social norms. Once, bathing was considered a risky business, something likely to increase your chances of catching illnesses through the skin. Given this, water and energy consumption was considerably less than it is today – and in a lecture on this subject Shove asked who in the audience had not bathed that day. In a full lecture theatre only one or two people sheepishly put up their hands. While only bathing every second day is not going to kill us, it can be social suicide to admit you have not washed in the past twenty-four hours.

The sense of being judged by others, of being constrained in our actions by our need to conform, is one of the greatest barriers to change. Teenagers are taught not to give into peer pressure, yet most of us spend our lives doing just that. A recent study investigated the factors that influence whether or not a hotel guest will reuse their towels. A number of different signs were tested near the towels: one that pleaded with people to reuse the towels for environmental reasons, one that simply said ‘please reuse towels’ and another that said ‘most people in this hotel reuse their towels’. It was the last that had the greatest positive effect on towel reuse. (Of course, when asked, none of the guests put their actions down to the behaviour of others.)

These examples highlight the power of social norms in influencing patterns of consumption and the importance of getting us to reflect on our actions. This is not always comfortable or easy. The street artist Banksy embodies elements of wicked delight in his work, and is world renowned for his confronting and cheeky tactics. His signature art involves rats depicted spilling toxic waste, climbing into forbidden areas or parachuting into unusual places. To some Banksy is an inspiring artist and social change activist, while to others he is a nuisance and a vandal. A masked rioter hurling a bunch of flowers, two policemen locked in passionate embrace, the elderly playing bowls with bombs, beautiful landscapes on the ‘segregation wall’ between the Palestinian Territories and Israel: is this wicked? Is it delightful? Does it make you stop and think? Banksy’s art constitutes a belief in the impossible, craftily exemplified in a quote on the back of one of his books: ‘”There’s no way you’re going to get a quote from us to use on your book cover” – Metropolitan Police Spokesperson.’

What’s more, many of the greatest social revolutions have been a result of breaking rules. The women’s liberation movement put forward a new story for the way in which the world could work – a story in which women were credited with equal intelligence and capability. This was a fundamental challenge to the way in which the majority of people viewed the world at the time. Similarly, additions to scientific understandings of the world have often been the result of accidents, of new ways of framing situations and a challenging of fundamentally embedded ways of knowing the world. What would have happened if the drip from Alexander Fleming’s nose hadn’t accidentally fallen into his petri dish, laying the groundwork for his discovery of penicillin? What if Archimedes had failed to glance at the dirty smudges on the bath’s edge that caused him to realise the water was rising as he lowered himself in?

In confronting wicked problems, notions of normal need to be challenged on a number of fronts. Research shows that simply telling someone about a ‘better’ behaviour is not likely to bring about a change in action. So, how about wicked delight as a tool for rule-breaking, and rule-breaking as a necessary requirement of solving problems. What about viewing rule-breaking as an exercise in practical imagination? Could wicked delight inspire us to think in different ways, across many disciplines, about change?

Inspired by one woman and her talk of luxurious and ethical cakes, I was able to view a tired, and tiring, issue in a new light. I came back from the ACTS conference and decided to fundamentally change the way in which I approached my work. I took pleasure in defying my boss and throwing my work plan out the window – taking a seemingly less serious approach to the issue at hand. Rather than banging my head against a brick wall I was going to work on something delightful, something celebratory and something that would actually bring about change.

As a sustainability officer, it was my job to nudge people out of their existing patterns of behaviour and encourage them to act more sustainably. This is only possible if people are able to envisage and create new ways of being. Celebrate Sustainability Day was the first result of my affair with delight. It was a day to recognise just how far my university had come; to celebrate the research on sustainable technologies, the student groups, the corporate sustainability achievements; and to encourage further engagement from staff and students. On the day approximately thirty stalls were set up, displaying information about sustainability activities on campus. People could test-ride electric buggies, listen to local music, eat local produce, participate in a clothes swap and enjoy fruit smoothies from an erratically functioning pedal-powered blender. Stalls focused on protesting were asked not to attend – it was a day of possibility.

Students began volunteering on the spot, keen to be a part of the event for even just an hour between classes. It was an energising activity for many of them. The day was a huge success and our office gathered a further ten committed and enthusiastic volunteers. To those in power it had perhaps seemed a frivolous use of finance, yet the new perspective – sustainability as fun, lively and exciting – enabled the university community to engage with the idea.

While the event itself may not have fundamentally altered social practices, it was a chink in the armour of disengagement – not to mention a way of maintaining my own enthusiasm. This came from changing the rules of the game and rethinking my work plan, reframing the traditional approach to social change. The value of delight as a tool for coping with wicked problems lies not in its ability to provide an ultimate solution to the complexity of the problems, but in its value as a lens for focusing on change. There are no simple answers to wicked problems; rather, we need to begin to feel comfortable exploring new approaches, trying the unusual and creating opportunities for the unexpected to happen.

As a person who cares deeply about social and ecological sustainability and justice I’ve struggled to work out my contribution to the morass of complex arguments, emotional responses, political blocks – a slowly thinning knife edge on which the fate of the world sits. I’ve wanted to hide in despair, join the sea slugs on the ocean floor, run off to join the circus. Yet by being honest, by acknowledging the slippery nature of wicked problems and embracing their social and ecological complexity, I can throw myself head-first into the ring of a different kind of circus. The challenge of managing, or perhaps more realistically coping with, wicked problems may be the greatest challenge of human existence. It is an exciting and terrifying time to be alive – a time well worthy of our delightfully wicked attention.

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This essay was first published in Griffith REVIEW 32: Wicked Problems, Exquisite Dilemmas as Wicked Problems, Wicked Delight 

millie rooney headshot

Millie Rooney is a human being hoping to make a difference. She is a qualitative social scientist currently employed as a Research Fellow and lecturer at the University of Tasmania.

In 2014 Millie completed her PhD ‘All give and no take? Social norms, suburban life, and the possibility for sharing in Australia’. She is a passionate about combining her nerdy interest in social norms and the unspoken protocols that shape everyday behaviour, with practical on the ground change. This has led to her ask unsuspecting neighbours for cups of sugar, run free community pancake events in the park, help little old ladies cross the road and to challenge herself to sometimes be a leaner and give others the opportunity to be generous.


Keeping Voluntary Work Sustainable

Creating true global prosperity, even starting on a much smaller scale, can only be achieved through the ongoing investments we make in time, energy, and creative collaboration. While it’s true that we have incredible collective resources with which to solve problems and create beauty, it is equally true that the deep investments required to create come at a cost. It can be all-too-easy to lose our sense of balance in the work. The resulting chronic lack of energy or burnout not only hurts ourselves it impacts those around us and can slow the momentum of the post-growth movement itself. That’s why I believe that finding ways to balance deep engagement with healthy self-care must be at the foundation of our work if we are to create post-growth futures for ourselves and our communities.

The Dual Reality of Deep Engagement

We’ve all seen the research briefs about the health benefits of connectedness and the way that giving boosts our brain chemistry. And beyond the research, many of us have experienced firsthand the many benefits of deep engagement with meaningful projects. This has certainly been true in my work as a social justice community organizer in rural Oregon. For me the benefits range from the satisfaction of aligning my personal values with my work, watching culture shift in positive directions and knowing I was part of it, the joy of co-creating beauty, or simply the sense of community and the learning that happen along the way. But I have also witnessed in myself and others the painful realities of over-commitment. Taking on too much or not allowing for enough time off inevitably leads to low energy, blocked creativity, poor health, and poor performance. What’s worse, these signs of fatigue are often normalized or even praised in community-based work where they can be mistaken for signs of commitment.

The reality of how much energy voluntary work demands is important to recognize, and not just on a conceptual level. It takes personal awareness to notice whether we are on a sustainable path in the work we do, but I find that the biggest challenge is finding a way to keep myself from hitting a low in the first place. Why is it so difficult to find a balanced and sustainable way to be deeply involved in the voluntary work we love?

It’s Not About Time Management

image of diary overfilled with appointments

I believe that part of the struggle lies in the frameworks we use to try and balance our lives effectively; the primary one being that of “time management.” When someone asks you if you have time to help with a project, if you are like me, you immediately start scanning your mental calendar for openings. This is problematic from the start. I can usually “fit something in,” but the result can be a too-packed day or week. The immediate impact of this “tight schedule” means that I don’t have time to mentally switch gears or prepare between things, and it usually undermines my ability to be present and listen well. But when this goes on too long, even if I am involving myself in work that I love, my energy levels get too low to really be engaged or contribute in a meaningful way. Left unchecked it is our productivity, health, and relationships that suffer.

New Frame: Energy Management

A few years ago I came across the idea of energy management as an alternative to the time management concept that I’ve struggled with. This made such intuitive sense to me and was easy to apply. Start by re-framing the question “do you have time to take on X project” into “do you have the energy to take on X project?” It becomes immediately clear that finding an hour or two of “time” in your schedule doesn’t really answer the question. In fact, re-framing from time management to energy management transforms the blank spaces on your calendar from “free time” to potentially important energy management blocks used re-charge your energy levels.

While I can still get myself into trouble by taking on too much, I find that thinking in terms of energy is more helpful in staying in tune with myself and making realistic predictions of my own capacity. But this isn’t really just about avoiding becoming overwhelmed. The exciting potential of this concept is the power it can unleash in our lives, our work, our creative projects, our organizations. For me it is about the way that I feel and what I can accomplish when I’m fully charged.

Try it: Make an energy management plan for the coming week, or for a big project you are working on. Here’s a list of questions I often ask myself when planning for energy management:

  • Check in: What is my energy level now, or over the past month? (If you’re not sure, try asking a co-worker, friend, or partner.)
  • Did I leave space in my schedule to breathe, reflect, create, love, and deal with the unexpected without creating a crisis?
  • Will this week’s to-do list lower my ability to give in other areas: family, other important work, creative projects?
  • Is the flow of energy outputs and inputs fairly even throughout the week? If not, how can I re-balance my schedule?
  • What is my plan B if I start to feel low energy part-way through? (I find it helpful to make a list of things that energize me so I can take a quick “re-charge” break if needed.)

When considering taking on something new:

  • Why am I considering taking on this new commitment? Are my motivations healthy? What are alternatives?
  • When I consider accepting this responsibility, what is my gut reaction?
  • Do I know enough about this new commitment to evaluate the energy it will require? What questions do I need to answer before I can truly evaluate it?
  • Do I need to balance this addition by removing something else from my responsibilities?
  • Do I need to create more time to “re-charge” in my schedule to balance this new responsibility?
  • Will this new project energize me?

Energy management leadership: Try this with your volunteers or employees this week. Make the kinds of inquiries needed to ensure that you are supporting those around you to engage deeply, contribute authentically, and take care of themselves too.

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This article was originally published on the Post Growth Institute blog.


Michelle Glass is a social justice community organizer with a passion for empowering people and rural communities, and challenging social structures that perpetuate inequality. Her background is in rural organizing, women’s rights, healthcare, green jobs, and housing. She holds a bachelor of arts in sociology and is currently completing a Master in Management (MIM) degree at Southern Oregon University.


How to Run an ASK (Activist Skills & Knowledge) Session

Marc Hudson is a climate change activist who worked as a health care professional for 12 years. He is about to commence a PhD on how the coal industry has responded to the threat of climate change. 

In this article, adapted from the one originally published at Ask for the World, Marc runs us through how to structure an ASK session, based on his experience of having done this a number of times. He advises, though, to figure out what works for you and adapt the structure accordingly.

cartoon character for novice  cartoon character for practitioner  cartoon character for expert  cartoon character for ninja

Session Introduction

Thank everyone for coming, and announce:

This is going to be a session about how we find out who in the room has what skills, and how we can find out what skills we DON’T have, but would like to have.  The tools we’ll use are really simple, there is no need for special equipment.  Most of all, if there is anything you like from what we do in the next hour – take it. Steal it. Don’t ask for our permission. Change it, adapt it, do with it as you will.

The assumptions for this session are:

  • you have a group of people who have chosen to come to the workshop or are ‘up for it’ as part of their attendance at a day of workshops/conferences ie. resistance to doing new stuff is minimal
  • you have a big enough room for people to move around in, and flat, not tiered

Exercise 1 – Skills Stocktake

This exercise helps the group discover who has and wants what skills. It should take 10 minutes or less, depending on the size of the group.

As people are mingling and chatting, walk around the room handing out a coloured sheet of A5 paper and a white sheet of paper. You don’t have to explain what they are for – an air of mystery can help!

When everyone has their papers, announce to the group:

Let’s find out some of the skills we have in the room! Write down something you’re good at on the white paper and something you’d LIKE to be good at on the coloured bit of paper. Write in big block letters – other people have to see what you’ve written.

Then we are going to hold the sheets up and walk around seeing if anyone gets a match.

If we do get a match, shout and wave your arms. And swap contact details.

Kit Required

White and coloured paper. Markers. Space.

Facilitator Notes

There will be a little bewilderment/resistance from some people. A positive/confident manner can usually overcomes this.

People will also lurk around the edges – it’s for you to decide whether/how much to cajole folks. Some are crippled by admitting that they are good at something. Or want to be.

One way that fear is managed is people clumping with the first person they meet and getting chatting. Again, it’s for you to decide if/how to (gently!) break that up. A simple ‘Keep circulating, everyone’ may be sufficient.

Additionally, if you have time/it feels right, encourage people to pass on the names of anyone has the skills written on coloured paper to those holding those papers (‘Ooh, you should speak to x, they’re really good at that’).

Collect the bits of paper, and arrange them in white and coloured piles.

Exercise 2 – Minglers 

Minglers is a short exercise of 5-10 minutes, and can be conducted using one or a number of criteria, such as date of birth, height (with the proviso that if you’ve got someone in a wheelchair, make sure they are cool with that), how far participants have travelled to be there etc.

For example, you could use ‘date of birth’ for this exercise. You’d get people to sort themselves in order from those born on 1st January standing at one end of the room, to those born on 31st December at the other. Ask if anyone has the same date of birth, or what is the smallest gap between dates of birth? The idea is to get people interacting with people they don’t know and break up that clumping!

Kit Required


Facilitator Notes

Some people are allergic to this stuff, see it as a waste of time or cheesy corporate icebreaker sort of thing. Keep an eye on what the engagement/resistance levels are.

The people who will be interested are ones who struggle to come up with ice-breakers that aren’t really boring or complicated.

I suggest saying something like:

When you go to meetings you usually see all the people who know each other clumped together and a whole bunch of people who don’t know anyone wandering around. Those don’t-know-anyones are future leaders, future doers. But if they don’t meet anyone at the ‘meeting’, they often don’t come back again. That’s a tragedy for the movement. Things like these ice-breakers can piss off established activists, who think they are pointless because they already know half the people in the room. But they can be brilliant for the people who only know one person, or nobody. You have to ask yourself; as a facilitator, who are you there to serve – the ones who are comfortable, who will be coming back again no matter what, or the new people?

Exercise 3 – Novice Lines

This exercise is to help people know where they are, and where they would like to be in relation to a certain skill.

Clear a space so that everyone can line up, shoulder to shoulder, with enough space for them all to step forward as much as four paces, safely. If you’ve got too many people, some may have to watch the others do it.

Announce to the line:

You’re on what I call ‘the novice line.’ We’re going to find out who in the room has what skills, and we’re going to do it really quickly, and it will be fun. Honest.

Let’s take cooking for example.

If you are a novice cook you can just about boil an egg without burning the water.

Hold up the generic “novice” icon, and put it on the ground one pace ahead.

If you’re a practitioner, it means you can cook for 2 or 3 people, following a recipe book and sweating a little bit.

Hold up the ‘practitioner’ icon, and put it on the ground two paces ahead.

If you’re an expert, you can cook most things without a cook book, for a bunch of people, and there’s a fight for seconds.

Hold up the ‘expert’ icon, and put it on the ground three paces ahead.

If the phone rings and it’s one of your activist friends who says. ‘There are 20 of us. We’ve just done this amazing action – turn on the radio!! We’re arriving in two hours and we’ll be really hungry. Three of us are vegan, two are gluten intolerant and three of us MUST EAT meat. There’s 80 quid hidden in the cookie jar. Can you do it?’

If you say ‘well duh, what else you need doing at the same time?’ then you, my friend, are a ninja.

Hold up the ‘ninja’ icon, and put it on the ground four pace ahead.

Any questions?

Deal with them. The usual one is ‘what if I am not even a novice?’ – answer is ‘stay where you are.’

‘Three things. First this is NOT a judgement – you are under NO obligation to advance your skills. If you are happy as a novice or a practitioner, why should you bust a gut upping your skills, unless you want to?

Second, be honest – don’t boast and don’t be falsely modest. The more truthful you are, the more everyone benefits.

Finally, keep your eyes closed as you choose where you are, so you aren’t affected by other people’s assessments of themselves.

Everyone got it? Right, close your eyes, decide where you are going to move to on cooking, open your eyes, and… go!

There will be a good spread of people. Once everyone has stood where they are going to stand, say the following. 

Remember, the person who is best able to help you is probably NOT the ninja – they have forgotten what it is like not to know something. It’s probably the person who is just a step or two ahead of you.

Optional – you can ask the people who’ve stepped forward furthest how they developed their skills, how they keep them fresh, any advice they would offer to youngsters.  Only do it if you have time, and if the people who’ve stood far forward seem keen to share.

People tend to instantly get what you are doing, so it becomes super-quick after that first one.

Get them back on the novice line and select one of the white paper sheets (at least someone in the room will be counting themselves as an expert or ninja).

Once you’ve done a couple, announce that you are swapping to the coloured sheets.

If there is nobody who steps beyond practitioner you can say:

Right. Let’s not panic just because there’s no-one in this room with that skill. The movement is – I hope – bigger than this room. I want you all to think for a second about anybody who you know who has this skill who can be bribed or blackmailed into helping other people gain that skill. Got someone? Now step forward to where you think they would step forward to…

If there is time and energy in the room, ask for a volunteer to have a go at running a novice line.  I’ve done this a couple of times, it’s gone well, and it’s de-mystified the process, giving people a sense that there’s nothing special to it.

Kit Required

Instruction card (written out)

Big images of the novice to ninja.

Facilitator Notes

Not everyone will have the same hearing. Not everyone will have the same language skills. Not everyone will have the enthusiasm. If people dip out, don’t chase them!
Also, the first time you do it is perhaps a little complicated, but everyone very quickly understands it.

Your doubts – and your enthusiasm – will be contagious.

Exercise 4 – Novice Lines & Skills Matching

This exercise is to use ‘Novice Lines’ to see what skills would be needed to do Action ‘x’ and what skills people have. It should take 15 minutes or so.

Get people into groups of three (up to you if you do it by counting out, geography, interest or let them do it themselves!)

Have them briefly introduce themselves to each other.

Have them think of an ‘action’ (could be letter writing campaign, or a demonstration, or making a website or a report)

Have them make a list of all the skills that are needed to make that happen. Get them to prioritise those skills in a (rough) ranking of essential, needed in most circumstances, nice to have.

Get them to write those down on the left hand side of the self-audit assessment sheet.

Then get them to rate themselves on those skills, all on the same sheet. They will quickly see what skills they have and are lacking.

If there is time for feedback by each of the small groups to the wider group, keep it very tight so that energy stays high.

Our group decided to imagine we were going to do [activity]

The top three skills we felt were needed for that were [list skills needed]

In our group we had [list skills people have]

We didn’t have [list skills the group wanted but didn’t have].

Kit Required


Scrap paper

The ‘self-audit assessment sheet’

novice lines grid from novice to ninja

Facilitator Notes

This only took a few minutes, but was perhaps the most useful bit – people began to see how Activist Skills and Knowledge could be easily and usefully put into practice. If your groups are bigger than three, some people may well be isolated, on the fringes while extroverts compete for the group’s attention.

Specific groups can get ‘lost’ or focus too much, or over-think it. Remind them it’s a simple-ish two-step process. Brainstorm the skills you need, then prioritise.

Exercise 5 – Feedback  (optional)

Use a brief (no more than 10 minutes) feedback session to find out:

What did people like? What didn’t they like?

What would they have liked more time for/less time on?

What suggestions/improvements do they have?

Encourage them to take it and use the bits that work for them.

I always like to have anonymous feedback forms. But it’s also good if you leave the room and encourage people to talk among themselves for five minutes about what was good, what they’d do differently. Then come back in and answer any questions folks have.

Kit Required

Time. Anonymous feedback forms (optional)

Facilitator Notes

By now, everyone will have had enough, and be thinking about their next workshop/a cup of coffee.  Still their insights are crucial, both to the project and to you as a facilitator.

headshot of Marc Hudson

Marc Hudson is a climate change activist who worked as a health care professional for 12 years. He is starting a PhD on how the coal industry has responded to the threat of climate change. He believes that social movements are the species’ only chance, but that those social movements can’t rely on being right(eous) as a strategy.

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Strategic Reasons Why Values Matching is a Good Idea

square box not fitting in round hole

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Different framings for action on climate change and nature/environment gain more or less traction across the UK population depending on whether they mainly just appeal to Pioneers, or also to Prospectors and Settlers. This could be described as uplift for propositions, gained by ‘values matching’.

However some pundits, academics and campaigners argue that matching action-propositions to people’s values is not a good idea. For example writer George Monbiot has recently published two blogs ( and in The Guardian, both based on the work of group ‘Common Cause’, which takes this position.

They (invariably Pioneers) are concerned that it might reinforce ‘the wrong’ (Prospector or Settler) values. They fear that this, in turn, might affect ‘society’s values’. The ‘wrong values’ they identify are typically about a desire for power, acquiring material wealth, and ‘self-interest’. Better then to try and change people’s values so that they are ‘good’: altruistic, global, benevolent, universalist?  From this mind-set, matching offers or asks to people’s values is a bad idea if it includes the ‘bad’ values. They do not accept that, as Saul Alinsky famously said, ‘with very rare exceptions, the right things are done for the wrong reasons’, and that ‘it is futile to demand that men do the right thing for the right reason – this is a fight with a windmill. It then follows that they do not accept that the right outcomes can sometimes only be obtained by getting support of people who do not share your own values.

I do not agree and have written about why in previous newsletters. This can become a tedious and tangled debate. Common Cause and their supporters like to talk about ‘extrinsic’ and ’intrinsic’ values, whereas CDSM divides any population into three Maslow Groups (Settler – Security Drive; Prospector, Outer Directed; Pioneer, Inner Directed, and within them, 12 Values Modes). It is not always clear whether we are talking about the same thing and certainly not in the same terms. Both sides acknowledge the work of Shalom Schwartz but draw different conclusions from it. CDSM’s approach is mainly empirical; Common Cause is more theoretical. We believe the evidence suggests Maslow was right and that if people meet their unmet needs they change (in improving conditions/ good life experiences, from Settler to Prospector to Pioneer). Common Cause seems to think not. 

In addition, Common Cause seems to advocate talking about values to change them, whereas we have found this will tend to lead to disagreements which entrench values differences rather than change them. We have found that people are largely unaware of their motivational values: they feel like ‘common sense’. Common Cause wants to talk about values to change behaviours. We think that you cannot do that very easily, if at all, and it is more effective to change the behaviours. And so on.

Myself, the people at Common Cause and Mr Monbiot are all environmentalists. We probably have a similar idea of how the world really ought to be in terms of environmental quality and impacts. We just have a different view about how to get there.

All that said, I usually try to avoid this debate for two reasons. First, unlike some of the potential antagonists, nobody is paying me to take part in it and I can’t afford the time. Second, the main proponents of the ‘improve the people’ argument are themselves articulating a set of values most clearly expressed in the Concerned Ethical Values Mode, and no amount of analytical evidence is likely to make any difference. Although they might not accept it, what I have seen of the many research projects we have conducted using the CDSM ‘Values Modes’ system convinces me that they are driven by a largely unconscious need to find ‘ethical clarity’ and so will want to reject any route to change which is not ethically the best possible option.

I’d suggest there are a number of practical strategic reasons why values-matching is a fundamentally sensible strategy in the circumstances faced by most campaign groups today.

1. The Maths

Most campaign groups are dominated by Pioneers (Inner Directed) and are operating in societies where the majority of people do not share their values. In China, for example, over 70% of the population measured by the CDSM values segmentation (which includes use of Shalom Schwartz’s internationally verified question-set) is Outer Directed i.e. in CDSM’s parlance, Prospectors, which groups like Common Cause and advocates like George Monbiot would see as having ‘extrinsic values’.

This ‘Maslow Group’ is the largest in every one of ten societies we have surveyed for Greenpeace, except the US.

The ‘Pioneers’ on the other hand are in a minority in every country and in all cases (except the US) make up less than a third of the population. To take a rudimentary example, if there was a need to gain majority support for an idea, just appealing to ‘Pioneer’ values such as self-direction, universalism, benevolence, ethics and a global view of the importance of nature, would be a recipe for failure. There are of course many instances in which a majority of some sort is a desirable objective.

2. Signals of Feasibility

In democracies, and indeed in societies which are not ‘properly’ democratic but where rulers and decision-makers are aware that they need to have or appear to have ‘popular support’, many important policy decisions depend on showing that an idea is broadly supported, whether actively so, or simply accepted without much opposition. Achieving this typically means going beyond the Pioneers.

In contrast, generating a values-divided public debate generally sends the opposite message: that this is an intractable problem. Instead campaigns need to generate signs that the change they advocate is feasible, achievable and so offer decision-makers some sort of popularity reward.

3. The Decision-makers

Not all decision-makers are Pioneers. In the UK, for example, most people working full time for companies or other organisations are Prospectors. Nor are all politicians or officials Pioneers. For an idea to feel right and work for them, it needs to resonate with their values. Being told they are wrong-people and should adopt your demands based on your conflicting values is not likely to work but it will give them confidence that your proposal is wanting.

4.  The Doers

Contrary to what some Pioneers may assume, some of those most likely to act to support the changes they want are not Pioneers but Prospectors. Of these, the Now People Prospectors are the ‘bridge’ for new ideas or behaviours between the Pioneers and the Prospectors: they pick up these ideas from the ‘Transcender’ Pioneers.

This transfer is the point at which ‘mainstreaming’ takes place (as an idea becomes fashionable before becoming ‘normal’).  A good example in the UK is renewable energy. For decades almost the only people actively advocating or adopting it (eg. solar) were Pioneers. Now it is being mainstreamed by Prospectors, in businesses such as Gentoo Group (whose values we have surveyed – it is a mainly Prospector but very ‘green’ company with 27,000 solar panels on 2,000 properties in Sunderland and plans for 3,000 more solar homes). While Pioneers tend to agree with ‘good things’ but are so interested in debate and ideas that they may not do much to implement them, Prospectors are the principal doers and implementers of change. Once change mainstreams, Settlers too take it up. So, for example, you can now find homes sporting both solar pv and UKIP posters (UKIP’s core voters are Settler), like this one.

5. Outcomes

Campaigns should be planned backwards from analysing situations and identifying a strategic objective, and then working out a critical path of changes that will get you there. It’s along this path that the need to engage particular audiences, in ways that work with them, arises. Campaigns should not be projected forwards with rhetoric and polemic to advocate a desired outcome.

Many of the ‘moral hazard’ outcomes posited by critics of values-matching only arise if there is no strategy for change beyond advocacy and proselytizing. In reality, rather few campaigns can be won that way. An instrumental campaign built around a strategic critical path should have an objective which, once achieved, makes a strategic difference: a political decision between countries in the form of a treaty; an increase in the sales of a ‘good’ technology to the point where market forces make it inevitable that it will become dominant; or a change in infrastructure or a system that then determines which behaviours are possible or likely. In such cases, the motivations behind the actions become, at best, secondary.

6. Time and Resources

Even if it were true that people strongly driven to achieve power and material wealth were permanently locked into that values set, and even if you could ‘change’ these people without them meeting those needs (neither of which we think is true), campaigners dealing with urgent problems often do not have the time or resources to adopt a change-through-changing-the-people strategy. We have actually measured the values of the populations noted above. In China there are 26.4% who are ‘Golden Dreamers’, the people who most espouse the material + power values that some campaigners see as very ‘wrong’. In India 29.3% are Golden Dreamers and in the UK 15%. In all three countries they are the largest single Values Mode. This means that there are about 360m Chinese and a similar number of Indians who some see as having very much the ‘wrong values’.

Even if there was a way to ‘change’ these people (and some advocate 1:1 encounters), it seems somewhat unlikely that campaign organisations have the means to do so. Take for example, getting a car, or a ‘better’ car. For Golden Dreamers this is likely to be a priority. Persuading Indian Golden Dreamers to want their ‘next car to be an electric one’ rather than a fossil-fuel driven one is not difficult: we know from asking them that 68% say ‘yes’ (probably because ‘electric’ is now ‘fashionable’, seen as desirable and a sign of success). Persuading them to forgo a car altogether would be a very different matter but, from a climate-change point of view, electric cars are a change that the world needs to see, and quickly.

Finally, it sometimes seems that those opposed to ‘values-matching’ think that it means advocating that people should consume more or be more ‘materialistic’. The examples given in ‘Broadening the Appeal of Environmental Action through Values-Framing Uplift’ show that this need not be the case in practice. 

For example, the proposition ‘It is vital to introduce young children to nature’ out-scores ‘we should all care for nature’ by attracting more agreement from Settlers and Prospectors (ie. better matches their values). But this is because it is ‘about children’ and being a (good/better) parent rather than just promoting ‘nature’ and implying personal action. It is not gaining power or material wealth which is the promise here but social success and reinforcement of self-identity. For these groups, being-a-parent does this whereas global ethical universalist care for nature does not.

Similarly, ‘There’s still time to address climate change if we all make quite small and easy changes’ better matches Prospector and Settler values than just asking them to be ‘bothered’ and ‘concerned’ about the environment because agreement requires less self-agency. That’s another way to better match Prospector and Settler values but also does not require endorsement of ‘materialism’.

The main implication for Pioneers is one of self-restraint. Values matching requires them not to lecture or harangue Prospectors and Settlers to see things as Pioneers do, for example to embrace ‘huge and difficult’ changes with little evidence that they can be achieved, or to put ‘nature’ before their children.

headshot of Chris Rose

Chris Rose is an ecologist and communications and campaigns consultant based in the UK, a former director at Greenpeace, campaigner with WWF International and Friends of the Earth, author and host of Campaign Strategy, a free campaign planning website. This article was originally published in Campaign Strategy’s June 2014 Newsletter and has been republished with the author’s permission.

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