Monthly Archives: May 2015

Cultural Values & Social Change (Reflection)

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A Reflection on Values and Common Cause

By Don Officer

If we’re all committed to our own self-selected values, how will we ever agree on anything we might want to see changed? This was the underlying question we were asked to consider at the May 13, 2015 session of Design with Dialogue.

Experienced, adept sustainability facilitator Aryne Sheppard of Living Simply led about 40 attendees in open discussion, dyads and triads to probe and explore how we might choose our value preferences. Later we’d each be asked to identify and chart our own value preferences using whatever reasoning we could think of.

Discussion was deliberative yet wide ranging and never dull. It began to dawn on everyone in the room how complex the difficulties in appealing to a media saturated public, bombarded by messages from every compass point could be. True to form though, the votes we cast with sticky notes exposed consistent patterns. When an irregular spider web overlay showed just how clustered and closely associated personal value choices might prove to be, I suspect inner voices protested at how inclined to conform to the short list of values stereotypes we actually are.

In discussion we considered where these categories might come from. Are you among the self-directed, the universalists, the benevolent, the conformists, the traditionalists or the security minded? Perhaps you crave stimulation, seek hedonistic indulgence or strive for power unless achievement is your heart’s desire. Some choices straddled categories even if close to common dividing lines and a few reflected a more esoteric methodology, scattering stickies across the chart.

What was the point? Apart from prompting an energizing discussion, Aryne’s process surely showed us how hard it must be to attract support for any cause. Hence the term and the strategy: Common Cause. At first glance, that phrasing suggests a coalition of militants, but in the current social change framework it is a philosophy that seeks shared overlaps among a wider, often divided community as diverse in opinion as any other describable way.










I don’t know whether or not any relentlessly inclusive approach to the tough issues of our time such as environment, social justice or resource distribution has any chance of succeeding. Are the clusters (or the quadrants they roll up into) fixed positions or stages in personal development? Not easily determined.

However, as a participant-based example of group learning, showing rather than describing, the cultural values exercise lays out some broad decision landscapes vividly and clearly.

Cultural Values & Social Change: The Common Cause Framework

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How do cultural values shape environmental and social movements?
How might deepening our understanding of cultural values and frames help us to co-create the solutions for a more equitable, sustainable and democratic society?
May’s DwD was hosted by Aryne Sheppard, who led an inquiry into the Common Cause framework as an instrument for understanding how we are shaped by our culture and the way in which we respond, both as individuals and collectively, to the most pressing problems that we face.

Environmental campaigns tend to fall into two categories:

1. Public engagement and behaviour change; and,
2. Institutional (corporate or government) engagement.

But there is a deeper level we must consider as we move towards a sustainable future: the realm of values. Cultural values influence our behaviours, attitudes and voting decisions. Culture is a key influence in shaping our view of the world and our sense of responsibilities within it. As social change leaders, it is critical to understand the role values play in individual lives and cultural norms. Working to understand and rebalance cultural values is a powerful tool if our goal is to build a more equitable, sustainable and democratic society.











Aryne discussed how power dynamics in society are seldom the subject of public scrutiny and debate. The dialogue explored how fostering intrinsic values—among them self-acceptance, care for others, and concern for the natural world—has real and lasting benefits.













The Common Cause model, with a values mapping resulting from participants selection of supporting values (green) and negating values (red) with respect to societal betterment, based on our individual perspectives.

For more information explore The Common Cause Framework 

About the Host

As an adult educator and facilitator, Aryne Sheppard has worked in the areas of personal growth & wellness, leadership development and community capacity-building for over 12 years. She has have a track record of creating innovative, experientially-based programs in both the non-profit and public sectors.  She believes that valuing the inner life, as individuals and as a society, is one of the most important things we can do to create deep and lasting change. Aryne earned her professional designation as an educator from OISE / UofT, specializing in Transformative Learning, with a Master’s degree in Adult Education & Counseling Psychology (2004). Aryne currently works with the David Suzuki Foundation in Toronto and her consulting practice is called Living Simply.