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Communication is Conservation

Posted by Ruth on Wednesday, 05 February 2014.

Communication is Conservation

Sometimes you can't see the wood for the trees (so my dad used to tell me), busy delivering projects and campaigns, wrapped up in the day to day work of Nurture Lakeland - all exciting stuff but it's great to have an opportunity to look at what you're doing from a different angle. This is exactly what Sarah and I did last week, we left the Lake District far behind and travelled to London to find out how a new study from the Public interest Research Council (PIRC)could help us get more businesses and visitors supporting conservation in Cumbria.

The 'Common Cause for Nature' project started in 2012 when thirteen UK conservation organisations – including WWF-UK, the John Muir Award, RSPB and CPRE – came together to commission an analysis of the values they promote in their work. Led by PIRC, academic researchers from Lancaster University, Royal Holloway, and Essex University carried out innovative linguistic analysis of six months of external communications of these organisations.

It was the first time I'd really got to grips with some of the psychology behind behaviour change and motivation and I was glad to have the first half of the day exploring exactly what we mean by values and frames – it's actually much more straightforward than it sounds. Basically a psychologist called Schwartz has surveyed people around the world to find out what values they hold. Rather than occurring randomly, these repeatedly occurring values were found to be related to each other. Some were unlikely to be prioritised strongly at the same time by the same individual; others were often prioritised strongly at the same time.

The researchers mapped this relationship according to these associations (see image).The closer any one value 'point' is to another, the more likely that both will be of similar importance to the same person. By contrast, the further a value is from another, the less likely that both will be seen as similarly important. This does not mean that people will not value both cleanliness and freedom, for example – rather, they will in general tend to prioritise one over the other.
When we were asked to think about what values we would want to engage to create a world where biodiversity thrives and nature is cared for, it quickly became obvious which side of the map we were leaning towards. The 'intrinsic' values in the top right corner all related to the concepts and priorities we would associate with conservation, the 'extrinsic' values in the opposite corner however, did not resonate so strongly with the aims of our work.

It all started to click into place in the second half of the day. One approach that has recently gained ground, for instance, is to tailor communications to appeal to the dominant motivations of different groups of people. Volunteering, educational activities and charitable giving may be presented as opportunities for freebies or personal gain. Environmental behaviour change may thus be sold via 'eco-chic' for status-conscious people, or opportunities to save cash for the frugal. But to what extent do we question the values we are appealing to and engaging in these communications and what effect does this have?

We often shy away from directly engaging more intrinsic values, I can think of campaigns comms where we have appealed to businesses' on the basis that they will save money for instance – and there's no doubt that this is a significant motivator – but can we seek to nurture more of the intrinsic values? Thinking about our work at Nurture Lakeland; Love Your Lakes, Visitor Giving and Drive Less See More spring to mind as examples of campaigns using messages that appeal to individuals' and businesses' sense of responsibility, unity with nature, helpfulness, the natural beauty around them and creativity.

I have to admit my head was hurting by the end of the day but I came away feeling hopeful, motivated to do more and dead chuffed that upon closer inspection, sometimes we're not just trying to nurture the Lake District but are nurturing values too!

You can find out more about the Values and Frames research here and Common Cause for Nature.

By Sophie Cade, Development Officer


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