How should we talk to people about changing the world?

There are a range of important problems facing humanity, including widespread and persistent poverty, climate change, isolation and loneliness, human rights abuses, inequality and biodiversity loss, to name just a few. But how can we talk to people about these issues if we want to engage them and motivate them to take real action?

This is a question that progressive causes have been asking themselves for years, and is something we have a particular interest in at ChangeStar – not just in our capacity as a social change agency ourselves, but in my own capacity as founder and director of another organisation – Life Squared ( – check it out if you haven’t already!) – that aims to help people live happier, wiser and more meaningful lives within the pressures and complexity of the modern world.

In recent years, a new perspective on this issue has emerged, backed up by the latest research into human behaviour. It suggests that we cannot gain effective, lasting action from people on progressive issues through appeals to people’s fear, greed or ego, as such motivations tend to produce a shallow, short-lived type of engagement. They are also likely to backfire, actually reinforcing values that undermine social and environmental concern.

Instead, the thinking argues, we need to foster “intrinsic” values in people – among them self-acceptance, care for others, and concern for the natural world – as doing this has real and lasting benefits.

This thinking has profound consequences for the way that progressive causes should communicate with the public and their supporters – including in their requests for fundraising. It is well worth checking out the evidence and the ideas behind this thinking and considering how they might apply to your cause.

A key organisation that is driving this thinking is Common Cause. Many of you may already be aware of them, but for those who aren’t, do have a look at their handbook for more details – free to download here.

Also, see our own paper ‘Why is it so hard to change people’s behaviour?’ for a similar, accessible perspective on this issue. Free to download here.

And do get in touch if you’d like to discuss this issue more or how you might integrate it into communications for your cause.