The Network Grenade: Policy, Values and Behaviour

Grenade pieces

Image (cc) Profound Whatever.

Three things to cover. First off Andrew Jamison’s essay in the latest issue of WIREs Climate Change, which has just dropped. Second, values versus behavious and a little bit of Common Cause versus Chris Rose. Third up, networked society yo. From policy nudges to policy change through network effects.


Andrew Jamison, where were you and your history paper on the history of climate change in the context of social movements six months ago? No really, I spent the summer trying to connect the dots between della Porta, Touraine and Beck. Jamison’s done the job in a manner more elegant and readable than I could ever manage. And something that immediately that tallies with my own experience is Jamison’s contention that there is a serious dearth of academic study out there on climate change and social movements. Jamison does a good job rounding up what is available and bringing in some relevant literature from the more general social movement field. It’s invaluable for anyone working in this area right now right now. We’re an an impasse between the social sciences (read Mike Hulme in yesterday’s Guardian) and the ongoing and seemingly hardening stance of the natural sciences (great round-up of important papers in Climate Progress).

Jamison outlines three waves of social movement. The traditional 19th and 20th century movement that worked on big ticket issues, such as women’s rights or the labour movement. Then post ’68 there were the New Social Movements (NSMs), in the North these were “lifestyle” movements, you choose feminism, I choose the environment etc. Emerging at the turn of the millennium are a new wave of movement focussed on the negatives of globalisation and perhaps even technology. Environmental justice fits in here too, as do anti-GMO, airports and roads.

Jamison identifies some important issues:

  1. The intellectual tensions between the traditional social movements (such as labour movements) and the New Social Movements of the seventies and eighties. Despite some progress, environmental NSMs still regard climate change primarily as an environmental issue. Ee-k-er!!!
  2. Progressives have misread some of the skeptics concerns. People like Al Gore, essentially neo-liberals, are commodifying science/academia. They are taking techno-social solutions to climate change and attempting to make a buck out of them and they are dragging universities along with them. Jamison’s point: let’s admit this and understand why skeptics get wound up by it. I know I get wound up by it.
  3. To not only “solve” (ha!) climate change, but to start tackling fairness in society, we need to not only cross pollinate scientific disciplines (particularly as Hulme suggests between the social and natural), but we need also to cross fertilise activist and academic knowledge. To create a commonly shared theoretical and conceptual framework.

Sounds great right? Of course, there’s a catch, the reason suggests Jamison is cash money. There simply is not the funding in universities, or more to the point, into universities, to get this done (Jamison would have it that this is because of expedient commercial demands).

But all of this begs the question more generally of progressive movements and institutions. Are we cooperating as best we can? Do we have a common cause. Funny you should ask, onto part two.


Beliefs versus values. Y-fronts versus boxers. Chickens versus eggs. Tom versus Chris. Right yeah, boring. The point is, both are important. Obvs.

Tom Crompton and the merry band of NGOs behind Common Cause would have it, (after George Lakoff mostly), that the way to take on societies BIG problems is through value interventions. Emotion trumps fact in judgements runs the arguement, so change the emotional levers, through framing, and you change the outcome. Deep frames define one’s overall common sense and if we can redefine common sense, then we have a powerful underlying tool for change on our side. QED.

Chris in his lengthy smack down of Common Cause almost takes offence that a campaign would attempt to “alter” an individual’s value system. As if a person was normatively outside of a social network (of the original kind), in which value altering vectors were not assailing her every waking minute. My contention is this. As mostly rational beings we feel our (capital ‘v’) Values are important. We feel these Values will lead to a happier, more productive life for the majority. Well you know what, if that’s the case I’m going to try and share (note Chris, not “force”) my values with my friends down the pub on a Friday night. Hopefully they’ll pick up a few of them. And maybe buy me a drink. Chris in fairness to him sees this argument coming way down the track.

“And most obviously but apparently ignored by Common Cause , no decent campaign strategy should set out simply to convert an entire population, one by one, as in the manner of government social marketing schemes.” Why? Because who amongst us has the resources to possibly succeed at this.”

Now Chris is right, of course we don’t have the time or resources to stop people one by one in the street and . It’s taken the neocons 40 years, from Goldwater to Fox News, to establish their platform (Lakoff lays this out nicely). Maybe if we get our act together it takes us a decade or two. That’s no good for climate change though right. But pleaase, hold that thought for one minute, I will come back to why that may be changing presently.

For the most part I agree with Chris, show people change, show them success, and they will follow. And dealing with climate change, we know that we need to get results now. But to move on and not learn the lessons that Lakoff through Common Cause can teach us would be folly. For connected to climate change are issues of fairness and social justice have have always been with us. Crompton et al. offer a caveat ignored by Chris that allows us to examine each campaign opportunity and assign a weighting to the value intervention / behaviour adjustment ratio intinsic within. That surely offers us a place to start. And whilst we are doing this, surely creating a common progressive epistemological and resource infrastructure á la Jamison 3 makes total sense.


Last night I saw Paul Ormerod talk at the RSA. Policy change by increments is over claims Ormerod. David Cameron’s Nudge-based initiative is its last hurrah. Offering incentives (e.g. tax breaks to encourage low-carbon behaviour) to society’s actors has only so much road left. The future is much more uncertain affair, where networked society takes over and has the potential to create social interventions in big steps. Ormerod’s bottom line: society is now more networked than it has ever been. Using network effects, we just may be able to instigate cascading change through networks, thus society, at a faster and more ambitious scale than ever before. And to do this we need to spend far more time identifying those most likely to adopt change (whether that’s value or behavioural change is not important according to Ormerod).

Okay, that’s the very very condensed version. As an example, Ormerod said that if he was IDS right now looking to alter the welfare state, he’d be trying to throw policy grenades into networks. Sure, the hit rate is going to be low (lots of these grenades come without fuses) but when it does blow, it’s going to be a whopper. Right now policy drives in general are big and risk averse, Whitehall policy wonks don’t like taking chances. And these initiatives cost a lot for only marginal gains. Ormerod’s suggestions are the opposite on all counts.

Why is this important? Well look at one of Rose’s main points I’ve highlighted. Given limited resources, we cannot hope to create widespread value interventions. Well not by traditonal means no. But working to a network paradigm, and working with those with access to these networks (IDS?!?!) maybe we see before us the beginning of a new strategy.

I would contend the level of influence bouncing around online networks has taken a marked step up over the past month with the launch of Facebook’s new messaging system and Path, the highly-influential-friends-only network. As such the ability to measure and track influence through networks of all types is perhaps growing and opens up opportunities unimaginable to the likes of Greenpeace and WWF 10, 15, 20 years ago. Opportunities to impact values faster whilst simultaneously showing as real behaviour changes. Surely this approach, and not a tired black and white debate over values versus behaviour should be central to our common cause.


My friend Shilpa just sent me this link to a rebuttal of Rose’s newsletter by Martin Kirk, Oxfam’s Head of Campaigns, UK. Shame it’s the same tedious pdf style that Chris uses, but maybe that’s the point. Anyway, Martin rightly takes issue with the fact that Chris could find no common ground in Common Cause. Real shame. Go read it.