Central to Common Cause Foundation’s work is the conviction that we will not be able to step up, collectively, to meet compound challenges such as white supremacy, environmental destruction, patriarchy or staggering inequality, by working on these issues in piecemeal fashion.
Critically important as work focused on each of these issues is, there must also be a complementary approach that works at a more systemic level, to ask: What are the values that bind us together as a community? How are these values shaped? How do these values show up in diverse contexts? What might be done to foreground and celebrate those shared values upon which a more humane future will be built?
Systemic work of this nature can be embraced by NGOs that are prepared to situate their organisation objectives on this broader canvas. But it also invites the participation of many institutions that may still see their work as tangential to these big challenges. Among these, we have been working with arts and cultural organisations over many years, to explore the role that these might play in this more systemic work.
This work has focused particularly on Greater Manchester. Working in the city region, we have helped to support dialogue across arts and cultural organisations about their role in foregrounding intrinsic values and reflecting the fact that these are values that most Greater Mancunians prioritise – though they, in common with people in many other places, tend to underestimate the importance of these values to their fellow citizens.
With support from Big Lottery England, we surveyed a representative sample of 1200 people across Greater Manchester, about their values and their perceptions of a typical fellow citizen’s values. We found that the people of Greater Manchester place priority on intrinsic values (such as community, friendship, social justice and equality) but significantly underestimate the importance that their fellow citizens place on these values. We also found that this “values perception gap” holds back the people of Greater Manchester – it predicts lower wellbeing, lower community cohesion, lower civic participation and lower support for action on a range of social and environmental issues (including climate change, inequality and homelessness).
Commenting on the results of this survey, which were publicised widely across the city region, the metro major, Andy Burnham said:
“Greater Mancunians are compassionate and naturally generous, so it’s no surprise to see this reflected in the survey… However, while it’s clear that these are values we all share, our perceptions of each other are very different. We need to explore ways to bridge that gap, challenge these perceptions and believe in each other, so together we can build an even greater society.”
For more information, see here.
Emboldened by the evidence that most people across the city region prioritise intrinsic values, we then began work with Manchester Museum to prototype and pilot ways in which the museum could celebrate these values and deepen visitors’ appreciation of the importance that typical Greater Mancunians place on these values. With support from The Minor Foundation for Major Challenges, we employed a project officer at the museum for a year. Working in this role, Shanna Lennon piloted a range of changes in museum practice.
For more information, see here.
Working with Gaby Porter at Happy Museum, we then began to publicise Shanna’s work through networks of arts and cultural organisations across the city. With support from GMCA Arts, we were able to convene an action learning process with the involvement of 14 arts and cultural organisations from across the city region, to further test, develop and disseminate these ways of working. This conversation is still on-going.
“We have an opportunity to convey to people the simple truth that most citizens of Greater Manchester care deeply for other people and the places that we live – much more than we currently imagine. Cultural organisations can show the way in beginning to communicate this truth – and Manchester Museum has begun to work in this way. But this is a good-news story that needs to be told by businesses and public institutions across Greater Manchester.”
Nick Merriman (formerly director, Manchester Museum).
If you’re involved in the arts and culture sector, would be interested in working in a similar way in your local area, or have a particular interest in work in Greater Manchester, we would love to hear from you.
Please contact Tom on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to Manchester Museum, Happy Museum, GMCA Arts, Big Lottery England and Minor Foundation for Major Challenges.