Strategies for Change


Values and Social Change – Part 1 – In our Strategies for Change Session on the 27th of July, we had Niall Crowley come and talk to us about Values and Social Change and how they are intrinsically linked to Activism. Niall became involved in an initiative called the Values Lab (see: because over the last number of his working years, he “has come to realise how central values are to promoting equality and protecting human rights” for everyone.

Niall invited us to introduce ourselves and try to identify one personal value that motivates our Activism – our core values (see: Who are you? Unleashing your Core Values | Jennifer Jones for more information regarding your core values). So, what motivates us? What ideas, beliefs, and dreams inspire us? or the values that motivate our Activism. Feedback included:

Values and Social Change Diagram - ILMI | Independent Living Movement Ireland

Values must be grounded in respect when it involves equality and human rights activism; they worry about how we do things, are very important to us, they affect us morally, and define how we want to live. So, we feel our values, there connected to our emotions, and that’s their “power”, they move us and motivate us as activists to be “changemakers”.

Our values work together as a system to shape our attitudes and guide how we behave and act. They even influence the choices and decisions we make. Values can be conscious and or unconscious, what is interesting here is the more we think about our values and what is important to us (see: Wellbeing For Children: Identity And Values), the more conscious our values become.

Values come from many different sources; family; friends; people we grow up with; school & college (learning to critically think); the wisdom of ageing (values can change over time); lived experiences; religious beliefs; work, and organisations that we can be affiliated too; and of course, the media.

How Values

Research is telling us that we all hold the same values, 56 in fact. These are also universally held across all societies and all cultures. Where we all differ is:

  • how we prioritise them
  • how we understand them – a value can be interpreted in different ways by different individuals and organisations
  • how we use them in our own lives.

Niall told us that this research “shocked him”. Before getting involved in the Values Lab, he worked in the Equality and Human Rights Sector, and his work at the time “was to persuade people to hold s that related to equality and human rights”. But research says no, “we don’t have to persuade anybody to hold these values because they already hold them“. Instead, what we must do is persuade others outside of the Equality and Human Rights Sector to prioritise their values differently, and that’s an entirely different task and “much more possible” to achieve.

Research also tells us that “in more equal societies, everyone does better”. So why can’t societies “just understand that having access for everyone works for everyone“? Why can’t they just, for example, prioritise the core value of accessibility. Some reasons why:

  • NIMBY based values – Not In My Backyard (communities that adamantly resist a development plan near their area regardless of whether it positive or negative (See: What is NIMBY?)
  • The general population “just don’t think about accessibility unless they have a friend or relative that is a wheelchair-user, or some other accessibility need” – unless accessibility has got something to do with the general population, they just don’t think about it, a lot deemed accessible is not so “education is crucial.
  • A lot of the general population have a fear of “being disabled or becoming disabled”, it could happen to them, so the message in their heads is staying away, don’t get involved
  • The power of media – the minority of airplay portray disabled people as needing care, are a charity case (fundraising), sympathy driven. When disabled people do get a chance “as activists to defend or take on those that exclude them on mainstream media, they don’t get a chance to say what they need or communicate their values because they are forced to contesting values that come from “self-interest”. Another important point here is that “disabled people need to be employed in the industry and control and frame the messages sent out; we also need airtime as activists”.

We get 1600 messages per day via social media and mainstream media that encompass self-interest values, e.g., good to have money – good to buy things – good to be important. These values don’t carry equality’s core values, making it very hard to achieve social change. Public debate is crucial here and via mainstream media is central to advance the conversation.

But it’s just not ok “to just prioritise accessibility”; the “value package” is important, independence, respect, equality, inclusion, dignity and so on.

Why are Values Important to Activism

As we said earlier, values shape everything we do as individuals, but they also shape what organisations do (run by individuals). Henceforward you will always find a set of dominant values that shape what every organisation does.

Suppose we look at the HSE (see: Healthmatters – Our Values in Action.pdf) for an example. Is the value of accessibility a priority? Is the value of independence a priority, and so on? Of importance here is when disabled activists start to “work collectively” using core values that prioritise equality and human rights to make necessary changes, mindsets are challenged, and the core values that prioritise equality and human rights get stronger and become more dominant – individually, collectively, and even at an organisational level. If disabled people do nothing or fall into the trap of using dominant self-interest values, nothing changes.

Niall invited us to look at some Dominant Values that might be in organisation’s that we were involved in. Feedback of values in Word Cloud below

Participation - ILMI

Then Niall invited us to think about how we might know what values an organisation holds and how we might see them in action. Feedback included “annual reports; mission statements; memos and articles; strategic plans and archives”.

After this conversation, Niall told us that there is a real fear about where these documents end up. If they are shelved, “this can become the burial ground – ultimately forgotten”. So as activists, knowing the above (what is written) and consciously being aware of what you see organisations do in relation to restricting someone’s life is vitally important because we need to be “consciously critiquing these organisations outcomes in relation to equality and human rights”.

Sometimes values within organisations can just become “a checkbox exercise, and their actions do not reflect its values regarding how they treat their customers, and that’s not good enough”.” Disabled people’s lives are seriously affected. There is also an added caveat here in that the lack of confidence can kick in for a disabled person“. For example, if a disabled person experiences discrimination, they might not have the “confidence to voice their lived experience, so it can become a vicious cycle.

Sometimes within organisations, the “cost of the common good core values” can get lost because of external pressures (funding, targets, value for money), which can pry open value gaps. If, as activists, we don’t have conversations about these value gaps, nothing will change. Having positive conversation’s is the first step because remember we all hold the same values, and it is about using this fact to get what we want. Organisations do “have opportunities to use tools to keep their values alive” and on track (see: Values-Led Organisations).

Shared Values

Disabled people both individually and collectively share the same values as everyone else, but more collaboration is needed across all human rights movements. Disabled people are much more than their impairment label – they are women, men, children, family members, friends, mothers, fathers, employees and so on.

Most people are protected from discrimination under our equality legislation. There is a real opportunity for disabled people to “made meaningful links” with these people and work together as activists to demand equality for everyone (shared value).

Solidarity won for women, the LGBT community, and the Black Lives Matter movement.  They were organised and used their core values to get what they wanted – this intersectionality is a source for connectedness, but Niall told us that “we don’t pay enough attention to this”.

When we look at or use organisations, we tend not to look at their values, vision, or even mission statement. Sometimes Values are stated, and sometimes there not. They can come from staff values (see: Strategies to Support System Change – Michael Kendrick), founding values of an outdated organisation or management values or a combination. They can also come from outside in terms of funders or government departments. What is important here is the values gap between the values they say they hold and the values they demonstrate via their work and be conflicting. If organisations are not engaged with their values, they don’t get prioritised.

We as activists need to start naming our values (individual and shared) and define them, so collectively, we all have the same meaning to affect change coherently and consistently; this is how we connect and build solidarity? It’s by naming, defining, and engaging a shared set of values.

Some Wisdom

Those with lived experience of disablism (see: Disability and Disablism) are sometimes forced to prioritise their values that are linked to fighting for equality and their rights just to have the same life chances as everyone else. Therefore, “values that inspire our activism are like muscle’s; the more we engage and prioritise them the stronger they become, therefore, the stronger our activism becomes”.

If we can work out our core values and what inspires us as disabled people, we can then try to get “other people” to be inspired by the same values, so they are shared, and together we can work towards the common good for everyone.

Documents to read
  1. Equality and Human Rights: An Integrated Approach.pdf
  2. Engage for Change.pdf
  3. Civil Society Guide to the Public Sector Duty.pdf
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