Home > Communicating values. A values-led approach to strategic communication for social change.

Mullen, Rachael (2018) Communicating values. A values-led approach to strategic communication for social change. Ireland: Values Lab.

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Values are powerful tools for leveraging social change: one commentator describing them as “the bedrock of effective politics”. When our personal values are activated, our emotions are engaged. When communications for social change are values-led, this increases the potential to powerfully bind people to issues of social and environmental concern and consequently, to mobilise them to take action. Strategic consideration is rarely given by organisations, however, to the values being communicated in social change strategies, despite the fact that all relevant communications carry a set of explicit and implicit values. Those values being communicated may be motivating target audience to care, or they may be having the opposite effect.


Decades of empirical research provides compelling evidence that certain values we all hold, when activated, motivate us to think beyond our own interests to a concern for the welfare of other people and the environment. Understanding how values work allows us to better understand how to engage the values that will ensure our social change strategies are more effective. Work for social change essentially involves storytelling. Whether the goal is policy or legislative change, increasing public awareness, or protesting an injustice, we are essentially telling a story about the problem, and the change we seek to address the problem. Values play a significant role in these narratives for social change. Every story we tell carries a set of values that unconsciously signal to the audience why they should be concerned and what is at stake.


This publication aims to support a values-led approach to strategic communication for social change. It is a call to campaigners and activists to champion the values, in their communication work, that will promote and sustain wider social change. Part one of the publication sets out the case for a values-led approach to strategic communication for social change. Part two explores how our values operate and how our pro-social values are prioritised or suppressed, and part three discusses the implications of this for our strategic communication for social change. Part four explores the use of frames, framing and storytelling to carry the values that will underpin the change sought and the concluding part five offers practical tools for organisations and campaigns to adopt a values-led approach to their strategic communication, to engage and mobilise target audiences.


We recommend that organisations interested in adopting a values-led approach to their communications would do so in the context of adopting a whole organisation approach to being values-led. Our previous publication offers information and tools to support organisations to take a broad organizational approach to becoming values-led.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International, Report
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Prevention, Harm reduction
September 2018
23 p.
Values Lab
Place of Publication
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