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Are values changing during lockdown?

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

We've invited Pat Dade (The Guru Pat!) from Cultural Dynamics to share his thoughts with us on whether people's values are changing through the COVID-19 pandemic and in particular through lockdown and its aftermath.

Thanks Pat! Over to you...


Are values changing during lockdown?

This is one of the most common questions people are asking about COVID-19.

The way you and I react to change is a function of our pre-existing values set. The way a country or culture reacts is a function of the dynamics between its different values sets.

COVID-19 is a stressor to the British values system of a kind not experienced since WW2 – before even the oldest of the Baby Boomers was born.

Britain is uniquely likely to be culturally affected by the virus, the lockdown and the aftermath - a changed and unstable economic world.

Years of uninterrupted ‘austerity’ has created a different ‘normal’ in the UK compared to other nations. The added twist of Brexit working its way through physical, intellectual, emotional and political systems in the UK is likely to have a significant impact on the direct effects of Covid-19, and not for the better.

Epidemiologists are preparing the population for a second wave of the virus. It is likely that a second wave of austerity will have a greater effect as a force multiplier on British values change over the next two to five years.

Are values changing?...

A better question would be are values systems changing?

The values systems of individuals do not change overnight and a real crisis needs to occur for deep seated orientations like values systems to change. No one factor is likely to cause these changes.

Values systems are most likely to change when either of two very different circumstances occur:

a) Underlying psychological needs are met. Needs that were formerly unsatisfied - the individual’s dominant motivations - are satisfied and no longer provide the stimulus they once did. This can be summed up in the phrase, ‘a need satisfied is no longer a need’. It is at this point that individuals develop a new set of needs – and as they are not yet satisfied, they become their new dominant motivations. It is normal to change values during the course of one’s life. It is healthy to change. These needs are defined at a basic and meta-level by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

b) Underlying needs are not being met. Cognitive dissonance is producing a range of discomforting symptoms - anxiety, fear, paranoia, and a whole range of neuroses - which make it less stressful to retreat to a previous set of needs. This area of previously satisfied needs – a part of identity that is easy to access and provides a comfort zone - is often called the locus of control. This method of change is also normal but is not necessarily ‘healthy’ when reacting to new situations that require new ways of thought and behaviour.

Cultural Dynamics Strategy and Marketing (CDSM Ltd) has developed a method of measuring UK values systems and has tracked them for decades. Their data defines three different basic or meta-values systems and four different subsystems within each of the three groups – a total of 12 in all.

They tracked changes in British values systems that have been in stress mode since the crash of 2007/08. They warned clients then that there would be a short term - four to six year - disruption to some values systems. As the effects of austerity were incorporated into disrupted individual values sets, they forecast the by 2014 the stage was set for a return to the pattern of change that had occurred since WWII, and that CDSM and other companies had measured since 1973.

But a series of culture-changing elections and a referendum post-2014 culminated in a mandate for government to negotiate the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union - creating even more uncertainty about the future. Cumulative short term change – designed to create a clear set of known knowns - had instead extended and deepened the unknown knowns. This has led to the suspicion, lack of trust and division we are currently experiencing.

British charities have lived through these times and have adapted to these changing conditions and continued their vital services to their recipients.


In flies a big Black Swan – another stressor that is likely to have a deeper impact on individuals and on a culture that has already lived through an immediate past of increasing uncertainty - the last 13 years.

Based on brand new data from CDSM we are seeing the following changes in the middle of our generational Black Swan event.

Group 1 (Settlers) valuing safety, security and belonging as a dominant orientation. After growing in the disruptive years (2007-2018) they have reverted to slowly declining.

Group 2 (Prospectors) valuing the esteem of others and self-esteem as a dominant orientation. After some turbulent shifts during the 2007-2018 period they are now back to very slow but steady slight growth.

Group 3 (Pioneers) valuing self-direction, universalism and benevolence - after static or tiny negative changes during the 2007-2018 period they are now back to slow but steady growth.

Each of the Groups is reacting to the Black Swan in very different ways – and each of them has a different impact on your organization.

Charities need to understand their appeal to these different groups to survive in this Brave New post-Covid-19 World. The ways the different values sets perceive your brand, the demands they place on your organization – both internally and in the supply of services to your recipients – and the expectations of end results being in harmony with their personal values.

This applies now - and into the future of the first stage of the new normal.

The emergent longer term new normal is a conversation for another day.

So, what does mean for your organization?

Normal yearly planning sessions are usually conducted within a relatively stable environment compared to Black Swan times. This means that everything you knew to be true may no longer be true. Your first step is to examine that assumption.

Here are a half a dozen initial questions to help you get started:

  1. “Will our loyal donors and supporters be as loyal in these new times”?

  2. “Do we understand the world in the same way as our most loyal supporters, i.e. do we know their values”?

  3. “What does our brand and relationship look like to them now”?

  4. “Is our income and support falling, or increasing, and is it likely to be temporary; or is it likely to recover/fall as the Black Swan event recedes and a new normal begins to emerge”.

  5. “If our support is falling among our most dependable sources, our most loyal, how do we get it back”?

  6. “If our support is falling how can we expand our appeal to another values group and get them to become new loyal supporters”?


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