In which, once again, I gingerly poke the cotton bud of my latest amateur intellectual fad into the squidgey ear wax of politics, though at least this time the subject material, a psychological profiling system for use by campaigners, is designed with political use partly in mind.
I was originally planning to make the Terribly Boring series into a weekly stand-off between some aspect of the current British political scene and a whole rainbow of other fields of my specialist knowledge. Sadly, owing to the somewhat esoteric nature of these, I’m probably sticking to psychological profiling as my foil, since there is only a certain amount of mileage you can get out of a discussion of liberal politics in the light of middle Anglo-Saxon burial practices.
Anyway, since no-one seems to be blogging much today, I thought I’d make it a great big long hephalump of a post. Just for you. Don’t go and buy the Saturday Guardian – you know it only makes you cross. Read this instead.
Chris Rose’s fascinating Campaign Strategy site (“modest ideas for anyone trying to save the world”) features as its central tenet the Values Mapping system, a tool which claims to be a means of understanding what values motivate the behaviour and direct the opinions of groups of voters (and non-voters). Everything below, whether quoted or used, appears in either this guide to using the Values Mapping system, or this 2005 survey paper. The following sketch appears in the latter:
Over the course of the last 32 years a series of psychological studies of the UK population have been used to track the values, beliefs and motivations of generations of people in Britain. Currently this survey uses a set of more than 1,000 questions, put to over 5,600 people… All three political parties have used it in some form.
All these sorts of tools seem to recognise four basic types from which all the other variations are derived, don’t they? Myers-Briggs has Artisans, Idealists, Rationals and Guardians. Medieval medicine recognised Phlegmatic, Choleric, Melancholic and Sanguine types. The Zodiac divides into earth, air, fire and water signs. The political compass is a two-by-two matrix in which the four quarters basically represent four types. It’s as if our whole mode of thought, however sophisticated, is still at some level based on the fact that the easiest way to count is on the fingers of one hand.
Well, this system departs from that a little by recognising three basic types. There are the settlers, currently comprising 20% of the population, prospectors (40%) and pioneers (also 40%). Each of these three types are themselves divided into four (aha!) grades, but the critical thing about these grades is that they are not so much different “types” as stages of progress, through life and/or thought. The lowest grade in each of the three categories focusses on the most basic needs appropriate to that category, the next grade up has had those basic needs satisfied and now seeks something else, and so on.
And there is also potential progression between the three categories:
The model tells decision makers that people begin life as Settlers. Some satisfy the Settler needs and become Prospectors. Then some can satisfy those needs and become Pioneers. Very few people in any culture have satisfied the Pioneer needs, so remain Pioneers.
For example, the lowest grade of the Settler seeks food, air, water, security and the comfort of a social group, and in that sense we are all born as first-grade settlers. How fast and how far we then progress from settler to prospector and from prospector to pioneer (or whether we do) depends on a whole host of factors, chiefly nature, nurture and economic opportunity. The full paper is here so I won’t quote it all, but in essence, the motivational triggers for the three groups are identified as follows:
Settlers – dominant needs are basic physiological needs, safety and belonging
One of the principal Settler characteristics is the need to protect and hold onto what you’ve got. This begins with protecting the self. After all, it’s a hard world out there and you can’t afford to show any vulnerability. It’s also something of a wicked world out there. There are plenty of others who will gladly take what you got away from you, if they get chance. So worry about crime is never very far from the surface.
The idea of standing up for what you believe shows a clear sense that things are either right or wrong, with not much space in between. It’s apparent that there are rules that should be respected and obeyed, or the transgressor should expect just retribution. The Settler view of what is right and acceptable could almost be used as a definition of “traditional values”.
Prospectors – dominant needs are esteem from others and self-esteem
There is a clear optimism about life. The world is seen as a big opportunity. Certainly there are risks, but that’s half the fun. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” might be a suitable motto for the Prospector. Corresponding to this, there is something of a sense of “easy come, easy go”.
The art of the Prospector is to be “savvy” – to be aware of what is going on around and to take advantage of the opportunities when they arise… Occasionally, this might mean “flexing” or “adapting” the rules, but that is all part of the game.
At the heart of Prospector life is the need to make their success visible… Among the most important activities of Prospector life is earning and spending money. To some extent, the Prospector is a slave to consumerism and fashion. Money, of itself, is not a serious matter but its acquisition and disposal is.
Pioneers – dominant needs are aesthetic and cognitive self-actualisation
This is a view of life that steps outside the optimism-pessimism dimension and into something else that is quite difficult to pin down. It predicates some purpose to life – probably some purpose beyond the continuing existence of a “selfish gene”.
The art of the Pioneer is to admit ignorance and to use that ignorance to attract knowledge – just as a vacuum sucks in air. One might be forgiven for thinking that the Pioneer must have a brain the size of a planet to hold all that knowledge. In fact, one of the Pioneer’s earliest learnings is usually that knowledge generally leads to better questions rather than better answers. The Pioneer brain is a question generator as opposed to an answer store.
How the dynamic between the three works
…the [Pioneers] are the innovators of society: they start new behaviours, embrace change, try out new things, set up organisations, start initiatives. If these look like they might succeed, they are taken up by the Prospectors… However while the behaviours are the same, the motivations are different. For example Pioneers may be doing something new because of ethical reasons or because it’s simply fun to play with. Prospectors will be doing it because it brings esteem from others or confirms self-esteem: it may be cool, fashionable or clever for example. In brand development terms the Prospectors are the ‘early adopters’ following the Pioneer innovators… Once the other two groups have adopted a behaviour, the [Settlers] may follow suit but not before. The behaviour is then ‘normal’ (ie ‘everyone does it’, in so far as it is going to be adopted).
Applying the system
Psycho-analysing the Tories
Stay with me. It’s not as icky as you might think.
Settlers are driven by the need for security and tradition. Their basic motivator is to keep things the same. Sound like any political party you know? Even more interesting:
Over recent decades, the number of Settlers in the population has progressively diminished, with major implications for how society functions.
Which offers a lens through which to view the Tories’ current identity crisis. Their natural base is shrinking. And for an even closer guide, look at the detailed descriptions of the lowest and highest stages of settlers:
Roots: This is the base of all Values Modes – everything else is a progression from this state. Fundamentally, for them the world is threatening and they must be strong to survive in the face of the odds. Survival is the mark of success. Life is hard but they feel they are extremely self-sufficient – they have to “look after number 1”. There is strength in their steadfastness, but there is also isolation from others. They have low empathetic skills, as they spend much of their time attempting to control the world around them, even controlling their own desires. They are not self-reflective. Rationality is their main weapon of control.
Certainty first: In many ways the best adjusted of the Settler group. They know they want to trust the “old ways”. They very consciously use their experience to adjust to changes in the world, which they really want to “just slow down”, not necessarily reject. The past is more real to them than the future. They believe they are normal. They want answers not more questions. They are more “rational” than “emotional”. They take roles, not personas – i.e. everyone has a part to play and it a duty to perform, not an option. They are attracted to strong, simple explanations of their reality e.g. ideologies and slogans – and tend to think in the same way. They believe that life can be much simpler than it is at the moment.
Now watch the Conservatives as they seesaw between Cameroonian (stage 4) and traditionalist (stage 1) attitudes in search of an ever smaller natural base. It is, of course, part of the conservative mindset that they are the only ones who really represent British people, something strongly echoed in type 4.
In the light of the settler preoccupation with crime and security, this passage is pleasingly ironic:
At the heart of Settler life is the concept of family. In most cases, this is the traditional family structure but this is not always so. Traditional roles are likely to apply. Where there is no family per se, the community, friends or the gang will serve just as well. The important thing is that there is some sort of mutually supportive and protective group to which the Settler belongs.
It occurs to me now with full force what I was groping towards in my anti-social behaviour post of the other day, that we literally understand nothing about gangs if we don’t treat them like they treat themselves – an underground society with its own rules and values. They see their own social set-up as a viable alternative to what Tories genuinely believe is a kind of universal norm. And however much a Tory may dislike it, gang values arise from exactly the same desire for belonging and security that also prompts a Tory’s “right-thinking” values (my values are better than yours! Because they are!)
Predicting the political future
So settlers are the group on the wane.
Prospectors, the acquisitive, status-driven, early adopter group were the fastest growing group of the last decades of the twentieth century and are now, at 40%, form the dominant paradigm:
This is the Group that is currently defining post industrial 21st Century Britain. They have been the fastest growing group over the last 25 years and have now become so pervasive that almost half the population holds this form of values system, or Motivational Group. This has fundamentally changed what it means to be British; with the desire to remain in the same class and hold onto traditions being replaced by a desire to improve and change the way things are done.
Thatcherism and natural prosperity combined to make them overtake Pioneers in 1992 and Settlers in 1995 as proportions of the population. Well, whaddya know. What sequence of events could this possibly have a bearing on?
NuLabour was, of course, the Prospectors writ large, and much of the history of political communication over the past decade could be pegged onto the following:
Prospectors are a key group not generally reached by NGO campaigns and public agency communications efforts. Attracting their support, whether overtly or indirectly, may well make a significant difference to a campaigns success but is essential if the purpose is population-wide behaviour change. Prospectors dislike being told they are doing anything wrong, fear social censure and controversy and are early adopters rather than innovators. There are ways to get them to act on social issues, for example ‘green’ subjects but they need simple choice do/don’t options which involve doing stuff better, getting ‘the right stuff’ or ‘the right’ experiences and being rewarded, not made to give something up.
So sudden and successful was NuLabour’s prospector dominance that the Tories have had to copy their mannerisms, priorities and even many of their policy foci to relocate themselves on the Values Map. David Cameron, of course, is a natural Prospector. “You can get it if you really want it” could have been a slogan written for this group.
In fact it probably was.
However, the interesting thing about Prospectors is that, with the collapse of NuLabour’s credibility over the last five years or so, they are horribly out of fashion on the leading edge of political commentary (as exemplified in political satire, for example) in a way that is probably unfair to them. It’s now acceptable for even Torily minded people to have a go at “big business”, consumerism, and what they perceive as improper acquisitiveness because it’s all so redolent of the hated Prospector mindset which is now failing as a mindset of government. Yes, the Tories might have set up the conditions for all this, but it probably isn’t really, as settlers, what they wanted.
But the political world follows societal opinion, not the other way round, and the central parties have not yet realised that people hate Prospectors. The Tories might have 40% of what vote there is, but the great failure of the Prospector mindset as a tool of political engagement is shown in the simple fact of the falling turnout. It has been falling alongside the decline of the dominance of the Settlers.
Either the major parties aren’t doing enough to engage the Prospectors or the latter are, at some fundamental level, unengageable. This would not actually surprise me. Because Prospectors are outwards-driven and motivated by esteem and personal success, they are unlikely to have time for political processes unless these aid that success. They will not be instinctively interested in ideas which promote the lot of humankind as a whole, like Pioneers are, nor do they feel vulnerable enough to engage with political processes in order to protect themselves, like Settlers do. This would explain, for example, why the BNP (settler-driven) vote is growing. The Prospectors are going to have to perceive that their own interests are actively threatened by this development before they re-engage in the political process to stop it.
are society’s scouts, testing, innovating and questioning. They are attracted not so much to signs of success but what is ‘interesting’ including ‘issues’. Some of them are strongly ethical believing that to make the world a better place they must be better people. Others are more relaxed and holistic and some are into ‘doing their own thing’. They are most at ease with change and most global in outlook of all the groups.
This would appear to hit a number of common Lib Dem buzz topics: personal liberty, economic innovation, environmentalism, pro-Europeanism.
The Pioneer is the track-layer, laying out new possible routes through and across life. The Pioneer does not control the points and signals, so does not control the train but, in the longer term, where the Pioneer goes others tend to follow. In the organisation, the Pioneer’s constant questioning is one of the best preventatives for falling into the torpor of “the way things are done around here”.
All this is very redolent for me of the insistence from both the old Left and the old Right that the Lib Dems are “in the middle” and that this must innately be a bad thing. It’s an extremely one-dimensional view of political thought, difficult to know how to refute if only because like Marvin the Paranoid Android, it amazes me how anyone lives with an intellectual world that small – two axes and nothing else. Which brings us to:
Of course, [all this] can also sound a bit pompous or touchy-feely, but that is not likely to trouble the Pioneer too much.
Pioneers as a proportion of the population underwent a period of rapid growth in the 1960s and 1970s (again, coinciding with a notably characteristic period of socio-political thought, like the growth of Prospectors in the 1980s and 1990s) and have stayed stable ever since, being overtaken by the Prospectors in the early 1990s. But all is not lost, because:
This is a Motivational Group that has grown slowly and steadily over the last 30 years. It has been their influence that has influenced the Prospectors to look to the future to satisfy their esteem driven needs, instead of trying to emulate the Settlers and fit into the establishment. This Group will continue to grow over the next 40 years as more and more people satisfy their Prospector needs. This will throw an altogether different spin onto the dynamics of change in Britain over the coming decades.
It is, of course, too elegant to be true that there is a straight correlation between Pioneers and the Liberal Democrats. We’ve already seen how the modern Tory party straddles both Settlers and the dominant Prospector group, and Labour’s correlation with the Prospector group is far from clear (such being, perhaps, Labour’s problem). There are a good few Settlers in the Lib Dems that I’m aware of, and every party must contain a large number of Prospectors. It’s not so much a question of straight delineation as of the dominant paradigm. And the core philosophy of liberalism seems to chime with the Pioneer with the paradigm very strongly – “a fair, free and open society… in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”
It is also unpleasingly hierarchical and dogmatic to suggest that any one political party, as represented by the Pioneers, is the logical apogee of political thought. This is partly because otherwise there would be no intelligent Tories and Labourites, and partly because any political party will be forced by circumstance to deviate from its pure aim. But I do think (obviously) that the pure aims of liberalism are the most superior and sophisticated a political process can have in its sights, once the basic needs for security and prosperity have been satisfied, and the 12-step progression model would bear this out.
The trend in population proportions would augur a steady rise in party success over the next thirty years, and might represent the core of what Nick Clegg means when he says he thinks Britons are becoming steadily “more liberal”.