Canadian Values Conversations: Creating a future by design

February 8, 2018
Jean Macgregor
Tags: leadership

A national coalition of researchers wants Canadians to take up a new habit: thinking and talking about values.

A partnership between Royal Roads University, Environics Research and the Canadian Values Alliance, the Canadian Values Conversations project invites Canadians to express and define their values and those they want to characterize the country.

Talking about values is important now, the researchers say, because when we define what we hold most dear–and why–social cohesion and non-reactive solutions to complex problems are the result.

But values can mean different things to different people, the project leads say.

“When different people say they value a thing, for example, that they value ‘protecting the environment for future generations’, they sometimes mean different things,” says David Jamieson, chief scientist at Environics Research.

“Our goal is both to learn what different Canadians mean by what we say we value, and to reach some sort of consensus about what our country would look like if we were to live that value more completely as individuals and as a people,” he says.

Building on a 2009 survey conducted by Royal Roads University’s Todd Thomas Institute for Values-Based Leadership, the project’s new bilingual interactive survey allows respondents to compare how their values align with other demographic and geographic groups.

Values can be unconscious and difficult to articulate, says Jamieson.

“The simplest definition is values are the things that are most important to people,” says Royal Roads University School of Leadership Prof. Marilyn Taylor. “Some of them might be basic needs like safety; others might be aspirational, like peace and compassion.”

Those aspirational values have become more important over the decades, she says. “In our grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ time, basic needs were preeminent. But now, human rights provide an example of a value that greater portions of the population get to be concerned about in our era compared to 200 years ago.”

Technological connectivity and a global increase in education levels have brought about an evolution of perspective from survival to self-expression, says Taylor. “We are all more aware of what’s happening in the world, and there is a shift toward meaning and personal responsibility.”

Organizational researchers have found that people are not simply happy to know that they are doing their jobs correctly–everyone wants to find meaning. That’s true as well for citizens of a country, says Taylor.

“There’s a shift of mind going on, and that’s what we’re trying to get at when we think about the country. The economy and all it means in materials terms is important, but it doesn’t fulfill people and it doesn’t make them excited. We are trying to highlight what’s most important to Canadians,” she says.

No one political party or group can claim ownership of what might be labelled “Canadian values” the researchers say.

“We often hear politicians talk about Canadian values and you can’t help but think they are using their own personal views to describe what Canadians value,” says Nick Foster, chair of the Canadian Values Alliance Steering Committee and co-founder of 1-degree, a values-based corporate consultancy.

The Canadian Values Conversations team wants to leave the definition of values to Canadians.

“The initiative has the hoped-for goal of growing this new ability to conceive of and talk about values, and making it somewhat of a national habit, a Canadian characteristic,” Jamieson says. “That will allow us to live more values-consistent lives and design a more values-informed future for our country, as Canadians.”

The Canadian Values Conversations initiative includes community Values Café events in communities across the country. The survey runs until May 2018. Contact the Canadian Values Conversations for more information.


Photo: Kimmo Pukkila Creative Commons