The Big Conversation

A status report by Sandy Blackburn-Wright, Emerging Leaders for Social Change; 2010.

The Big Conversation – an initiative of the Emerging Leaders for Social Change – was established in response to a void in the 2009 discussions surrounding the Global Financial Crisis. Leaders were debating the efficacy of the stimulus package, regulatory reform and other measures seemingly without reference to the values that had led us to the situation in the first place. Many believe that questioning current underlying values and discussing how we would like to shape our society is an exercise worth undertaking.

The Big Conversation commissioned the first national values survey in Australia through the Barrett Values Centre. The Values Centre has been applying the Barrett tools for many years in companies all over the world and in the last few years has been looking at values at a country level. The US completed a Values Survey just as Obama was elected in order to benchmark the values at that time. Iceland conducted the survey just prior to its financial collapse in the Global Financial Crisis, with the results predicting the imminent implosion.

The Australian arm of the survey is now complete with fascinating results. We now have a national snapshot across gender, geographic (including rural versus urban), ethnic, age and workplace lines. Of particular interest are the workplace results that compared an individual’s personal values, their workplace’s current and desired values, and the nation’s current and desired societal values. It has emerged that there is a much smaller gap between the current and the desired workplace values, as compared to the gap between the current and the desired societal values. So those who completed the survey felt there was more meaning and values alignment for them in the workplace than in Australian society. Our hypothesis is that workplaces have put much more effort into creating good places to work than our country has put into making this a great place to live.

There is a high level of ‘entropy’ – which describes the values that draw energy from people and leave them feeling disillusioned. Entropy has been used as an indicator of the desire for social change, changes in government, or even economic collapse in other country values assessments, so Australia’s high levels are cause for concern.

Economists predict that we are only two or three years into a five-year Global Financial Crisis. Though it may feel in Australia that we are coming out of it, the economists believe we are only in the middle of the cycle globally, so there is still time for Australia to have the values debate. We aren’t back to “business as usual.”

The Big Conversation will make a summary of the results available, along with a debriefing guide, to organisations who would like to include a values discussion in their next staff event, community meeting, or conference.

To get in touch, go to: www.bigconversation.org.au

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