Understanding public attitudes to aid and development

Published Mon 25 Jun 2012
>This report, the outcome of a joint project between IPPR and the Overseas Development Institute

New findings based on analysis of a series of deliberative workshops conducted around the UK suggest that the financial crisis and recent spending cuts have diminished public support for increasing or even maintaining current levels of UK aid spending. There are high levels of concern about waste and inefficiency in the distribution of aid, and it appears that this has been reinforced by some of the communications and fundraising images used by NGOs and governments. The repeated use of images that show people living in desperate need has created an impression that very little has changed over the past few decades.

Click here to download more details of the discourse analysis conducted by Linguistics Landscapes on the deliberative workshop discussions.

However, this research has also revealed considerable appetite for greater understanding of development and for more complex stories of how change and progress happens. Instead of a simple reassurance that 'aid works', people would like to hear about how and why it works, why it doesn't always work and the reasons aid alone cannot achieve development targets. Process and progress stories will both be core to winning sustainable public support for aid and development in the future.

The main recommendations of the report are that:

  • NGOs and government need to better understand the impact of their communication strategies on public opinion, and design fundraising appeals and other campaign communications in ways that do not risk further undermining public support for aid in the medium to long term. Care should also be taken to ensure messages reinforce moral commitments to what is right and fair rather than relying on more self-interested messages,
  • Campaigns should do more to communicate how change can and does happen in developing countries, including the role aid can play in catalysing or facilitating this change.
  • Campaigns and communication strategies could do more to link debates about 'responsible capitalism' to the challenges facing developing countries.
  • Greater public engagement could generate productive debates about the UK's international development objectives and priorities, as well as increased public support for aid and development.

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