How do we encourage the public to support the work of international development groups? In the UK there’s quite a debate on this question, particularly in light of the change in the political environment marked by the election of a Conservative-led government.
Some are calling for groups to fit in with the new paradigm:
“Appeals to justice and obligations to deliver on commitments made at global summits are less effective than arguments that demonstrate enlightened self-interest, and the damage that current policies do to both consumers and the poorest people on earth.”
Others are saying the tendency to focus on short-term goals, such as raising money, at the expense of deeper values, has increased public cynicism about development issues:
“And all we can do, they would say, is to give money, which probably won’t reach the people for whom it is intended. This has been called the ‘Live Aid Legacy’”.
A group of NGOs in the UK has published a report ‘Common Cause’ on this theme, which examines cognitive science to conclude that NGOs need to concern themselves with strengthening certain values. According to the theory, motivating good behaviour happens when the ‘frames’, which are held in people’s minds and which structure people’s understanding of reality, are activated.
However, some messages can activate unhelpful frames. For example, appealing to people’s ‘self interest frame’ by citing the economic benefits gained from their country investing in developing green technology may undermine the ‘common interest frame’ that needs to be activated to build support for global cooperation to reduce climate change.
It’s a hefty bit of reading, especially as it employs the language of psychology and seems very much based on research in western countries. I wonder to what extent the term ‘frame’ is compatible with ‘ideology’, and whether the values it discusses are mirrored in other cultures?
Following on from this is the report ‘Finding Frames ’ which focuses on applying these ideas to change UK public opinion on development issues. The typography is ghastly, complete with circa-1970 big coloured blobs, but it makes some good points:
‘“Make Poverty History… was a spectacular success: a mass mobilisation with near universal awareness. On the other hand, it changed nothing for the UK public. The transformative potential offered by the rallying cry of ‘justice not charity’ went unheard, in part because it was unfamiliar and hard to comprehend, and also because it was drowned out by the noise of celebrities, white wristbands and pop concerts.”
The basic message is ‘stick to your principles and be wary of looking for short-term gains’. I dunno if Oxfam UK have quite got the idea though, given they’re organising under-five year olds to take part in fundraising events.