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Building support for development: 10 years after Make Poverty History

Posted by Alice Delemare Campaigns Adviser at Bond

8th Jul 2015

Ten years after Make Poverty History is the UK public still interested? Alice Delemare, Campaigns Adviser at Bond, the UK membership body for development NGOs, shares new research into what drives people to be supporters and what discourages them.

Ten years after Make Poverty History is the UK public still interested? Alice Delemare, Campaigns Adviser at Bond, the UK membership body for development NGOs, shares new research into what drives people to be supporters and what discourages them.

This July marks ten years since Make Poverty History. Back in 2005 ahead of the G8 summit, over 225,000 supporters took to the streets in Edinburgh to demand world leaders make poverty history.

Public support meant aid, debt and trade justice were placed high on national and global agendas. Huge public mobilisation was felt to be the greatest achievement of the campaign. But it disappeared quickly.

Were people really committed to change beyond the campaign? Was public support during Make Poverty History a mile wide and an inch deep?  Ten years later, we are still exploring how we build long-term engagement with the issues.

What do we know about UK public attitudes towards development?

  • The public have low levels of concern for global poverty. Polling shows UK public concern has dropped from 70% in 2011 to 46% in 2014.
  • The public are confused about the causes and solutions to global poverty. People know little or nothing about the progress that has been made.
  • The conversation focuses on what doesn't work and what is wasted. Corruption dominates discussions. The majority of people believe that aids ends up in the pockets of corrupt politicians overseas.
  • The public are more concerned about poverty at home rather than global poverty.

These insights are from Bond's work on Change the Record and partnership in the Narrative Project and Aid Attitude Tracker.

Public support is important to create the space for political and private sector change, to raise the funding for programmes, and to create stronger civil society organisations.

How can we change the conversation?

In 2014 a group of organisations, including Oxfam and Bond, worked together on the Narrative Project to figure out if the sector could change the negative conversation and build support for development. The research tested new language for the power to shift attitudes and motivate people to take action.Percentage of engaged public in UK population

The project found that we could double the number of people who support development if we engage them in the right way, and that 32% of the UK adult population are already engaged in the issues. By 'engaged' we mean they have an awareness of global issues and talk about them with others.

Within this engaged audience there are three groups:

Supporters (41%)

  • positive about achievements
  • take action on the issues

Swings (47%)

  • undecided, question what is being achieved in development
  • overwhelmed and unsure how they can help

Sceptics (12%)

  • anti-development
  • economically rather than emotionally driven

We have a big opportunity to grow our base of support if we can persuade the 'Swings' to feel more positive about development.

Key findings

The following themes and phrases were the most effective in shifting attitudes:

  • Independence - emphasising independence as the end goal of development
  • Shared Values - people living in the world's poorest places have the same hopes and dreams as the rest of us
  • Partnership - people in developing countries actively participate in making development programmes work
  • Progress - showing development programmes are effective is not persuasive on its own, but supports the other themes

The theme of independence as the end goal of development is the most important idea to communicate and should come first. Language of shared values and partnership can follow. Progress is a supporting idea. The image below shows the formula for how the themes work best together:

Formula for shifting public attitudes towards development.

What does this mean for development organisations?

Ten years on from Make Poverty History, the majority of people feel nothing has changed in international development. Is this because our framing of development has been misguided?

If we fail to talk about progress in development we give the impression our efforts are pointless. If we continue to pity people living in poor areas of the world we dampen emotions of hope that can help the UK public engage with global poverty issues in the long-term.

The Narrative Project research challenges our current communications practice. But it also shows we have the power to build long-term support for our work by telling a different story.

Moving people's perceptions is difficult. It will take the willingness of the whole sector to recognise the problem and unite in changing the way we speak about global poverty.

The Narrative Project is a proposed tool for how we begin to build a new, compelling story of development. Take a look at the Narrative Project Summary for information on how you can use the insights in your communications work.

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Blog post written by Alice Delemare

Campaigns Adviser at Bond

More by Alice Delemare

Alice Delemare