A priority for the development community in donor countries is improving understanding of public attitudes towards international development and support for aid. UK civil society organisations (CSOs) have used a variety of strategies to build support for development. Available evidence on their effectiveness suggests some success in short-term popular mobilisation national and global campaigns such as the Make Poverty History campaign. However, longitudinal data on public perceptions of development and evidence of UK CSOs seeking to develop clearer understanding of public perceptions and how to communicate their work suggest more needs to be done to engage and maintain longer-term public support for development.
Findings of this rapid review include:
- Public opinion on development is extremely difficult to measure with issues around definitions. For example, public understandings of ‘development’ and ‘aid’ is often humanitarian and emergency aid, rather than longer-term development aid.
- Lack of public support for aid appears to be associated with an extremely high degree of ignorance about what aid is, how much is spent, and what it does.
- Levels of ‘concern for global poverty’ are how public perception data is measured. Levels of the ‘very concerned’ among the public have been seen to fluctuate around an average of 25%. Since 2008, there has been a decline in the proportion of Active Enthusiasts: falling by a third, from 21% to 14% of the public.
- Moral motives and self-interest are widely agreed to be dominant drivers of public support for international development assistance, but evidence on their relative influence is limited.
- CSOs’ engagement models have been effective in achieving short-term, widespread popular mobilisation in response to crises or large issues, but less-so in achieving greater public understanding of, and longer-term commitment to, development issues.
- UK CSOs are beginning to address this through programmes targeting the formal education sector and changing their approaches to how they communicate their work.
- Donor programmes to improve public perceptions of development that target civil society have been less successful than those targeting the formal education sector and the media. Some suggest this is as a result of contractual relationships that lack trust and strategic vision.