By Dr. Gerry Power, COO, InterMedia Europe
This month InterMedia will conduct a nationwide study in Vanuatu with Australian Broadcasting Corporation International Development Group (ABC-ID). This research will build on an earlier study this year in PNG on citizen access to information and knowledge, attitudes and practices in health, gender issues and elections.
In addition, we will be asking citizens of Vanuatu about their perceptions of aid. Understanding how much is understood about aid is increasingly important in donor countries, emerging donor countries as well as beneficiary countries.
In 2011, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in a study entitled Building Support for International Development (BSID), we spoke to 4,000 interested citizens, 40 government decision makers and 88 influentials (including bloggers across China, France, Germany, the US and the UK) to understand their perceptions of aid.
Informed by that study, here are 10 pointers to effective research on perceptions of aid in donor countries that we will consider in our study with ABC-ID in Vanuatu:
- Use language that is understandable to citizens. Most people do not understand the insider vocabulary of the sector, including terms like international
development, food security, global health and governance.
- Explore the origins of perceptions of aid. People develop an understanding about aid when they are young—in the family, in schools and in faith-based
- Identify the main sources of information. Most people’s reference point for international development is the media coverage and appeals focused on disasters and humanitarian relief efforts rather than the complex issues of trade, aid, debt and corruption.
- Investigate how citizens are affected by aid. The motivations for citizens to become involved are as varied as are the activities—volunteering, donating, petitioning, protesting etc.
- Establish how successful aid is believed to be. There is a strong appetite to see the impact of the work that is being done. At present, although varying by country, many think the investment is not making enough of a difference and that their governments need to do more. It is important to achieve a greater balance between the focus on the return on the investment rather than on the cost of the investment.
- Explore how citizens might influence the views of their leaders. Do not underestimate the challenge of leveraging public opinion as a means to influence policy, since only a minority of policy-makers consistently take public opinion into account when forming policies. Currently, the vast majority pays attention to public opinion, but bases policy decisions primarily on other factors.
- Gauge the optimal amount of information flow about aid. The Government Decision-Makers in the BSID study report simultaneously of information overload and data deprivation. They are heavily reliant on their personal connections and having limited opportunities for interaction with other interested figures in the field.
- Identify the perceptions of different stakeholders. INGOs are especially valued for their field credibility, mainstream mass media are perceived to provide important contextual information, bloggers are regarded as crucial counter-points to mainstream thinking, while multi-laterals and universities are relied on for their data and analyses respectively.
- Uncover perceptions of aid successes. There is little consensus about what success looks like at the policy, influential and citizen level in the south and in the north. What are achievable benchmarks in terms of citizen’s knowledge of the various facets of international development? How much should public opinion be driven by facts versus emotions? Which behaviours and levels of activity are appropriate and desirable as evidence of citizen support for international development?
- Consider the perceptions of the role of the private sector in aid. This is particularly important in the context of the multi-sectoral challenges of decreasing supplies of food and water (and the concomitant threat of mass migration), terrorism and global economic instability. Visionary work by the International HIV/Aids Alliance and others to understand the modalities of social bonds, impact investing and new forms of philanthropy is invaluable to a more broad-based engagement with international development in the future.
Do you have thoughts to share? Ideas? You can join the discussion about perceptions of aid and effective engagement in global development issues at Audience Scapes.
About the author: Gerry Power
Gerry joined the InterMedia Group in 2010 and is currently COO of InterMedia Europe, an independent non-profit research centre, based in London. From 2005 to 2010, as Director of Research and Learning at the BBC World Service Trust, Gerry established an award winning global network of researchers. In 2010, Gerry received the Collaborative Research Practice Award from the International Communication Association. He holds a PhD in communication theory and research and an MA in communication management from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. Gerry was made a Fellow of the University of Melbourne in 2011.