Attitudes towards Development Co-operation in Ireland: Implications for Development Education
Guest blog by Stephen McCloskey, Centre for Global Education, Belfast.
Dóchas, the Irish association of development non-governmental organisations, has very commendably commissioned the first full-scale survey of public attitudes to development aid and global poverty carried out in Ireland for a decade. Given the scale of the survey – 1,000 adults consulted at a national level with a range of gender, age, regional and social variables – it’s findings effectively represent a barometer of how the public perceive development co-operation in the post-2008 recessionary period. The survey also holds particular importance for development educators in suggesting how public understanding of global issues has changed over the last ten years.
The results of the survey are something of a mixed bag and at times confusing in their messages about public attitudes to aid and its effectiveness. For example, the survey found that 54% of respondents are ‘in favour of government aid to developing countries’ and yet 55% feel that it is “pointless” to donate aid ‘because of high levels of corruption in recipient countries’. Respondents seem to be suggesting that they value the Irish aid programme but have serious questions as to its efficacy. The reasons behind these attitudes seem to be based on a lack of trust in the governance of developing countries and ‘a real fear that aid fuels corruption’.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the findings for development educators relate to what they tell us about public knowledge of development and a perceived powerlessness in bringing about change. Just 19% of respondents ‘felt well or very well informed’ on global issues with 60% professing ‘average knowledge’. This is despite the fact that 66% feel ‘fairly’ or ‘very concerned’ about global poverty. So, the development sector clearly struggles to translate public concern into knowledge and action on global issues. In regard to active citizenship on global issues, 53% of respondents ‘feel helpless in bringing about positive change’ and only 32% feel confident in influencing decisions ‘affecting my local area’.
It appears to be the case in recessionary Ireland that public perceptions – real or imagined – of their capacity to tackle poverty have receded which is concerning for development educators who prioritise action outcomes as a central plank of their practice. It is also concerning that most respondents regard the causes of poverty in the global South as residing within developing countries themselves and not, for example, connected to the debt crisis or the activities of ‘better off countries’. This view depressingly corresponds to an increasingly shared perspective in Ireland and the UK which blames the poor for their own poverty (CGE, 13 May 2013).
On the more positive side of the findings, respondents seem to regard non-governmental organisations as ‘important sources of information’ and an important platform for action on development issues. The more engaged respondents are with NGO activities the more likely they are to ‘take action’ (56%). There remains a large reservoir of public trust in NGO activities which the development sector can build upon in starting to address some of the weaknesses in its approach to global education identified in the survey. The findings should be read in conjunction with the 2011 Finding Frames report which questioned the shallow and short-term methods used by many NGOs to engage the public with development issues. Often funding related and requiring a few clicks on a keyboard, these methods lack the depth, complexity, reflection, analysis and action that are central to development education and urgently needed to elevate public engagement with our sector.
Finding Frames argues for a ‘values change in society’ and suggests that ‘it is time for the development sector to transform its practices radically’ (5). The corollary of this report is to invest more, not less, in development education particularly within the development sector itself. It is a tempting proposition to interpret the survey as a reflection of development education’s failings. However, while there is no doubting that the sector needs to collectively reflect on what these findings tell us about our work, it is suggested that the low levels of public knowledge and engagement indicated by the survey should spur the development sector to markedly enhance its support of development education. The 2012 Irish Aid Annual Report showed that the government’s development education allocation represented 0.5% of the total aid budget. If we are serious about public engagement this figure needs to increase and to be mirrored by a greater contribution from within the development NGO sector itself. Dóchas has taken an important first step with this survey which will help to inform future public engagement strategies implemented by the sector.
- Centre for Global Education Blog, ‘Why governments are blaming the poor for their own poverty’, 13 May 2013, http://www.centreforglobaleducation.com/blog/whygovernmentsareblamingthepoorfortheirownpoverty
- Darnton, Andrew and Kirk, Martin (2011), Finding Frames: new ways to engage the UK public in global poverty, http://www.findingframes.org/Finding%20Frames%20New%20ways%20to%20engage%20the%20UK%20public%20in%20global%20poverty%20Bond%202011.pdf, Oxfam and DFID.
- Dóchas, ‘Attitudes toward Development Co-operation in Ireland’, September 2013, http://dochas.ie/Shared/Files/2/131002-Amarach_survey-Key_Finding.pdf
- Irish Aid Annual Report 2012, http://www.dci.gov.ie/news-publications/publications/publicationsarchive/2013/september/annualreport2012/
- Communicating Development Better Together
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- Aid Myths Busted
Entry filed under: Communications, MDGs, NGOs. Tags: Africa, Aid, Belfast, Centre for Global Education, Charities, Charity, Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, development, Development Education, Development Effectiveness, global poverty, Ireland, Irish Aid, Irish NGOs, MDGs, Millennium Development Goals, NGOs, Overseas aid, public support, Smart Aid, Stephen McCloskey.