Finding frames: new ways to engage the UK public in global poverty

15 Jan 2011

The aim of the study was to explore the potential for frames theory to be used as a practical tool to re-engage the UK public in global poverty.

In exploring the uses of frames theory, we have built on work by Tom Crompton at WWF-UK, who began the task of linking values to frames and thereby suggesting new ways forward for engaging the public in environmental issues and actions. An important finding from his Common Cause paper is that there is a common set of values that can motivate people to tackle a range of ‘bigger than self’ problems, including the environment and global poverty.

The implication is that large coalitions can – and must – be built across third- sector organisations to bring about a values change in society. This report responds to that call.

The basic argument of this paper is that there is a problem in terms of the UK public’s levels of engagement with global poverty. Simply put, people in the UK understand and relate to global poverty no differently now than they did in the 1980s. This is the case despite massive campaigns such as the Jubilee 2000 debt initiative and Make Poverty History; the widespread adoption and mainstreaming of digital communication techniques and social networks; steady growth in NGO fundraising revenues; the entire Millennium Development Goal story; and the establishment of a Westminster consensus on core elements of development policy.

By many measures we have made amazing strides forward in recent years, but the public have largely been left behind. The result is that we operate within social and, by extension, political conditions that are precarious in the immediate term and incommensurate to the challenges of poverty and climate change in the medium and long term.

This study looks at what can be learned from values (the guiding principles that individuals use to judge situations and determine their courses of action) and frames (the chunks of factual and procedural knowledge in the mind with which we understand situations, ideas and discourses in everyday life). Values and frames offer ways to look at the problem of public engagement with global poverty and to identify possible solutions. If we apply values and frames theory to the question of how to re-engage the public, we come up with some compelling insights into the impact of our existing practices and some striking solutions to the problems that these reveal. They may not be perfect solutions, and they bring with them significant challenges. But we believe they offer something valuable and timely: a fresh perspective.

The persistent problem of public engagement suggests it is time for the development sector to transform its practices radically. Values and frames offer pathways to potential solutions that should be debated across the sector, and now

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