Attitudes and perceptions matter. Politicians, decision-makers, and businesses are all informed by the preferences of voters, citizens, and consumers. Understanding audience’s attitudes can also inform the approach we take to engagement.


  • Tell stories about tangible change and relatable people (don’t rely on statistics)
  • Seek to trigger active and positive emotions in order that people’s concern leads to action
  • Give people a thing to do and show how that thing will make a difference

Which best describes how you feel about levels of poverty in poor countries?

  • Very or Fairly Concerned
  • No strong feelings either one way or the other
  • Not very or Not at all concerned
  • Given a list of approximately 25 options for ‘the most important problem facing the country’ a maximum of 0.5% say poverty in poor countries (the highest ranked are ‘Membership of the European Union’ and ‘Immigration’ at 30% and 17% in November 2016).
  • However, people do not only care about one thing at a time, and just because poverty in poor countries is only rarely seen as a big problem for this country a large portion of the public are still concerned. In Britain 33-37% of people have consistently said that they are fairly or very concerned about levels of poverty in poor countries in each of the waves of the Aid Attitudes Tracker over the last 3.5 years. Only 17-18% have said that are not at all concerned or not very concerned.


18-25 year olds tend to be more likely than older people to be concerned about poverty overseas; 58% of this age group are fairly or very concerned which compares to 44% of over 50’s. However, because the UK has an ageing population 18-25’s only make up 17% of those who are concerned across the whole population – do not assume that because young people are more likely to be concerned that means that they are a more important audience.


Women are a lot more likely to be fairly or very concerned about poverty overseas; women make up 57% of the segment of the population which is concerned about poverty in poor countries.


Income does not appear to make a big difference to likelihood of being concerned or not concerned about poverty in poor countries – the percentages of people in each income bracket we look at

Nations and Regions

People in London and Scotland are more likely to be concerned about poverty in poor countries; 55% of Londoners and 49% of Scottish people are concerned about poverty in poor countries, compared to 45% across the whole country. People in the North of England are least likely to be concerned. However, because of the distribution of the population far more people who are concerned live outside of London and Scotland; 32% live in the rest of the south of England, 20% in the Midlands, 21% in the North of England.

Tell tangible stories about aid, don’t present big statistics

Audiences who are sceptical about efforts to reduce poverty are often put off by big statistics – 3 million girls achieved X, £20million achieved y… Such large numbers are un-relatable which leads to suspicion that the stats are in fact deceptions which can lead the audience to think that the messenger (i.e. you or your agency) lying to them. People can relate more readily to stories about individuals, families, and small communities; playing to these familiar scales of action, using relatable examples, and using emotive stories, will help you improve people’s concern.

Try to trigger active, rather than inactive, concern

In 2014 YouGov conducted some qualitative research looking at the emotions which different pieces of global poverty communications triggered. The research analysed audience responses identifing whether audiences felt negative or positive and activated or passive when engaging with the material.

The ‘target’ emotions are positive and active emotions such as aroused, astonished, excited, delighted and happy. Relatively few of the pieces consistently achieved these emotional responses. Hans Rosling’s Don’t Panic: The facts about population was one such success – consistently making people feel positive and active emotions. When trying to increase concern think about how to encourage people to feel positive and active. Hans Rosling’s own excitement about the potential for change, told as an amazing story rather than just a list of stats, was one of the key elements which made respondents feel this way.

Concern without action can be dis-empowering

A clear appeal showing the immorality of global poverty (but without moralising) increases peoples concern about poverty however, when this increase in concern is not accompanied by a call to action, or the call to action lacks a tangible description of how the requested action will contribute to change, audiences concern can switch to frustration towards the piece of communication, the relevant organisation, or their perceived in ability to act. where possible telling people how to act on their concern helps.


  • Don’t believe that more and more people want to cut aid; it’s not true.
  • Make aid tangible through relatable stories, not big statistics.
  • Show that aid aligns with the moral compasses of your audiences.
Oxfam East Africa, Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures
Oxfam East Africa, Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures

Percentage who want the aid budget to increase, decrease and stay the same

  • Increase
  • Stay the same
  • Decrease

We asked: ‘Of it’s total budget of nearly £720 billion, the UK Government currently allocates 1.6% — £11.3billion — to overseas aid to poor countries. Do you think that the Government should increase or decrease the amount of money that it spends on overseas aid to poor countries?’

As you can see above, support for the aid budget staying the same or increasing has gone up slightly and support for cutting the aid budget has been decreasing. But of course one question only tells part of the story.

  • Despite the UK having a set of robust independent oversight bodies (e.g. The International Development Select Committee and the Independent Commission on Aid Impact) concern that aid is ineffective is rife; 49% say that aid is ineffective with 28% neutral and 9% believe aid is effective (the rest don’t know).
  • 28% of the British public agree that aid to poor countries reduces the incentive to work hard to improve their situation, however 40% disagree and 25% neither agree or disagree.
  • There is very little knowledge on how much is actually spent on aid, the average estimate from the public is that the government spends 16% of its budget on aid.


Younger audiences are a lot more likely to be supportive of increasing the aid budget; 30% of 18 to 25 year olds want to increase the aid budget and a further 31% want the budget to stay the same. Because of this high level of support this narrow age group make up a significant section of the segment of the population who want to increase the budget (23%) or maintain the budget (14.5%). As audiences age they tend to become less supportive of aid; 47% of those who want to decrease the aid budget are older than 55.


Women make up slightly over half of people who want to maintain (55%) or increase (52%) the aid budget. Slightly over half (52%) of the people who want to cut the aid budget are male.


Living in households with different levels of income does not seem to make a big difference to likelihood of supporting an increase, maintenance, or cutting of the aid budget. For example 23.7% of respondents live in households with £40-70,000 per year, people in this income bracket make up 23.1% of those who want to increase the aid budget, 27% of those who want to maintain the aid budget and 22% of those who want to cut the aid budget.

Nations and Regions

People living in London and Scotland are over-represented in the segment of the population who support increasing the aid budget – people in London make up 12.5% of the respondents but 17.25% of those who want to increase the aid budget and people in Scotland make up 8.8% of the respondents but 10.9% of those supporting an increase in the budget.

People in the North are over-represented in the segment of the population who want to cut the aid budget making up 29.9% of that segment whilst only making up 24.75% of respondents.

Show that aid reflects popular moral beliefs

Of those tested by the Aid Attitudes Tracker the perception which most strongly drives support for aid spending (maintaining and increasing the aid budget) is seeing the reduction of poverty in poorer countries as a moral cause. We can trigger and strengthen perceptions that aid is a moral thing to do by talking about it in moral terms – showing how aid achievements align with audience’s own moral compasses (like a belief in universal access to basic public services) and moral goals (like the achievement of gender equality). However, beware of moralising – telling people that aid is the morally right thing to do may antagonise them, especially if your messenger might be perceived as having dubious moral beliefs or ulterior motives.

Show that many people support aid spending

Support for maintaining or increasing the aid budget has been increasing in recent years. We can further increase support by encouraging audiences to realise that other people like them support aid spending. Showing people changing their opinions about aid may be particularly effective as this will encourage audiences to sub-consciously feel that it’s ok to change their own minds. This example from One Campaign produced in 2012 is a great example…

Responding to claims about waste and corruption

Tackling concerns about waste and corruption can be tricky – a lot of people have strongly held beliefs that a lot of aid is wasted or is lost to corruption. In 2015 a message test conducted by the AAT team revealed that two messages work best in response to concern about corruption:

  1. Civil society is tracking spending and holding governments and others to account for doing what they’ve promised with aid
  2. Showing, with evidence, (preferably a good story) that aid works

We need to be wary of over-complicating our reaction – testing also showed that responding to concerns about corruption with messages about illicit financial flows actually increased audiences’ propensity to want to cut aid.

©2018 DevCommsLab.

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