In the aftermath of the 1953 uprising in East Germany, which arose because of the population’s failure to appreciate government efforts to build a socialist paradise for them, Bertolt Brecht wrote the following in Die Lösung:
After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had thrown away the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
I was reminded of this, somewhat obliquely, and no doubt unfairly, as I read Andrew Darnton’s recent report for Oxfam / DfID: Finding Frames: new ways to engage the UK public in global poverty. The report begins:
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 – an objective not pursued in concert by the development sector since Make Poverty History in 2005. 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.
This is a very interesting read, and I do commend it to you, especially the parts around values and framing, but the implication could hardly be clearer: the trouble with the British is that we've got the wrong values. To put this even more starkly: we don't share DfID's and its associated NGOs' values in relation to addressing global poverty – not that I wish to imply that anyone is going to be calling on Russian tanks any time soon to impress their seriousness on the public.
In relation to all this, the report's discussion of public reaction to the notion that corruption might be a factor in global poverty and the problems alleviating this, is illuminating. This citing of corruption is widespread, as various research studies have pointed out and seems a reason that people give for inaction – the report calls this an "excuse" which is not quite the same thing and shows something of its bias. The report suggests that corruption or the ineffectiveness of aid is something that campaigners should shy away from.
These [Corruption / Aid effectiveness] are cited as examples of current negative framings. Other such negatives are:
Charity Aid Development Communications Campaigns
Rather than emphasise such activity and ways of thinking, alternative, positive frames are put forward. These are:
Justice / Fairness Movements / NGOs Mutual support / Partnership
Well-being / Freedom / Responsibility Good / bad governance / Fraud
Conversations Engagements / Dialogues
The report notes:
"These alternative frames should be regarded as range finders, suggested to help others find positive ways of framing their messages."
You will need to read the report, however, if you are to understand just why talking about corruption is bad whilst discussing bad governance isn't, as I'm not sure I can do justice to the argument, especially in a blog which is already over-long. Perhaps you should read this report as it affects how you will be targeted by NGOs in the future. As a reward, if you persevere to page 109 you'll find a provocative section on charity shops, and by now you'll understand something of their problem, given that how we refer to them is doubly negatively framed.