Much of the public understands development as a question of charity – the idea that “we” (developed countries/the global north) need to give more to “them” (developing countries/the Global South). This has been described as the paradigm of the “generous giver / deficient receiver.” Many of our organizations have worked extensively to show how this paradigm is harmful to positive social change (for example, The South through the Northern Eye).

The Finding Frames: New Ways to Engage the UK Public in Global Poverty report (developed by Andrew Darnton with Martin Kirk, 2011) explores how sometimes even when public engagement campaigns aim to send a different message – for instance, the Make Poverty History Campaign, which tried to look at poverty as an issue of political policy and trade justice – the public received the message as one of charitable giving. They call this the “Live Aid Legacy,” reflecting our tendency, and that of the public, to receive messages about global poverty through the “frame” of what we already understand.

The report’s authors challenge us to think about how our use of some of the tools of these early campaigns – eg: celebrity endorsements, benefit concerts – can re-activate this frame, and sometimes reinforce values that are the opposite of those which lead to positive social change.

Lynette Shultz explores how recent shifts in public engagement practice have made the dynamic of the “deficient recipient” less visible, but questions whether the new paradigm of the “empowered individual” has sufficiently changed the power relations in our work.

The Finding Frames report proposes that our sector look for ways to reinforce values such as universalism, cooperation and social justice in the way we plan and present our public engagement programs.

As practitioners, we might imagine alternative frames such as collective action towards common goals or honouring leadership from the Global South and understanding our role as one of solidarity.

For some organizations, our public engagement work connects closely with work in fundraising and communications. Sometimes, the messages that we think are very important in public engagement may not be the most effective messages for short-term goals like fundraising or communications. For this reason, it is critical to work within your organization to help align public engagement, communications and fundraising, or at least to minimize the potential for mixed messaging.