The central thesis of Finding Frames can be outlined as follows:
- By a number of measures, levels of engagement with global poverty among the UK public are static or falling. For example, the longterm trend is for around 25% of the public to say, in research surveys, that they are 'very concerned' about global poverty. In 2005, in the build-up to Make Poverty History, these levels reached 32%. But they have fallen ever since, and are now back at 24%. Meanwhile, DFID's segmentation model suggests that the proportion of the most engaged segment of the public has shrunk by a third since April 2008. It now stands at only 14%.
- In terms of how the UK public understands and engages with global poverty, it can be said they are stuck in roughly the same place as they were in 1985. The most widespread model for public engagement has been labelled as the 'Live Aid Legacy', which casts the UK public in the role of 'dominant giver', and Southern publics in the role of 'grateful receiver'. In this model, the causes of poverty are internal to poor countries, and nothing to do with global politics. All the UK public can do is give money, and invariably they believe that some, if not most of the money does not get through to those in need; hence Africa in particular is described as "a bottomless pit". In the UK public's mind Africa is stuck, but at the same time the UK public is stuck in this transaction frame for development.
- The practices of the development NGO sector are deeply implicated in this stalemate. Data on voluntary income to development NGOs shows that (at least until the current downturn) they were very successful in building their revenues. The parallel academic literature points to how, from the 1990s, NGOs in the UK adopted more savvy commercial practices, which increased their fundraising income but changed the nature of their relationship with supporters. This is described as the rise of the NGO as 'protest business', which is accompanied by a shift to 'armslength' or 'chequebook participation' by their supporters. Campaigning and fundraising practices have lowered the barriers to participation, but at the same time they have strengthened the transaction frame for engaging with development.
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