Communicating Development I

Why DFID‘s efforts to communicate the 2009 White Paper fail and tell us more about Labour than their approach to development

Communicating development matters. It helps taxpayers know how their money is reducing poverty and helps maintain public support for aid. So when DFID launched their new White Paper, Eliminating World Poverty: Building our Common Future outlining plans for aid and development, they wanted to let people know about it. To their credit, they tried to engage with the ‘communications 2.0’ era we now live in and produced an online video. This turned out to be a good idea done badly:

So why does the video fail to communicate effectively? Well:

– It fails to ‘communicate’ the idea of development. The video features Douglas Alexander speaking to camera. And thats it. First impression? Its more about Douglas than development.

– It fails to make the White Paper’s complex ideas accessible. Douglas’ long, earnest sentences create the impression that development is un-intelligible and boring. For those interested in communication there are some compelling ideas, for example increasing use of mobile phones in development, a commitment to allocating 5% of UK aid to citizen groups, local media and other groups to monitor governments use of development resources.  Sadly the video fails to effectively communicate these exciting ideas.

– Its slooow and visually boring . It takes ages to communicate its key ideas and is all audio. It might just as well have been a podcast.

Why does this matter? Well, apart from the obvious (telling tax payers where their money goes) this a missed opportunity to make a compelling case for aid by communicating why spending that money is so important.

It also suggests Douglas’ isnt interested in increasing development awareness. Or maybe its that for Douglas,  communication through DFID is more about maintaining Labour’s visibility than the development policies the government stands for. More importantly, especially as an election looms, the communication style shows Labour as out of touch and out of sync with the way people communicate today.

But, you may say, surely complex, technical document is inevitably boring. Well, no its not. It is possible to communicate complex ideas about development in a compelling, simple manner. And in my next post I’ll show you how.

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