German Institute for Development Evaluation

Attitudes of the general public towards development cooperation and sustainable development (phase II): Information, media and opinion forming


Political action needs social acceptance and support – and development policy is no exception here. In the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), social engagement and broad support for development policy and cooperation are absolutely essential. To achieve the 17 goals, an active contribution is needed not only from business, politics and civil society, but above all from citizens. Against this backdrop and also in view of national and international political developments– such as growing populism and declining support for multilateral agreements and organisations– it remains important for political decision-makers to understand what the general public thinks about development policy, development cooperation and sustainable development, the ways in which people form their opinions, and how and to what extent citizens get involved in development policy.

The first phase of the DEval study “Attitudes of the general public towards development cooperation and sustainable development” and the accompanying study report “DEval Opinion Monitor for Development Policy 2018” showed that around 90% of citizens classify development cooperation as important and around 70% are in favour of greater government engagement in combating global poverty. However, people’s perception of development cooperation is not always positive. Only around 10% of people believe development cooperation to be effective, while around 25% consider it to be ineffective. The SDGs are also largely unknown among the general public. Around 50% of the German public had not yet heard anything about them in the summer of 2017. Less than 10% felt in a position to explain what the SDGs involve. On top of this, citizens tend to overestimate the share of development cooperation in the federal budget, while they seem to have no perception or only a distorted perception of some of the positive global developments. The development policy attitudes of the German public are therefore ambivalent, meaning that support for development cooperation has rather fragile foundations.

Aims for study

The second phase of the DEval study builds on the results of the first study phase and in particular addresses comments that the study team received when presenting the results of the first study phase.

The first step in the second study phase will be to expand the feedback loop between the general public on the one hand and government or civil society development cooperation actors on the other hand. To this end, we will perform a longitudinal study of central indicators relating to attitudes, knowledge and personal engagement among the general public. This includes, for example, general support, the assessment of effectiveness and approval of the various motives for development cooperation, as well as general knowledge of development cooperation and personal engagement in the areas of development policy and development cooperation. With a view especially to the above-mentioned national and international political developments in recent years, we will examine if and how opinions have changed.

The second step will be to provide development cooperation actors with a detailed orientation knowledge regarding the public’s attitudes, knowledge and personal engagement. The focus here will be on external influences on public opinion. One goal is to understand which channels the general public use to obtain information about development cooperation, what development policy information is generally available in traditional and social media, and how this information can shapes opinion. The study therefore contains (1) a media usage analysis, (2) a media content analysis and (3) an experimental investigation of how media content affects attitudes. The current plan is to address three focus topics in this respect: (1) What expectations do citizens have of development policy (in fragile contexts)? (2) What do they understand effectiveness to mean in the context of development policy measures? (3) What role do moral intuitions play in forming attitudes?

As in the first project phase, the results should enable development cooperation actors to reflect on their own strategy with a view to public opinion and provide information for development communication and education work. Above all, a more detailed understanding of information provision and intake should make it possible to address relevant information channels and close potential information gaps among the general public.

Research design

A broad mix of data and methods is planned for the second phase.

1) To update central attitude characteristics (e.g. support for development cooperation, assessment of effectiveness), we will use the data from the Aid Attitudes Tracker (AAT) and the follow-on project Development Engagement Lab (DEL) as in the first phase. This project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and entails a (panel) survey, which interviewed the same sample of people in Germany, France, Great Britain and the US (around 6,000 individuals in each case) on development policy, development cooperation and topical political issues every six months from 2013 to 2018 and continues to do so on an annual basis as of 2019.

2) For the analysis of development cooperation-related media use, we will draw on a separate survey conducted as part of the DEL project.

3) With a view to understanding how development policy and development cooperation are presented in the media, we intend to examine the content of extensive text corpora from traditional and social media using quantitative text analysis procedures.

4) Finally, we will perform survey experiments to establish how (media) information affects attitudes.

We will use descriptive and inferential statistical methods to analyse this data. Graphical representations to make the results tangible will continue to be a core component of the study.

Quality assurance

The study will be accompanied by a reference group consisting of representatives of government and civil society development cooperation actors. Moreover, DEval will conduct an internal peer review procedure and the study will also be appraised by an external peer reviewer who has extensive expertise in political attitude research and quantitative research methods.

As at: April 2019