The attitude of different elements of the UK public to the work of development NGOs, and support for international development itself, is a continual source of fascination for all working in the sector. And with good reason – without the right political support or funding it becomes difficult to fight for the juster world for which the sector strives. The general impressions are that while political support for international development remains high across party lines, this is likely to be the view of a political elite. Attitudes among the general UK public to development causes seem to suggest declining support.

It is, however, difficult to get anything other than anecdotal evidence for this view. Indeed it is hard to get robust evidence at all as to what people ‘really’ think, and how those thoughts shape their actions. It is methodologically hard to do. This is an issue which requires triangulation of different sources.

We are pleased therefore that to announce a gathering that will bring together three unique and novel pieces of research that explore this problem from three different angles, as well as an excellent audience to interrogate the findings. The research projects are:

  1. The Gates Aid Attitudes Tracker which explores changes in attitudes to development aid and behaviours by tracking a nationally representative sample of 8000 respondents by surveying them every six months since 2013.
  2. The findings of a 3 year study that provides the first evidence-based psychosocial account of how and why people respond or not to messages about distant suffering.
  3. Research into the changing income and expenditure patterns of a panel of 900 development organisations since 2004, with a detailed breakdown of the changing sources of income from 2009-2015.

We are excited about this prospect. The projects presented here are individually fascinating. But taken collectively, they have the potential substantially to improve our understanding of the issue, raising a host of insights, questions and further issues.

But be warned! The results of these studies are not all concordant. Part of the purpose of this seminar is to work out why. Our hope is that by bringing together an audience of academic researchers and NGO colleagues, and by highlighting the findings which excite, alarm and puzzle us, we will stimulate feedback that will shape the next stages of our work and produce useful outcomes for the sector as a whole.

Each team will speak for 20 minutes (short summaries can be found below and more details will be released nearer the time). There will then be at least an hour for questions.

You can participate in person (the event will be held in Sheffield) by registering via Eventbrite (,  or to receive further information about the live stream please complete this form. If you have any queries or want to know more please contact Dan Brockington at, Nicola Banks at or the Faculty of Social Sciences Events Team at You can follow the event on #att2dev

Detailed Talk Outlines

  • Explaining engagement with development: The Gates Aid Attitudes Tracker
    David Hudson (University of Birmingham) and Jennifer van Heerde-Hudson (UCL)
    What drives individuals to take more or fewer actions on international development issues, such as donations, discussing it, volunteering, or writing to their MP? Using original panel survey data we show that changes in attitudes towards the moral argument for aid, a sense of efficacy, concern about loss, corruption and waste, and social norms affect how engaged individuals become with development issues. We also report on a set of experiments to test the effectiveness of different kinds of moral arguments, anti-corruption messaging, and the role of individuals’ friendship and family networks. The data come from the Aid Attitudes Tracker, a longitudinal panel survey conducted in Great Britain, France, Germany and the United States, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The survey is conducted online by YouGov every six months, having commenced in November 2013, and data are weighted to be representative of the adult population of each country as a whole. The analysis is conducted by a team of researchers at UCL, University of Birmingham and University of Texas, Dallas. See


  • Caring in Crisis? Humanitarianism, the Public and NGOs
    Bruna Seu (Birkbeck) and Shani Orgad (LSE)
    How does the public respond to humanitarian crises and what causes people to respond (or not) in the way they do? How can we best understand what blocks people’s response to humanitarian and development issues in the light of the ways NGOs presently approach public engagement and communication in the UK? How can non-profit organisations best engage supporters for greater action including giving money and campaigning? Drawing on an original UK-wide study of public responses to humanitarian issues and how NGOs communicate them, this study provides the first evidence-based psychosocial account of how and why people respond or not to messages about distant suffering. The research highlights what NGOs seek to achieve in their communications and explores how their approach and hopes match or don’t match what the public wants, thinks and feels about distant suffering. This talk is drawn from a recently published book which includes commentary and dialogue with a number of notable figures in the development NGO sector.


  • Development NGO Income and Expenditure
    Dan Brockington (University of Sheffield) and Nicola Banks (University of Manchester)
    We have constructed a list of some 900 development NGOs, in consultation with the sector and various umbrella bodies. Using data from charity commission records, the NCVO civil society almanac and our own efforts we map the structure of the sector, its historical development, geography and sources of income. Our results demonstrate known inequalities in the sector and its concentration in London and the South East. But, contrary to our expectations, we also found that the number of organisations has continued to rise and their incomes increase. This is above normal rates for the charitable sector, and above measures of household income. Giving from the public has, notably, continued to increase throughout our study period. Our results suggest that there may be more space in the sector for more development NGOs and that ‘peak giving’ has not yet been reached. When combined with other data they suggest that giving from high net worth individuals may be driving recent trends, and present new ways of thinking about fundraising work. More details about this project are available here.