Communication and development

DevCom Seminar "Starting Effective Dialogue with a Skeptical Public"


5-6 May 2011 - Lisbon, Portugal

The seminar was organised jointly by the Portuguese Institute for Development Assistance (IPAD, I.P.) and DevCom, the Informal Network of DAC Development Communicators, whose secretariat is hosted by the OECD Development Centre. It brought together DevCom members to discuss the challenge of communicating to and with a skeptical public. The seminar coincided with the 4th edition of Portuguese Development Days 2011.



Development aid confronts a skeptical public in many countries. Overwhelmed by domestic social and economic problems, people prioritise tackling poverty in their own society (“charity begins at home”). Yet, opinion polls show that people strongly support moral reasons of giving foreign aid even if they question its effectiveness. This seminar will address the following questions: Does aid actually work? Does it reach the poorest of the poor and alleviate extreme poverty, or does their tax money serve corrupt governments and dictators in developing countries? Are aid investments being used in a productive way? Are donors using the best techniques in development?


Objectives and outcomes

This DevCom Special Seminar gave communicators the opportunity to work together and, under the guidance of a communications expert, craft sensible and lasting answers to questions asked by the skeptical public.
The seminar aimed to answer the following questions:

  • How do you start a proactive dialogue with an audience that prioritises self-interest? How do you take a first step towards proving to a skeptical public that donor’s development policies make sense?
  • How do you raise the interest of a skeptical public by getting involved in a critical debate?
  • What are the arguments for pronounced need for aid/development? How do you provide evidence of the benefits of aid programmes to the public that is suspicious about how aid is delivered and what outcomes it brings in countries thousands of kilometers away (while results of money invested “at home” are experienced directly)?
  • How to make sure that public support will endure in the face of severe budget cuts in many donor countries? How do you defend your commitment to development aid spending?
  • How to craft messages targeted at skeptical public, linking local and global level issues, and conveying the impact of aid in an interconnected world (from local to global; from personal to collective; from emotional to rational)?

The seminar had a workshop style: with an experienced facilitator, participants shared and exchanged their practical experiences through the different sessions. As a result of the seminar, participants developped strategic approaches, messages and tools in communicating to and with a skeptical public.


Target audience

  • DevCom members: communicators from bilateral ministries and agencies, as well as communicators from multilateral institutions interested in the topic of communicating with skeptical public.

Format & logistics

  • Location: ISCSP-UTL, Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas - Universidade Técnica de Lisboa ("High Level Institute of Sciences and Social Politics"), Pólo Universitário da Ajuda, Rua Almerindo Lessa - 1300-663 Lisboa;
  • Number of participants: 20;
  • In the spirit of an informal seminar (specificity of all DevCom events), participants were invited to express themselves in their personal – not representative – capacities;
  • Ample time was left for open discussions.


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