Aid advocacy: lessons from Australia and the UK
By Benjamin Day
Most readers of this blog have an interest in promoting aid policy change. When considering the ‘big picture’ strategic contours of Australia’s aid program, for example, many readers — around 85 per cent according to recent Development Policy Centre research — would like to see aid spending increased from its current level. And yet, despite the overwhelming consensus regarding the desirability of pursuing this policy objective, differing views prevail about how best to promote it. These disagreements stem from the reality that academics and aid advocates remain poorly equipped to convincingly answer a pivotal question: why does a donor change the trajectory of its aid policy?
In a recently published Development Policy Centre Discussion Paper, I consider this question through the lens of the agenda-setting literature. I find that the lack of political attention typically afforded to aid policy issues fundamentally shapes the ‘rules of the game’ that regulate the politics of aid. This finding has important implications for aid advocacy. Yet before outlining them, it is necessary to describe the link between political attention and policy change.
Politicians, like the rest of us, can only focus on a limited number of issues at once. However, because we elect politicians to oversee how state resources are directed, their decisions about how to allocate their scarce attention become a decisive factor in driving policy change. Consequently, the agenda-setting literature views political attention as the currency of policy change, with variations in the political agenda — “the list of issues that political actors devote their attention [to]” — driving the market.
Politicians are incentivised to pay attention to issues the public deems as important. If their priorities diverge too much from those of their constituents, they can expect punishment at the ballot box. This incentive structure explains why most major …read more