Here we answer frequently asked questions (FAQ) about visibility in the international aid sector.

What is visibility?

In an aid context, 'visibility' refers to attracting attention to development, humanitarian and/or peacebuilding efforts, and the organisations, people and issues involved. In general, pursuing visibility is about getting such efforts noticed and recognised. However, visibility can be positive or negative.

The focus is on highlighting - or raising awareness of - the impact of partnerships and engendering goodwill and support.

Here is how some partners describe visibility.

  • Dutch Government: "The foreign ministry interprets ‘public visibility’ broadly. It can refer to a recognisable visual or textual style. It can also mean a spoken and written acknowledgement of the foreign ministry and the Netherlands’ contribution. It’s about fostering visibility in all relevant situations, which is more than just adding a logo."
  • Global Affairs Canada: "Visibility and recognition is the public acknowledgement by Global Affairs Canada funding recipients of Canada’s contributions to international assistance efforts and responses to humanitarian crises."

See also Visibility basics for aid partnerships.

What are examples of visibility?

Differing levels of visibility are appropriate for different contexts and partnerships. Examples cover many forms of mass communication, interpersonal communication and diplomacy.

Media coverage of a partnership and displaying partners’ logos on a web page are simple examples. So too are regular meetings between project staff and community members, social media campaigns and speeches by heads of agencies at major international events. A visit by a special rapporteur to a refugee camp and the presence of peacekeepers wearing United Nations jackets during demonstrations are further examples.

What is the difference between branding and visibility in an aid context?

Branding is one means of bringing visibility to partnerships and individual partners. It is a priority for many partners. Consider these examples.

  • Australian Government: "Branding is a key mechanism for enhancing the visibility of the Australian Government's international activities and initiatives. Correct branding also maximises recognition of the development role played by the Australian Government and increases the accountability and transparency of Australia's Aid program."

Our funding is under threat as we haven't met the formal visibility requirements in our partnership agreement. What can we do?

This situation is extreme but may arise when there is limited evidence of visibility efforts or when a partners' mandatory visibility requirements have been overlooked altogether. The good news is that immediate steps can address concerns about poor visibility.

Alert your organisation’s communications team and seek their assistance. Check the precise requirements set out in your partnership agreement and in visibility guidelines issued by your partner/s. What are the gaps? Have you in fact met formal requirements but failed to let your partners know? Where possible, consult your partners to understand their needs and priorities, and set up a direct line of communication between the right people.

Depending on the specific context of your partnership, quick fixes can include:

  • Working with your partners to agree upon a joint visibility plan, providing reassurance that a roadmap is in place to rectify concerns;
  • Issuing a web story or media release highlighting recent joint achievements under the partnership; and
  • Adding clear acknowledgement of your partners to your website.

For more, see our Resources section.

When is visibility harmful?

In some situations, increased visibility could be counterproductive or have serious unintended consequences.

For example, in a conflict zone or other fragile setting, publishing the names and photographs of citizens could put them at risk. Carefully assess risk before promoting the time and place of events, in particular where controversial figures are involved.

Field missions must pay special attention to the risk of retaliation against people associated with high-level or sensitive visits and be prepared to take additional measures to protect them. See also OHCHR Manual on Human Rights Monitoring: Using presence and visibility.

If your question is not answered here, please contact us: info@aidvisibility.org.

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