Reflexive engagements: the international development blogging evolution and its challenges

We are very happy that a long-promised journal article on development blogging is finally published in Development in Practice!
Reflexive engagements: the international development blogging evolution and its challenges
is based primarily on interviews with prominent development bloggers (individual 'Thank You' emails are on their way!), my professional experience as development blogger and our joint intellectual capabilities.
The full version of the article can be downloaded here, but there is also an un-gated pre-print version available on Academia.edu.

One of the major goals of our research and article was to introduce (development) blogging into the mainstream of peer-reviewed academic journals:

Writing weblogs (blogs) has become a substantial part of how development is discussed on the Internet. Based on research with development bloggers and the authors' own social media practice, this article is an exploratory case study to approach the impact of blogging on reflective writing, work practices as well as knowledge management. Based on interviews with bloggers, the article undertakes an analysis of bloggers’ motivations and the potential as well as limitations of blogs for different sectors of the industry, for example in academia, inside aid organisations and in understanding expatriate aid workers. Finally, the article explores the question of whose voice is represented in blogs.
In the article we outline what development blogs look like, identify six major categories, analyze the different motivations of blogger for writing, discuss the potential of development blogging in different organizational contexts and finally asked how global development blogging really is.

Even if we conclude that blogging (still) has very little direct impact on influencing policy, we wanted to stress its value as a tool for broader personal and organizational learning needs:

Our research on development blogs has highlighted a range of interesting dynamics with regard to reflexive and reflective learning processes. Peer learning in the blogosphere, mentoring of students or colleagues through intergenerational exchanges between seasoned veterans in the field and aspiring aid workers, and multidisciplinary inputs all contribute to learning processes.
One of the biggest challenges so far seems that while theoretically they are meant to be global in scope, blogs are predominantly used by a global elite of professionals engaged in development or students at universities. Issues around quality management, facilitation, and links to traditional learning spaces need more attention, too. Another big challenge is to link individual learning processes, reflective writing, and critical exchanges to broader organisational dynamics and development policy processes. As helpful and useful as blogging may be, the question how it ultimately can change the larger positivistic discourse of improving programmes – a discourse that may be hijacked by organisations as they start to think more strategically about their bloggers (p.465).
We argue that in the end development blogging has become a communication tool for critical and reflexive writing on various aspects of the 'aid industry' that has the potential to grow in breadth and depth in the future:
Equally, development blogging needs to find a balance between potentially self-absorbed naval gazing of expatriate development workers and researchers, and meaningful engagement with local communities and their visions and communication needs. It needs to focus on content as much as exploring a relatively new medium. At this point, it remains to be seen whether blogging can be more than a lifestyle tool that may improve individual practice, but fails to engage with broader, traditional structures – especially in the context of large aid organisations and communities in the Global South. There is little evidence that blogging and its learning processes influence macro policy-making. Organisational rituals and artefacts such as global summits, policy papers, and the powerful role of international organisations in research, policy, and practice still shape the discourse. Blogs can help to expose these rituals and continue to work towards an alternative virtual learning space that reflects new and diverse voices. These stories, admittances of failure, insights into complex local processes and realities of development as an industry and lifestyle can help introduce reflective writing to more people. Blogging remains a bottom-up process that has only begun to trickle up into classrooms, offices, meeting rooms, and village squares to change development policy and practice (p.466).
Again, a big Thank You to all the bloggers, commentators and interviewees who contributed to the article!

Tobias Denskus and Andrea S. Papan (2013): Reflexive engagements: the international development blogging evolution and its challenges, Development in Practice, Vol. 23, No. 4, 455–467
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09614524.2013.790940

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