Links & Contents I Liked 180

Hi all,

Your Friday and weekend deserve some new, critical reading suggestions!

Development news on Thomas Friedman’s ‘just ask two people’ journalism; Barbie Savior is fun-so what? @UN is slowly catching up on social media discussions; a new short documentary to ‘Kick at the Darkness’ of aid worker stress; advocating against ‘conflict minerals’-it’s complicated; EdTech in Africa under neoliberal conditions; ICT4D and the absence of ‘the poor’; inside the development innovation machine; Nepal misses yet another opportunity to recover from crisis;
Our digital lives on designing tech not just for men; the ‘polite’ open data movement is often politely ignored; video advocacy as evidence.
Academia: Feminist hacking & Making and a critical look at the ‘slow professor’ manifesto.

Enjoy!


New from aidnography
A former ‘frustrated senior aid official’ talks-and the Daily Mail is happy to spin a story of waste and lying bureaucrats
But the question is whether talking to an outlet like the Daily Mail and becoming part of their tabloid spin is worth the exposure of relevant criticism.
If you want a quite conversation about the limits of the humanitarian system, maybe entering the echo- and shouting-chamber of Mail Online is not the best avenue…
10 essential things about international development volunteering and careers in the aid sector
Storify, including video of my lecture, from a recent seminar with our MA students on broader issues around international development as a professional career

Development news

He’s not a weatherman, and the rapper is not the star
Ousmane was describing the apocalypse, and Friedman was fixated on a clicking mouse. Friedman owes Ousmane an apology for this pathetic caricature, and he owes the rest of us an apology for the ways in which his lazy plot and the characters he needed to occupy it resulted in a complete burial of the lede: climate change is already reaching crisis levels in some parts of the world.
Ed Carr is one of many commentators criticizing Thomas Friedman's New York Times piece on his trip to Senegal...as any decent anthropologist knows, you need to talk to taxi drivers on the way to/from the airport to get an empirically sound picture of what 'the people in X' really think...

Barbie Savior: The parody that makes aid types feel good, but does nothing
That isn’t happening. Rather, these are all new ways to make fun of people. We who are in the know get to sit high and mighty above the lowly and less informed saviors. They are the butt of our jokes in conversation, and now there are new forms of media to parody or call out these foolish young people. It is not the way that most people are actively thinking, but that is what happens in the end. Parodies and takedowns reinforce our beliefs and points of view.
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Maybe some will see the account and think twice about the images they share. Others might see the account after going on a trip and realize the error of their ways. But for the most part, the problem will persist and the next clever way to make fun of the white savior complex will emerge to the acclaim of the already-converted. It is not known how to cause needed changes in attitudes. Barbie Savior makes a worthy attempt, but let’s not overinflate what it can do.
Academics, myself included to some extent, have been getting very excited about aid satire and multi-media, (re-)mixed, witty engagements with aid as new forms of public representation. Tom Murphy makes an important point that the impact and behavior change potential of aid satire is probably much smaller than we insiders would like to assume. I find his link to more mainstream approaches of telling truth to power through satire or fake news important as aid humor is part of a broader pop-cultural universe of comedy and snark that may change little in 'the real world'.

Kick at the Darkness
The documentary explores how working in environments with intense suffering, devastation, conflict or volatility can manifests itself among staff, and delves into some of the coping mechanisms commonly used when support is not always available through humanitarian organizations. Although research in the area of staff care began over two decades ago, there is a sense that the support is either unnecessary, inappropriate or insufficient. In addition, during instances of intense stress, there could be a dismissal of fears or suppression of anxiety. This project aims to combat the lack of dialogue among the aid community about the impact of stress and hopefully restore a balance between self-care and care for affected populations.
Amy Brathwaite shares her short documentary, adding to the growing and important discussion around well-being and staff care of (humanitarian) aid workers.

Is @UN Really Catching up With Reality?
“Some of my colleagues at the UN seemed shocked at the notion of an ordinary person with a smart phone having a say at public hearings on the biggest world stage,” Rycroft wrote at the end of the week. “But this isn’t radical. It’s the UN catching up with reality.”
But informal dialogues showed that the candidates want to say as little as possible and risk offending no influential member states as they campaign for the UN’s top job. They are not trying to use social media to make arguments, something the incumbent is judged by many to have done poorly.
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When Rycroft asked Clark how she would use social media as secretary-general she did not have time to give a proper answer and that highlighted another shortcoming of this “transparent” process. It was rushed and simplified. Bombarded by volleys of questions from member states, candidates skated through their replies or just did not answer them. There was rarely any follow-up.
Jim Della-Giacoma takes a closer look at how social media interacted with the public presentations of the #NextSG-as often in the context of UN changes are slow and old rituals still very powerful.

The problem with Western activists trying to do good in Africa
Herein lies the main tension in the work of Western advocacy organisations, and the reason they invite critique: there is a heavy dissonance between their stated constituency and their actual constituency, or who they work for and who they work with.
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Instead, many Western advocacy organisations use short visits to the DRC to work predominantly with government, business and other elites in national and provincial capital cities. The result is that the disruptive and contingent process of state-building and formalisation they engage in and promote often works against the very people they claim to represent.
And so organisations such as the Enough Project claim that progress is being made, and critics counter that harm is being done. There is truth to both perspectives, but they are focused on different aspects of the same process.
Ben Radley points out what 'we' all actually knew all along: Activism driven by Western actors and organization will most often not lead to positive social change if it is not grounded in the complexities outside the filter-, travel- and meeting-bubble...

Rhetoric, Neoliberalism, and Edtech in Liberia, Ethiopia, and South Africa
Unmotivated teachers being held accountable. Rigorous testing. Leap-frogging previous problems. We have heard this before. I grow weary of the blame being placed on these “unmotivated teachers” with all their limitations.
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It is not always exact and needs a broad enough approach to account for disparate interests, talents, desires, and, more importantly, visions of a future that has yet to materialize. ICT can play a huge role in this process, but a complementary one: supporting teachers’ professional development, mentoring teacher trainers with regional and international communities, linking tech to national curricula, improvements to numeracy, and all sorts of literacy.
Michael Gallagher on one of the core themes in contemporary ICT4D debates: Repeating mistakes from the 'global North' in other parts of the world. Proprietary platforms and software are moving quickly into the growing African education market with 'one size fits all' approaches and metrics and big data promises to measure 'success'.

On the representation of the poor in international ICT4D forums
There is therefore a very real challenge of representation in such meetings. Few participants have anything other than a relatively shallow understanding of what poverty is really like, or have ever engaged deeply trying to understand the needs of the poor, and how these might be delivered through ICTs. To be sure, much research has been undertaken on ICTs and poverty, and some policy makers may have read a little of this literature, but global ICT4D forums remain forums of the elite and the powerful. Some civil society representatives, with their supposedly strong involvement with community groups, are most likely to be closest to understanding the needs of the poorest and the most marginalised, but even then their senior representatives at international meetings are often far removed from the grounded reality of poverty.
Global gatherings, conference, workshops and meetings of all sorts have a persistent problem of representation-#allmalepanels are only one aspect of it; as academic conferences grow to thousands of participants at major annual gatherings and there is an abundance of presentations and panels every week we need to think about better ways of making them meaningful again and bringing together diverse people instead of privileged communities.

The life and death of an innovation lab: a personal reflection
Now everybody wants an innovation lab. Labs clearly have a role to play in the emerging innovation ecosystem, but they have started to become the default solution for promoting innovation – and that might be a problem for the entire sector. Labs create a ‘safe space’ for experimentation, but that safe space is often seen as separate from the rest of the organisation, which in turn can provide those organisations with an excuse for avoiding the much more difficult task of changing their wider organisational culture.
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Yet while the HICs are not much remembered now, they were an essential foundation for much of the progress in information management that the humanitarian community has made in the last ten years. Perhaps there’s a fourth and final lesson: while we may sometimes feel that we have failed to make an impact, we need to take the long view in order to assess whether our contributions – our innovations – have helped to make the humanitarian sector better.
Paul Currion shares some important, personal and hands-on reflection on how innovation, often nurtured in 'labs', trickles down, and up-or disappears in the humanitarian sector.

Innovation at UNDP: from weekend sport to daily practice
We kept hearing that traditional reporting doesn’t always capture all the interesting insights from the field, and that in an effort to address accountability it almost sanitizes the juicy type of evidence that filters from the ground up. So how do we create a space for a more meaningful reflection that allows project teams to capture the interesting work that goes on in the field?
There tends to be a default setting to choose certain types of knee-jerk interventions (e.g. workshops, trainings, awareness raising campaigns). How do we encourage continued challenging of the status quo and going beyond the obvious, linear solutions?
As part of the launch of NESTA's latest book (see next link) Giulio Quaggiotto of Nesta and Millie Begovic of UNDP share some reflections on innovation work within UNDP that conclude with surprisingly well-known challenges on how to improve aid work...

Innovation for International Development
Drawing on the personal experiences of leaders within multilateral organisations, bilateral donors, NGOs, companies and foundations, this collection offers a helpful introduction for those new to innovation in development, as well as insights and advice for experienced practitioners
Ben Ramalingam and Kirsten Bound edited this exciting new open access book!

The Aftermath
The chaotic mismanagement of the funds is enough to make your head spin. Government officials I spoke to at the finance and home ministries said they did not keep a record of how and where outside organizations are spending because they did not have access to their data. The prime minister’s office said it only kept records of how much money it received in the disaster relief fund, and what portion of it was handed over to the ministries. The ministries kept a record of how much money it had handed to the district offices. But neither the prime minister’s office, the ministries, nor the district offices kept track of how that money was being spent or how much money international NGOs were bringing in and spending in the districts.
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Mired in political infighting, Nepal’s government and its political parties wasted the better part of a year fighting among themselves over a new constitution. Whatever little time was left, they spent trying to undo the blockade imposed by India in September. The reasons for the blockade are hotly contested in Nepal and India, but the effect was devastating.
Anup Kaphle visits Nepal one after the earthquake. What he finds continues a history of missed opportunities for the country and similar pieces have been written after the democratic 'revolution' in the early 1990s or after the official end of the civil war almost ten years ago. There is initial hope that 'this time our country and elites will pull together and work towards sustainable change' and then there is disillusionment when the Kathmandu-based circles fail the people once again...

Barbara Adams, free spirit and American expatriate in Nepal, dies at 84
Over the next five decades, she would become the best-known American in Nepal. She was sought out by diplomats, and for years, she held court at the boozy expatriate gatherings at her expansive house, which held two grand pianos, in downtown Kathmandu.
Ms. Adams founded Nepal’s first travel agency, wrote newspaper columns and established a foundation that built homes for impoverished, lower-caste citizens. She called for political change and, during one period of turmoil, was expelled from the country.
I only met Barbara Adams once, but she always has been a representative of an expatrianism that has been difficult to describe in a post-colonial world full of aid workers, voluntourists, consultants or business people. Rest in peace, Barbara!

Our digital lives
Solving for a Technology Revolution Designed Primarily for Men
Tech 4 Good’s founder and CEO Nancy Schwartzman is an internationally recognized leader in gender-based violence prevention and a survivor, and has spent years listening and responding directly to the needs of women, queer, and trans* people, populations who have to date largely been left out of the design of tech-based services. And the company aims to research — and pair — social behavior with critical resources to avoid patriarchal assumptions and “false solutions” to problems affecting women, queer, and trans* people.
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We believe the answer is in ensuring that those who make the technology are representative of those who will use the technology — and come from a wide variety of different backgrounds and experiences. It is important to examine who is on your team, and ensure that the consultation and design process is connected to the community that it is intended to help.
Lina Srivastava adds to Tim Unwin's previous post on representations of 'the poor' in ICT4D forums-why is it still so difficult to fulfill the promise of inclusive tech approaches when we know so much about the shortcomings of the Silicon Valley discourse?

Over-Politeness Is the Fatal Flaw in the Open Data Movement
But progress towards a world in which most public data that needs to be open is seamlessly pumped out as part of Business As Usual has been so sporadic as to raise significant questions about whether the open data movement can truly be said to be winning. If anything, progress reminds me of the numerous token gestures that British governments made in the 19th and 20th centuries to appease women about their disgraceful lack of a vote, whilst continually kicking actual enfranchisement laws into the long grass.
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I now realize that I was wrong with my original strategy of working in a constructive, friendly way with two back-to-back British governments, run by different political parties. Meaningful transparency is only ever beaten out of governments with a stick made of pure power politics. In particular, transparency reforms only really happen when key parts of the governing elite have screwed up and done wildly unpopular things; these are the moments where strong laws can get rammed through, when leaders feel a real desperate need to be seen to be doing something.
Tom Steinberg reflects on the limits of working towards 'polite social change' which often gets politely ignored by those in power.

Video as Evidence Field Guide
The Video as Evidence Field Guide helps filmers use videos to expose abuse and bring about justice. This resource helps ensure that more cameras in more hands can lead to more exposure and greater justice.
Witness.org presents tools and insights for human rights accountability work in the digital age.

Hot off the digital press
Feminist Hacking/Making: Exploring New Gender Horizons of Possibility
To date, feminist thinking has been taken up by hacking and making researchers to reveal the gendering of techno-labor, to facilitate emancipatory efforts, to cultivate alternative perspectives, and to make visible the infrastructural relations of technology. This combination of visualization with emancipatory alterity demonstrates the ways that feminism in hacking is largely based on a politics of visibility; that is, hacking and making serve the broader objectives of bringing to light the invisible infra/structures of power that render technological achievement possible.
SSL Nagbot introduces a special open access issue of the Journal of Peer Production on feminist hacking and Making approaches

Academia
Not so fast! A critique of the ‘slow professor’
The interview with the authors confirms our assumption that slow manifestos of such a kind might account for projections and experiences of the authors, rather than for ethnographically or empirically informed studies. The archetype of the distracted time-poor scholar on the verge of psychological breakdown is far from being the norm, as many promoters of academic slowdown often tend to automatically assume. Whether one is distracted, accelerated, stressed, burn-out or just about the opposite – whether one thrives and enjoys plenty of quality and unhasty time – very much depends on other sociologically relevant variables such as age, gender, academic status, discipline, family situation, psychological disposition.
Mark Carrigan and Filip Vostal disagree with the 'slow professor' manifesto; it would be interesting to read a feminist critique of the 'slow professor' approach to continue issues around gender, age and class that the authors already hint at. My personal hesitation about the 'slow professor' approach stems from broader issues of social change and 'acceleration' in society: Academia should to some extent reflect society, culture and the institutions it is surrounded by rather than trying to create a dichotomy between a 'fast' world and 'slow' academia. Many academics are still privileged in many different ways and should use remaining freedoms to be 'fast' sometimes and then find 'slow' moments and spaces; so the 'modern' academic can engage in different ways rather than reverting to a perhaps romanticized vision of a once 'slow' and perfect academic world...

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