Links & Contents I Liked 248

Hi all,

We welcomed close to 200 new students this week in our ComDev program and both the US and large parts of South Asia experience disastrous flooding situations. I started a special link review that links Harvey to broader development issues. But there is so much more going on this week & lots of food for thought:

Development news:
USAID’s largest health project is in trouble; elections in Angola; how to tackle sexual violence in emergencies; more UN(DP) reforms; digital change in rural India; NYT’s West Africa Bureau Chief uses a mobile phone; another Gettleman review; missing female leaders in the UN system; the fallen idol of Myanmar; how to overcome inequality with foreign aid; don’t tell poor people to work harder and live smarter; Harvey & corporate hubris.

Our digital lives:
The neoliberal panopticon of a Romanian call center; humitas; Google suppresses critical think tank voices; the whiteness and privilege of startup media; a book bought its way in the bestseller lists.

Publications:
Does tweeting journal articles make a difference? Civic tech in the global South; a history of participatory research; NGOs as journalists.

Academia:
Learning to learn in digital environments.

Enjoy!


New from aidnography

Reading #Harvey through a #globaldev lens

There are new, relevant articles that have started to link Harvey to broader questions of international development and humanitarian aid and that are interesting food for thought in 'our' industry.
Development news
Largest USAID health project in trouble

The supply chain project is implemented by a consortium led by Chemonics International, which has grown to become USAID’s largest implementing partner — in large part because of the Washington, D.C.-based contractor’s surprise takeover of U.S. global health supply chain programs two years ago. The USAID contractor leased a 50,000 square foot office space in Crystal City, Virginia, to help accommodate the new project.
When USAID issued a request for proposals to implement the GHSC-PSM project in January 2014, many assumed the coalition of organizations already implementing USAID’s supply chain projects would maintain their hold on them.
USAID’s announcement in April 2015 that Chemonics had submitted the winning bid — effectively unseating a partnership of organizations led by John Snow, Inc. — sparked a contentious flurry of award protests, delaying the project’s transition by several months. The Partnership for Supply Chain Management filed protests with both the Government Accountability Office and with the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals, both of which were denied.
Michael Igoe for DevEx with the totally surprising finding that USAID's effective and efficient private sector implementing partners do not deliver great results...cudos for DevEx to publish a story that may interfere with the business side of their operations.

Election unlikely to herald the change Angolans have been clamouring for

On 23 August Angolans went to the polls to elect a new parliament, and for the first time in the lives of a great majority of the population, a new president. José Eduardo dos Santos, who ruled the country for 38 years, did not run this time as his party’s top candidate.
(...)
Despite this, it’s likely that the elections will bring more of the same, and only slow and gradual improvements — if at all — of the lives of most Angolans. Lourenço is very much a product of the system. He has the backing of the party and the armed forces, which is an improvement over dos Santos’ previous intended successor, (former) vice-president, Manuel Vicente.
Jon Schubert for The Conversation on Angola's recent historical elections.

Dispelling five myths about sexual violence in emergencies

No one questions when humanitarians prepare food, tents or medical supplies in advance of a typhoon, expecting these supplies will save lives. The same logic must apply to programmes that prevent and address gender-based violence. It is unethical to wait for proof of wide-scale abuse; action must take place at the earliest moments of a crisis response.
UNFPA on how to better prepare and respond to sexual violence against women in humanitarian situations.

UNDP’S new Strategic Plan is a chance to rethink and refocus

One of the things we try to do in the new Strategic Plan is to talk directly about the importance and value of our network, not just for UNDP but for the whole UN Development System and for our partners. Part of this is our substantive expertise on various issues covered in the Sustainable Development Goals: our work on poverty, governance, resilience and climate, gender, etc. But the second part, just as importantly, is the tremendous value we provide as a result of our physical network and presence: our country offices, our infrastructure, our local knowledge and our presence on the ground.
Joseph D'Cruz on the perpetual quest of the UN system to change, reform, stay relevant and being subject to political support (or lack thereof)...

The quiet digital revolution in Chandrapur

The dashboard showed that among those in the 18-70 age group eligible for the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (a subsidized insurance scheme), only 90 out of a total of 631 people were covered. The village also drew a blank on health insurance—none of the 174 eligible people (classified as below the poverty line) were covered under the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana.
Almost a year later, the results are strikingly visible.
A sub-divisional officer in Mul is using the dashboard to find villages where she should conduct Aadhaar camps. She hovers over the red dots in the map to zero in on areas with the lowest use.
The block development officer in Mul wants to track how his block is faring on the Open Defecation Free parameter. The snapshot shows what percentage of households don’t have toilets; he clicks again to find out which villages in particular are lagging behind.
The electricity department can now find out exactly which households are still not connected to the grid. And being the only such database on LPG use in the country, the ministry of petroleum now knows which households to target for providing cooking gas connections.
That’s not all. The district collector, Ashutosh Salil, will now be able to rely on the data dashboard to cross-check in real time what officials claim needs to be done, and also to appraise villagers’ development priorities during his field visits. “Earlier if I had to budget Rs100 for 10 sub-districts, I would distribute them equally,” he says. “That can’t be correct allocation if a block has been covered before and does not need more resources.”
Aarti Gupta for Live Mint with an interesting case study from India and the potential of 'big data'; as always, there is a a very thine line between data informing policy-making and state surveillance...

The Technology Our West Africa Bureau Chief Relies On
And, yes, people are huge users of social media like Facebook and to some extent Instagram. Nigerians in particular are very active on Twitter. Besides business people, many others do not have a laptop. In urban areas, a lot of people have smartphones, especially young people, and if they don’t have one, they desperately want one.
Dionne Searcey for the New York Times. It seems that the NYT is a bit unlucky with their recent coverage of 'Africa' (see Gettleman book review below); her story reads a bit like 'look Western/Northern/American people, your fellow humans in Africa also use digital tools and have digital lives' and those 2002-style photos of her on a *mobile phone* in a village and taxi? Please...

Beach Reads: Jeffrey Gettleman's 'Love, Africa'

I can imagine someone with little familiarity with Africa or Gettleman's reporting to be enthralled by "Love, Africa." Gettleman comes off as a fearless, risk-taking journalist who gets kidnapped and detained just often enough to have great stories while not losing his life. And it is obvious from the way he writes about her that he is deeply in love with his wife and has been since they met. But the overall effect of the book for anyone with even a passing familiarity with the continent is to wonder why media outlets like the New York Times insist on continuing with the tired old tradition of having foreign correspondents cover the world rather than hiring the many competent local journalists who have far deeper contextual knowledge and are just as adept at translating complicated situations for Western audiences as are their American counterparts.
Laura Seay's review for Washington Post's Monkey Cage.

Where Are the Female Leaders at the UN? Gender Bias Persists

Interestingly, all five senior female leaders I talked to had field experience and combined their work with family life. In talking about their time in the field, they characterized it as having put a strain on their families, but they identified individual coping strategies. This juggling reflects the complex functioning of gender biases in the UN: female leaders are confronted with biases, find strategies to deal with them but still identify field experience as “problematic” for women.
Pervasive gender biases can help explain why so few women move to the higher echelons of the UN. But overcoming these biases is even more difficult than marshaling political will, especially in an international environment where gender biases are more rampant than ever.
Ingvild Bode for PassBlue about complex challenges around women and leadership in the UN system.

Fallen idol

The world, however, and the Western democracies in particular, refused to take her at her word. Governments, international organisations and activist groups of all kinds raised her high on a pedestal, as a living symbol of the peaceful struggle for democracy and human rights in Myanmar — indeed, everywhere. For many, she was seen almost as an ethereal being, remote, pure and beyond reproach. Buddhists in her own country considered her a near-bodhisattva, whose enlightened work and suffering deserved the utmost reverence. She counted US President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown among her most ardent fans. “Star struck” celebrities like the singer-songwriter Bono took up her cause. When she was not under house arrest, others flocked to her door, seeking a photo opportunity and the right to say that they had met her.
There were other factors that made her seem special. To stay in Myanmar and pursue her political calling, she sacrificed her personal life, her UK-based family rarely being able to visit her. In 1999, when her devoted husband was dying of cancer, she did not go to his bedside for fear of being refused entry back into Myanmar. Her commitment to the cause of democracy and human rights was total. She was also intelligent and well educated. It was relevant too that she was a striking woman, always impeccably dressed in traditional Myanmar costume, with a command of the English language, a quiet dignity and a winning smile. While hailed by feminists as a “warrior woman”, she made a strong personal impression on many statesmen.
Andrew Selth for the Mekong Review on Aung San Suu Kyi, politics and our quest for impeccable political heroes and representatives of democratic struggles.

The Development Delusion: Foreign Aid and Inequality

There are many effective solutions we might consider. One would be to democratize the institutions of global governance—like the IMF and the World Bank—so that nations of the global South have a real voice when it comes to decisions that affect them. Or, alternatively, we could shift the development-related functions of the IMF and the World Bank to a more democratic institution, like the United Nations.
A second move would be to aggressively reduce the debts of countries in the global South. This would roll back the remote-control power that rich countries exercise over poor countries and restore sovereign control over economic policy at the national level. It would also free developing countries to spend more of their income on health care, education, and poverty-reduction efforts instead of just handing it over in debt service.
Third, we need to put an end to structural adjustment conditions so that developing countries can gain access to finance while retaining the right to use tariffs, subsidies, capital controls, social spending, and other measures they might need to manage their economies and reduce poverty. In the South, some hope that the New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank—both capitalized largely by China—might provide alternative sources of finance that don’t demand painful economic conditions, but it is too early to tell.
Fourth, we need to shut down illicit financial flows out of developing countries. There are a number of ways to approach this. We could stop trade misinvoicing by fixing the WTO’s customs rules. We could close the tax havens or roll out financial transparency rules that would put an end to shell companies and anonymous accounts. We could require multinational companies to report their profits in the countries where their economic activity actually takes place. Or we could impose a global minimum tax on corporations, which would eliminate their incentive to evade national taxes altogether.
Jason Hickel for American Affairs with a long essay on the past, present and future of 'development'.

If you’ve never lived in poverty, stop telling poor people what they should do

Despite the commonly held belief that only teens should or do work for the minimum wage, the fact of the matter is that millions of Americans of all ages, a/genders, and educational levels support their families on hourly low-wage jobs. That includes seniors, disabled people, and women of color.
The answer, then, is not that poor people live differently, but instead, that we create a society and an economy where people who work full time can live in the community where they work.
No amount of cutting back on luxury spending or driving extra hours for Uber can change the fact that there is literally nowhere in the country where a minimum wage job can support a family, that good union jobs have been in decline for decades, or that housing costs have priced people out of their homes. Cutting coupons, commuting by bike, and enjoying outdoor activities can’t really fix that.
Hanna Brooks for open democracy with reminder that advice for people living in poverty can often be an convenient excuse not to discuss structural and political issues and hide behind individual narratives of working harder and smarter...

Harvey reveals corporate hubris regarding safety

In Rennard's world, compounds don't burn, they degrade. Chemicals don't explode, they combust. The smoke is noxious, but he won't say if it is toxic.
This may be appropriate in a chemistry class, but a concerned public expects straight talk, which it's not getting.
If we learn nothing else from Harvey, let it be the danger of hubris. Despite claims to the contrary, executives will decide that mitigating a risk costs too much, and subsequent events will prove that they made a horrible mistake.
That's why regulators, journalists and citizen groups have a role to play in demanding accountability and revealing the risks taken. Because when it comes to chemicals, the public shares in the consequences of a bad decision and often pays the highest price.
Let's be honest, Harvey is not causing accidents. The storm is revealing the risks executives willingly took. No one has the right to shrug their shoulders and say, "C'est la vie."
Chris Tomlinson for the Houston Chronicle. I contemplated adding it to my my 'Harvey & globaled' list because it's an interesting reminder about the BS that is CSR. Companies dealing with dangerous, toxic materials do not really care about their environmental impact-they tick boxes of minimal standard and hope to get away with trouble when big disaster strike aka as 'capitalism'...

Our digital lives
The fantasy of the middle class: exploitation in a Romanian call centre

From the beginning of the training period an artificial system of ambivalent social relationships is built between employees, and between employees and their superiors. On the one hand, the operators are fed the lie that they are part of a team where hierarchy is irrelevant and everybody works towards achieving maximum productivity, which will ensure the welfare of everybody involved. The competition between different teams is efficient since the stakes are high for everybody: the losing team loses their jobs. On the other hand, every individual is encouraged to be competitive: there are internal competitions between members of the same team. The metric lists are displayed for everybody to see, which leads to constant reproach or glorification from your peers depending on individual results. There is an actual walk of fame in companies, the entrance corridor where every model employee gets a floor tile with their name engraved on it.
Elena Chiorean for PoliticalCritique.org with a great/sad example of the panopticon of contemporary capitalism and the neoliberal transformation in Romania.

Humitas: a new word for when humour and seriousness combine

In my PhD research, however, I argue that when it comes to making a point, comedy does not come naturally lower in the pecking order than seriousness. In some places and times, they have been equally important and the division between them is blurred.
(...)
Like everything in a neoliberal society, humitas could be reduced to a commodity whose only role is to sell things such as dodgy political ideas or friendlier business brands. But it can also be a way of acknowledging and embodying the world’s absurdity while still trying to change it for the better.
Kate Fox for The Conversation on her research on serious humor...interesting food for thought to think about aid humor, irony and memes...

Google Critic Ousted From Think Tank Funded by the Tech Giant

Google’s willingness to spread cash around the think tanks and advocacy groups focused on internet and telecommunications policy has effectively muted, if not silenced, criticism of the company over the past several years, said Marc Rotenberg, the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. His group, which does not accept corporate funding, has played a leading role in calling out Google and other tech companies for alleged privacy violations. But Mr. Rotenberg said it is become increasingly difficult to find partners in that effort as more groups accept Google funding.
Kenneth P. Vogel for the New York Times on the company that once had 'Don't be evil' as their corporate tagline...

On Mic.com and Minority Life in Startup Media

Regardless of how woke any cis straight rich white man is, the fact is that he will have severe blind spots if he lives in America because his experiences are so fundamentally different from minorities. Maybe it’s time to consider that a management team heavily dominated by white men would make situations like the ones Jeffries describes nearly inevitable, and that the solution would ultimately be not only to hire more minorities, but encourage a culture where they can speak freely, then actually and consistently listen to them.
Meredith Talusan with a great long-read on startup media, biases, privileges and the limitations of having white men in charge...

Updated: Did This Book Buy Its Way Onto The New York Times Bestseller List?

How does a book with such a low Amazon ranking that’s ‘temporarily out of stock’ suddenly become the most read book in YA? How does something that has next to no organic blogging coverage or even Twitter buzz do this? If the only Twitter gossip for your book is variations of ‘Seriously, has anyone heard of this book?’ you’ve got problems.
If you have actually heard of or even read this book, please get in touch because we are baffled.
Kayleigh Donaldson for Pajiba. This story is less about a particular book and more about the fact that rankings, metrics, data can and will be manipulated and always require critical analysis rather than being taken as 'objective' measurements.

Publications

The unbearable emptiness of tweeting—About journal articles

The ideal that tweeting about scholarly articles represents curating and informing about state-of-the-art appears not to be realized in practice. We see much presumably human tweeting almost entirely mechanical and devoid of original thought, no evidence of conversation, tweets generated by monomania, duplicate tweeting from many accounts under centralized professional management and tweets generated by bots. Some accounts exemplify the ideal, but they represent less than 10% of tweets. Therefore, any conclusions drawn from twitter data is swamped by the mechanical nature of the bulk of tweeting behavior. In light of these results, we discuss the compatibility of Twitter with the research enterprise as well as some of the financial incentives behind these patterns.
Nicolas Robinson-Garcia, Rodrigo Costas, Kimberley Isett, Julia Melkers, Diana Hicks with a new open access article for PLOS One.

Civic Tech in the Global South : Assessing Technology for the Public Good

This book is comprised of one study and three field evaluations of civic tech initiatives in developing countries. The study reviews evidence on the use of twenty-three information and communication technology (ICT) platforms designed to amplify citizen voices to improve service delivery. Focusing on empirical studies of initiatives in the global south, the authors highlight both citizen uptake (yelp) and the degree to which public service providers respond to expressions of citizen voice (teeth). The first evaluation looks at U-report in Uganda, a mobile platform that runs weekly large-scale polls with young Ugandans on a number of issues, ranging from safety to access to education to inflation to early marriage. The following evaluation takes a closer look at MajiVoice, an initiative that allows Kenyan citizens to report, through multiple channels, complaints with regard to water services. The third evaluation examines the case of Rio Grande do Sul’s participatory budgeting - the world’s largest participatory budgeting system - which allows citizens to participate either online or offline in defining the state’s yearly spending priorities.
New open access book by Tiago Peixoto and Micah Sifry for the World Bank.

Participatory research: Where have we been, where are we going? – A dialogue

Of note is the fact that the early roots of participatory research were found in the global South, specifically in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Of further interest is the fact that for the first 20 to 25 years, participatory research was a discourse located almost entirely outside formal academic circles but rather in social movement structures and civil society circles.
Open access article by Budd Hall and Rajesh Tandon in Research for All.

ARTICLE: NGO’s incidentally fill in for journalists

Indeed, none of the interviewees saw themselves as journalists, although one referred to a colleague as one. Despite the journalistic features of some of their work, the NGO members still see themselves strictly as advocates. Thus, in the case of Cyclone Pam, the members of 350 Pacific became “unintentional journalists”, producing a form of “hybrid journalism”, Spyksma concludes.
Journalism Research News features a new research article from Journalism Studies by Hannah Spyksma.

Academia

Learning to learn could be built into online courses
By showing that learning is a skill within large-scale digitally mediated programmes, the research will help to develop both the quality of programmes and the capacity of learners to make the most of them.
In a society categorised by fast-moving technology, business disruption and multiple career changes, knowing how best to learn will be a critical skill.
Sandra Milligan for University World News with interesting insights into digital learning beyond easy measurements and assignments.

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