Links & Content I liked 12

Hello all,

Before I'll continue with my brief weekly link and content review I have to say that one of the items that showed up in my facebook newsfeed the most this week were variations of the picture-meme on 'what parents/friends think I do and what I really do'. As a friend remarked: 'All the final pictures are in front of a computer-it's a bit sad really, isn't it?' Rest assured most of the memes got it wrong! Whether you work in development or happen to be an anthropologist wild (expat) parties, meetings and workshops in fancy hotels/resorts & hanging out in aiports (or, for global civil civil servants in aiport lounges) is what's really awaiting you! Nobody wants to waste you talent and dedication in front of a laptop! There are always rides in (white) 4WD vehicles as a final get-away from the office-but that mostly applies to humanitarian people, you know, the ones who do the 'real-real' work ;)!

Enjoy the links!
New on aidnography
New publication I like: Lies, White Lies, and Accounting Practices-Why nonprofit overheads don’t mean what you think they mean

A great primer on the topic of non-profit accounting and an excellent gift for parents, siblings and friends who have ‘good intentions’, but want to learn more about the realities of the non-profit ‘industry’.


Integrating KM in the Ukrainian Public Administration – Some Lessons Learnt
Important results of the assessment show on the one hand, that KM as a concept is still unknown by representatives of the local authorities of Ukraine: 65% of survey participants were not familiar with the concept of KM. On the other hand, results show that current ICT tools, innovative methods and approaches in collecting, analyzing and using existing information, experiences and practices are considered as key in the process of developing and launching public sector reforms in Ukraine.
There may not be that many, but I'm a fan of the SDC's Learning and Networking blog. It's an unspectacular, but worthwhile attempt to share field realities in an accessible format. Although the post from the Ukraine is a bit technocratic, I found it an important reminder of the digital and discursive divide that exists between uber-connected individuals like myself and friends from the blogosphere and, say, the Ukrainian civil service. In an earlier life I studied public administration and management and some of the initiatives in the post read like examples from introductory textbooks written in the mid-1990s. I don't mean this disrespectively-it's just a reminder that we need to connect with different realties once in a while before we think about 'innovations', the newest ideas or the latest technologies.

There’s more than one way to expand your knowledge
A common thread in these approaches is the idea that there is more to knowledge than what you can get from only looking at research and evaluation. There is a whole area of tacit knowledge from experience that lies beneath the surface
Ian Thorpe's latest post connects really well to the previous post...

State fragility as a wicked problem?
The key message from Menkhaus is that the way in which aid agencies work needs to undergo a major rethink if we want to see improved results from our efforts. This is consistent with recent mainstream thinking – as the Busan New Deal document states: “the current ways of working in fragile states need serious improvement.” Myself and others with an interest in complex systems have been doing some initial work on what this new approach might look like. Last year I attended a roundtable at the Santa Fe Institute (SFI), organised by Bill Frej, a USAID Minister and former Mission Chief in Afghanistan. The focus of the event was how complex systems thinking could be used to improve foreign policy efforts, especially in fragile states.
I really like Ben Ramalingam's work, but I'm not entirely convinced about 'wicked problems'. From fragile states to complexity thinking and now 'wicked problems' it seems to me more about new labels and discursive changes, rather than changes practical terms. If you look at some the characteristics of 'wicked problems' (difficult to clearly define, unforeseen consequences, no clear solution, chronic policy failure) it appears like a list of things every policy-maker should dislike and avoid at all cost. To address at least a few of these wicked challenges aid agencies would need to change in ways that my German mindset with still a bit of Weber lingering in the back of the mind is almost unable to grasp. I'm looking forward to reading more of Ben's findings, but until then I'll be a bit skeptical about the concept and its use for the development industry.

Why did Maji Matone fail? 2. The world of water supply?
But what does all this have to do with Maji Matone? Well, one effect of this division of responsibilities is that it is used by government officials at both national and local to claim that sustainability isn't their problem. And Maji Matone was designed to mobilise citizens' voices, amplified by the media, to put pressure on District Water Departments to fix broken down waterpoints. So if our programme did what it was designed to do, and put pressure on a District Water Engineer, they could (and often did) simply turn around and say "not my problem".
From 'wicked problems' to interesting reflections from rural Tanzania and an important discussion on why a project failed.

Development Education Information toolkit now available online!
CARDET and its partners have recently published an information toolkit on “Raising Awareness on Development Cooperation” in the context of the aforementioned EuropeAid project. The information toolkit has two main objectives. Firstly, by presenting the successful outcomes of the project, it aims to raise awareness on development cooperation and endorse the build-up of such partnerships among relevant stakeholders for further expansion of development cooperation. Secondly, the information toolkit aims to provide a theoretical framework, basic guidelines, and case studies for the integration of the proposed curriculum in the regular activities of NGOs and universities.
The quote above probably says more about language, linguistics and discourses in the context of EU-funded development projects than about context, but the actual toolkit may be wortha quick glance. It offers a very basic introduction to MDG-related topics and issues and is slightly conservative in its approaches to social change-but then again what do you expect from the EU?! But some ideas may indeed be suitable for high school students or first-years undergrads.

CIDA chops Mennonite Central Committee
One is left to wonder who is next. Elizabeth Payne, who writes for the Ottawa Citizen reports that dozens of groups, told to expect word on funding by last September, were still waiting in December. Some of those organizations quietly began putting their programs on hold and releasing staff. While they were waiting, CIDA announced $26 million in other projects, including partnerships with several Canadian mining companies and other NGOs to promote “corporate social responsibility projects” in Burkina Faso, Peru and Tanzania.
Stephen Harper's Conservative government is certainly bad news for many organisations who have been involved long-time in development issues. And CIDA teaming up with mining corporations to work on CSR may not be the most innovative idea to bring about sustainable social change (to be very diplomatic...
Key questions:
How will this report influence Bank policy, and where is the money?
What space (if any) is available to make intersectional, anti-racist, post-colonial perspectives central to the Bank’s understanding of gender and development?
Given that many gender activists and experts know that free markets do not empower women in the simplistic way portrayed here, how do we best counter the pro-market message of the WDR?
Can the Bank define households without sounding like the Vatican? If it cannot, should households be so central to the definition of gender empowerment used in the report?
Kate Bedford dissects the 2012 World Development Report for the Bretton Woods project. A very interesting read-and on a discursive level there seem to be some relevant links to my analsysis of the 2011 WDR: World Development Report 2011 – creating a ‘non-place’ for development debates?

Hit record

We've also -- completely against the trend -- slowed down our process. We've tried to work longer on stories for greater impact, and publish fewer quick-takes that we know you can consume elsewhere. We're actually publishing, on average, roughly one-third fewer posts on Salon than we were a year ago [...]. So: 33 percent fewer posts; 40 percent greater traffic. It sounds simple, maybe obvious, but: We've gone back to our primary mission and have been focusing on originality. And it's working.
Ok, this is not strictly development-related, but I found this piece from The Salon relevant for other contexts as well. It's more a 'not to myself' and the (development) blogosphere that 'less' really can mean 'more' and that focussing on your core mission eventually pays off...


Mr. Kristof, I presume?
Against her better judgment, Kathryn Mathers turns her attention to America's most popular reporter on Africa, and comes down with a serious case of colonial déjà vu.
I do not want to write about Nicholas Kristof. The sheer banality of his representations of Africa paralyses me. His columns and blogs about Africa in the New York Times are repeatedly under fire for their poor research, careless reading of studies on Africa and blatant generalizations. This allows him to repeat troubling and problematic tropes about Africa and about how Africans need foreign help. Yet student bodies across the country culture frequently invite him to speak on their campuses. Saving Africa has become a favorite hobby for celebrities and ordinary Americans alike. And journalists like Nicholas Kristof who write endless stories about Americans doing good in Africa are central to this shift. Kristof even got to bunk down with actor George Clooney in Chad so that they could report back about the conflict in Darfur across the border.
One thing I will say though – how do we strike the balance? I believe it is important to bring important issues to light, such as domestic/gender-based violence, human rights violations, poverty, lack of access to health care, maternal mortality, clean water, and many other issues. Not just in Africa – but everywhere. I think the answer lies in not limiting ourselves to that. Nick Kristof writes primarily about women’s rights violations and poverty — to the point that we might think there is nothing else in Africa. I have not personally been to Africa, but I will say that I bet there is a lot more happening. Just like in India, there is a growing middle class, malls and businesses, gleaming new buildings, new jobs, and economic growth. Why doesn’t he write about any of the progress happening? The dynamism? If we go by Kristof’s articles, we may never imagine urban Nairobi – only rural landscapes with giraffes, elephants and yes– poverty. And this is truly a shame.
Wow...a great, long article on Nick Kristof and his engagement with Africa and a few great reflections on the piece. I actually wrote a post myself some time ago (DIY aid: A report on a 'revolution' or merely an indication of how development journalism is changing?) on his representation of 'DIY aid', but as much as I agree with the critique and enjoy the article from an intellectual, academic point of view, I'm starting to wonder on how 'useful' the critique is. Nick Kristof is unlikely to change and being critiqued and controversial probably adds in some strange ways to his 'brand power' (a bit like the Sachs-Easterly debate). And as important as the NYT is, I'm also wondering on how powerful his writing really is - given that there are so many wonderful alternative sources (the two blogs engaging with the article are great examples). It may be a 'middle class' thing to like Kristof, but I hope that many of those who actually end up doing development will do more/better research and quickly realise that Africa is more than a short-term reporting gig.

Big Dogs of Tibet and the Himalayas
Don Messerschmidt, a familar name for those who engage in anthropology of the Himalayas, was awarded with the Maxwell Medallion of the Dog Writers Association of America! I remember quite a few meetings with him in his house in Kathmandu and my astonished face when he first told me that the cute puppies in his house were his latest 'research project'!


Universities in a State of Exception
Under these circumstances and within the context of this new scale of assessment (impact) many of us are left to believe that anthropology is not important enough because as it is, it cannot score very well in reference to impact to business and policy-makers. This is very true, because most of anthropological research thankfully has little contribution to the unjust world of exploitation that sovereignty shapes today. However, if there is something that the social sciences -including social anthropology- can be proud of nowadays it is their links and their impact to several social movements that fought and fight repression causing problems to various authorities and making the world a better place: From Franz Boas' anti-racism and the contribution of feminist scholars to anti-sexism to the critique to global capitalism, (neo-)colonialism or other nexuses of power that so many of our colleagues have managed so exceptionally. The increase of people who have access to HE-learning also has helped to disseminate this kind of knowledge to many thousands of people, who approach the world through the eyes of the proverbial Other, including the Other to the power. This is a perspective that seems to annoy the various agents of sovereignty the most.
An interesting view from European social anthropology on the current challenges facing higher education.

Making a Public Ph.D.
How, then, do you put together a program that will prepare graduate students for nonacademic careers? History will again serve as my case-study discipline. It's "ethical and practical" to prepare history Ph.D.'s for careers outside the academy, says Julian E. Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, "but it's not as easy as it sounds." Consider the possibility of training history graduate students to enter Zelizer's own field, public policy. First, it would be practical to equip them with a recognizable credential, such as a certificate that they could earn by taking a certain number of courses. It's likewise practical to steer those interested toward a public-policy-friendly dissertation topic. But "if we really want graduate students to do that," Zelizer says, "we'll need a different curriculum," because the study of public policy "is extraordinarily different from what you do to get a doctorate in history." Public-policy students, he notes, receive more quantitative training in both economics and statistics than history students do, which gives them the tools to do budgeting, among other skills.
I think this relates well to the previous post. Ph.D. training in the US has been criticised recently and some radical ideas include reducing the number of universities that accept Ph.D. students which basically means only a selected group of top universities will be able to educate the next generation of academics. As admirable as the idea is to prepare graduate students for careers outside academia, the question remains: Why do a Ph.D. in history in the first place if you want to work in public policy? My feeling is that quite a few institutions will have to ask very tough questions about their Ph.D. programs - and maybe not accepting new students/accepting fewer students could be part of the solution as well...

'Academically Adrift': The News Gets Worse and Worse
Now Arum and his colleagues have revealed what happened to those two groups after they left college and entered the unforgiving post-recession economy. Despite a barren job market, only 3.1 percent of students who scored in the top 20 percent of the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which measures critical-thinking skills, were unemployed. Not infrequently, their colleges helped them land the jobs they had. Many struck out on their own and were engaged in civic affairs. Those who got married or cohabitated often did so with someone they met in college. For students like these, the college-driven job and mating markets are functioning as advertised. Graduates who scored poorly on the CLA, by contrast, are leading very different lives. It's true that business majors, who were singled out for low CLA scores in Academically Adrift, did better than most in finding jobs. But over all, students with poor CLA results are more likely to be living at home with their parents, burdened by credit-card debt, unmarried, and unemployed.
More bad news from (American) higher education...I wonder, though, whether this is a uniquely American problem and how other OECD countries deal with the challenge of having more and more university graduates for an economy that doesn't really need them...
I've been told by one of my employers that I am not allowed to accept friend requests from students on Facebook or any other social media site save Linkedin. In my field (probably in most fields) networking is really important and therefore this is a serious bummer.
Since I read about litigation and application letters/refusals on Community College Dean's blog, I wonder whether there is a particular North-American fear that prevents a 'use your discretationary power' approach  from emerging in this area. I wouldn't be surprised if a student sues a college/professor after s/he read on his/her facebook something like 'I have a terrible migraine, but luckily my [name of medication] kicked in' and received a bad mark later that day/the morning after. The student may suggest that the professor was incapacitated while marking his/her assignment and I would even be less surprised if you would be able to find a lawyer in the US to pursue this case. The debate focusses too much on 'party pictures' and silly YouTube videos. I could imagine similar scenarios on certain religious/political issues in certain States, say a professor sharing an article from anything from gay marriage/rights to abortion or basic comments about political parties, policies or politicians. Again, I wouldn't be surprised if disgruntled students share these things with the admin and next thing you know you are asked in your tenure review why you hold certain beliefs etc. In a 'normal world' using your brain/gut instinct may be enough, but in a spiteful, litigatious, politicised higher education environment I would think at least twice before befriending a student if I taught at an American institution-or maybe I'm just paranoid?!


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Dear white middle class British women: Please don't send used bras (or anything, really) to Africa