Links & Contents I Liked 21

Hello all!

Time to catch-up with some development and academic issues after the break! My two 'picks of the week' are WhyDev Brendan Rigby's archaeology of my professional identity in development, 52 reasons why you shouldn't date an aid worker and possibly one of the earliest academic rants on the status of academic writing from 1926 (!).


New on aidnography
Evelyn Tsitas wrote an interesting post about research envy just before Easter. She is reflecting on her experiences of research envy and it inspired me to reflect on my own PhD journey. My addition to the debate is that I believe ‘research envy’ changes over the course of your PhD and has different stages, four of which I will outline in my post

South Sudan has wept enough, it is time to tell stories, sing songs, dance, recite poetry and shed tears of joy to celebrate a new dawn where artists, writers, poets, playwrights, dancers, commentators, comedians, take centre stage to give our people food for thought, laughter, hope and even provoke. The important role of these creative people cannot be underestimated in peace building and to liberate the South Sudanese mind from negative thinking or feelings of inferiority.
I couldn't agree more with 'Bored in Post-Conflict':
I am always pleasantly surprised by how much faster a country's entertainment industry is able to establish itself when compared to those that would seem to be of greater importance. The actors seem very dedicated and the choice of play is unexpected, but brilliant nonetheless.
They are always suspicious of how real or committed other aid workers are
You will have to hear the origin and story of every piece of original art work in their home
You will never understand their gifts
And the other 49 reasons are brilliant, too!
House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee - Sixth Report: The Economic Impact and Effectiveness of Development Aid
The above report was published on March 20. Here are my reactions to the abstract. Disclaimers: (1) I have only read the abstract, not the entire report and (2) IDS is a recipient of DFID funding. My comments appear in italics after LH. There goes the knighthood.
This may be of interest for UK aid buffs, but Lawrence Haddad's disection of the House of Lords' (yes, it's still alive) report is a bit, shall we say, paved with dry aid-speak ;)...
The failure of Kony 2012: Part II is due in part to the success of the first video which left little room for further learning or engagement. NGO communicators can learn that storytelling is a powerful tool to reach people, but it can shut down discussions and learning as easily as it can open engagement.
IC's step forward is welcome as it may slowly reach more people and possibly prove me wrong. Yet, we live in a post-Kony 2012 world so to speak. Hopefully the same mistakes can be avoided while learning the lessons of what made the video so wildly successful. 
You may have noticed that there is a follow-up Kony 2012 video and I still need to watch it - but as usual, I trust Tom Murphy's judgement.
Like more traditional evangelic organizations, Invisible Children is out to spread the gospel. But they are not out just for Africa. They seem to be -- based on their past efforts, the statements of the group's leaders, and the religious ideology that drives them -- out for you. And the Kony 2012 campaign is how they're doing it.
No doubt, Russell is evangelic, but he and Invisible Children are spreading the gospel in the Emerging Church style. No Bibles, but movies. Instead of telling us what to believe, silently, secretly pulling our consciences towards Jesus.
"America has wrapped itself around the cross, and that is blasphemy," Russell told me. "Our point is, let humanity be the identity; then just join with humanity."

A long article from The Atlantic with many interesting comments. I don't know the Emerging Church well enough to form an opinion, but the broader issue for me is a more general question as to how teachers and schools can make educated choices as to which organisation or speaker they let into their schools. Many teachers probably don't have the time and expertise to make background checks and there needs a broader discussion how to ensure that issues around international politics, development or volunteering are not turned into 'Trojan horses' of organisations with a different agenda.
Like a conglomerate company created to control a whole supply change, The Jeff Skoll Group has been designed to support the various inflection points in the eco-system of social change as they work “to live in a sustainable world of peace and prosperity.” This puts Jeff Skoll in a rather unique situation, able to influence a spectrum of social change organizations from a 30,000 foot view of a large portfolio.
Interesting entry point/post to the Skoll World Forum. I'm a bit less excited about the business-speak and comparisons to corporate models and deep down, I remain sceptical whether global social change really starts at the business school in Cambridge/UK. But I might just be a cynical academic sometimes...

I imagine a Toms that creates jobs and builds economies by sourcing shoes from developing countries, small businesses, and burgeoning entrepreneurs. I imagine a Toms that eradicates hookworms within an entire country by giving not only the gift of shoes, but also the lasting impact of infrastructure and health facilities.
The world doesn’t need another advocacy day. We don’t need a day without shoes. We need practical, long-term solutions--the kind that only business can engineer. The good people at Toms should keep their shoes on. They’ll need them if they’re going to find solutions to these intractable problems.
The social entrepreneurial approach of TOMS shoes is scrutinised Cheryl Davenport. Her suggestions are very hands on and I wonder how and whether TOMS will join the debate with its critics.

The latest Global Information Technology Report 2012 ranks Nepal 128 out of 142 countries in terms of network readiness. Insufficient development of ICT infrastructure has limited its ability to leverage information and communications technologies to boost country competitiveness. It has stifled entrepreneurship and innovation.
We/I often overestimate global Internet connectivity and the GIT report is an important reminder about the gaps, e.g. in a country like Nepal.

In conclusion, and as argued two years ago, the humanitarian industry is shifting towards a more multi-polar system. The rise of new actors, from digitally empowered disaster-affected communities to digital volunteer networks, has been driven by the rapid commercialization of communication technology—particularly the mobile phone and social networking platforms. These trends are unlikely to change soon and crises will continue to spur innovations in this space. This does not mean that traditional humanitarian organizations are becoming obsolete. Their roles are simply changing and this change is proof that they are not battlefield monuments. Of course, only time will tell whether they change fast enough.
Patrick Meier's latest post provides a great overview over some of the recent digital developments in the field of humanitarian aid. The question I had after reading the post was, how the shift towards a 'more multi-polar system' will affect power relations (will funding shift from traditional organisations to smaller, innovative ones on a larger scale?) and the long-standing issue of coordination and cooperation. One things seems clear to me: The humanitarian sector will remain a complex field of innovation as much as critique...

Technology has convinced Millennials that a single voice can make a big difference
"Millennials were raised with technology and social media, and they're aware that companies are listening and they know those companies are paying attention to social media, blogs and voices of the majority," Dhawan told us.
"The idea and willingness to ask questions comes from this idealistic energy of youth that we bring and the fact the we have the tools to reach a larger spectrum of people."
It may be worth reading this article with my recent book review on 'The Shift' in mind (Is development the future of work? Book review of Lynda Gratton's 'The Shift'). The question then is whether and how Millenials will change development work.

To think that social media will give me the power to challenge orthodoxy is arrogant. To believe that I can challenge in my professional life is also foolhardy. I am not an Amartya Sen or Ester Duflo, nor a Scott Gilmore or William Easterly. I enjoy research and see my career heading down this pathway, with a hope to make my research applicable and participatory, and not purely academic or esoteric. I believe I have the smarts for it, without being brilliant; I have a good education, a critical mind with technical knowledge and expertise, some modest publications and a variety of foundational employment experiences. My moral and ethical compass points due justice, but gets knocked around by the magnetic forces of universalism and utilitarianism. I find snark and cynicism easy bed companions that feed off each other, but unhelpful in trying to develop my professional identity. I think they would corrode it. I try to practice being mindful, and believe this can support and shape my professional work. Reflexivity can be learned, is of undiscovered value, but is perhaps the hardest to practice.
By way of an 'answer' to the previous link and the question of how the future of work can look like, Brendan Rigby's reflections on his professionalism are a fascinating, must-read for reflection practitioners!

The Research Methods in Anthropology program is taught by top instructors in the field of anthropology. It is designed for current anthropologists and those seeking to become anthropologists, who are looking to strengthen their skills in research methods. The emphasis in each course is on skills for collecting and analyzing the many kinds of data that anthropologists work with.

This looks like an interesting distance learning course offered by the University of Florida - however, I find the pricetage of $2,500 a bit hefty, but you also get a month full of stimulating learning with a good faculty.

Scaling up and replicating these types of initiatives is not an easy endeavour. From a research perspective, the major challenge, of course, is assessing the ultimate impact of higher education mobility or educational exchanges.
How can we measure the contributions of international education to solving global problems? In addition to reporting on international students' fields of study, should we also attempt to synthesise mobility data by areas of potential impact such as public health, education and the environment? These are just some of many questions that need to be addressed.
Very relevant questions. Development Studies academics need to join these debates and become a critical part of issues around the 'impact' of their academic courses and services on 'development' - beyond classroom teaching, student numbers and fees raised

The manuscripts that come to me are not marred by errors of grammar nor by the grosser faults of composition. Minor defects, it is true, abound. Sentences begin with ‘However ‘ and ‘ To be sure’ and ‘ Coincidentally ‘ and ‘Due to,’ just as they do in the newspapers. Adjectives are used without precision— ‘tremendous’ often does duty for all adjectives of magnitude. ‘Data ‘ in this Latinless age is regarded by some as singular. As to smoothness of expression and consequent ease of reading, it often seems impossible that the writer can have read a single paragraph aloud, else he would have perceived that he was driving over corduroy and not concrete. But the larger and more general fault is a great want of attractiveness. You will not think me to be pleading for flowery rhetoric, and if you remember some of the articles I have printed, you will not suspect me of maintaining too exacting and lofty a standard of style in the case of those I do not print. The plain truth is that, by quite ordinary standards, many of our historical investigators and writers are sadly lacking in the sense of form. Your committee is quite right in inquiring earnestly why this is so, and what can be done about it. It is possible to maintain (it has been done) that history has no business to be either interesting or attractive; but it is not possible to maintain that austere position and at the same time complain that what we write has no effect upon the public mind. And on the whole we all wish that historical writing should be influential.
So another editor is 'ranting' about the state of academic writing...'tell me something I don't know' you may be tempted to say, but there's a bit more to it - this 'rant' was published in 1926 (86 years ago!)! It's quite fascinating, calming, but also a bit scary to realise that academic discussions haven't changed that much throughout the past couple of years...I wonder what historians will write about academic and development blogging in 80 years time...

The latest issue of the International Review of Administrative Sciences is a special issue on government transparency - and the articles can be accessed for free at the moment! 

P.S.: Why not stay connected with @aidnography?


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