Links & Contents I Liked 49

Hello all,

African governance issues, personal branding, reflections on the 'purity' of life & development, the Post-2015 development agenda and a noteworthy new report on how teens (who may be joining your development course soon) do research in a digital world - interesting variety of topics and pieces to read, share and discuss...I hope.


New on aidnography

The rough guide for setting up fake-ish academic conferences
Like many academics, I receive invitations to obscure global conferences on a fairly regular basis. They usually go hand in hand with links to so-called ‘open access journals’.
Since I may get into legal trouble singling out specific conferences or organizers I felt inspired to write down a few essential criteria that ensure your conference will not be taken seriously by the academic community

By a strange coincidence, just when I posted my post yesterday, I came across
The B-list conference circuit

I’m beginning to think it isn’t worth it. Yes, I get to hear about new research somewhat related to my field, but the papers presented tend not to be the strongest, and better-quality, more-relevant research can be found in a few seconds on the web. Yes, I get to meet other researchers, but very rarely do I contact them again. And yes, I do get to experience a new city, but I’m not sure the university should be subsidizing my sightseeing, even if travel does broaden the mind.
Just to be clear: I'm not mocking what Terrance Lavender describes as 'B-list conferences'. I'm mocking 'D-list conferences' or maybe even conferences that are close to being fraudulent.

The Evaluation of Politics and the Politics of Evaluation
However, the application of mixed methods requires skill and care. Good quality performance assessment starts with asking the right questions, using an appropriate mix of good quality data collection methods, and then bringing diverse information together. Particular skill is required to effectively synthesise and analyse the data.
Some donors have been reluctant to use a mixed methods approach. The authors argue that this is partly because development practitioners are poorly informed about various methodologies and their limitations. Further, evaluation itself is a political process. Political interests, such as a focus on short–term results, can encourage an emphasis on single assessment methods.
I seem to have problems downloading the full paper, but this looks like an interesting overview over current debates and a starting point for a more critical engagement with some of the issues raised.

So You Said You Care About Poor Countries? Commitment to Development Index
If you are wondering what one can actually dig out of indices, what are indices good for and what makes the Commitment to Development Index particularly useful, there are two points one should consider
Fiorenzo Conte does an awesome job of engaging with the Commitment to Development Index and gives a great overview over the strengths and weaknesses of indices in more general terms.

Development as a collective action problem: Addressing the real challenges of African governance
In APPP’s synthesis report, David Booth explores how the fundamental governance challenges are about both sets of people finding ways of being able to act together in their own best interests. They are about collective problem-solving in fragmented societies hampered by exceptionally low levels of trust. He proposes that a smarter approach to reform and international cooperation for development would take this as its starting point.
I haven't had a chance to read the full report, but I already like the fact that they printed a relatively critical comment on their overview page:
“…a thorough and very valuable analysis of Africa’s development problems… The question remains: what should people involved in governance reforms do differently? What are the practical implications of the analysis? The report is a fine overview of the way the problem has been addressed so far.”
Roel van der Veen, chief academic advisor, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Britain and Ireland Suspend Aid to Uganda after Millions Go Missing
The move comes after a draft report by Ugandan’s auditor-general found that over $15 million [€12 million] in aid had been transferred to unauthorized accounts in the office of the Ugandan prime minister.
“This report does not surprise anybody,” said Dr. Fredrick Golooba Mutebi, a political analyst and a visiting fellow at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. The only shock, he added, “is the amounts of money stolen are quite colossal.”
Interesting to compare this news item to Chris Blattman's latest post:
The blind spots in the UN development agenda
It helps to remember: every economic marvel of its day–from the US to China to (dare I say) England — were paragons of corruption. Few can match Tammany Hall or the Chinese Communist Party in their ingenious machinations. It’s not clear this is a hindrance to development. Taking the long view, corruption may even be part of the glue that keeps societies from falling apart in the midst of transformative economic change–like it or not, elites need something to compensate them for losing their influence, or the’re unlikely to let go without a fight.

My feeling: Anti-corruption is a 20th century Anglo-American fetish, important, but nowhere near as important as political stability or basic property rights.
At the end of the day, traditional perceptions on corruption and 'abusing taxpayers money' drive the politics of aid and any 'post 2015' agenda is unlikely to change that...

“Nothing about us, without us”: some perspectives on the Post-2015 Development Agenda
And more important for us at CIVICUS, accept a full and fair stakeholder engagement. We are astonished to hear that “civil society” will be consulted the next six months, from now to March 2013, because there is no time and that the UN Secretary General must report to the 2013 General Assembly on the Post 2015 agenda. Let’s be serious. None knows what the agenda is, none knows where and when those consultations will be held and how those “civil society” representatives will be co-opted.
 Great post from CIVICUS on the 'post 2015' agenda debate!

'Perplexed ... Perplexed': On Mob Justice in Nigeria

When I'm in Nigeria, I find myself looking at the passive, placid faces of the people standing at the bus stops. They are tired after a day's work, and thinking perhaps of the long commute back home, or of what to make for dinner. I wonder to myself how these people, who surely love life, who surely love their own families, their own children, could be ready in an instant to exact a fatal violence on strangers. And even though I know that lynchings would largely disappear in a Nigeria with rule of law and strong institutions -- just as they have largely disappeared in other places where they were once common -- I still wonder what extreme traumas have brought us to this peculiar pass. I suppose it must be a blood knot, one that involves all the restless ghosts of our history-maddened country: the gap between rich and poor, the current corruption of the ruling class, the recent military dictatorships, the butchery of the Civil War in the late '60s, the humiliations of British colonialism, the internecine battles of the 19th century, and the horrors of the slaving past. We have, by means of a long steeping, been dyed all the way through with callousness.
I am totally aware of the inadequacy of selecting a quote from this great piece of writing and reflection by Teju Cole.

Behind the Headlines: Could This Anti-Bullying Campaign Make It Worse?
But in the fight against bullying, kids should also be armed with the kind of media literacy that would have them identify the differences between articles and advertorials in teen magazines, notice airbrushing in make-up ads, and shrewdly spot inner beauty.
Teens should know the difference between real life and the one being sold to them.
This is not *exactly* development-related, you may wonder, but I remember the Kielburger brothers' writing mainly from the Canadian Globe and Mail where they have promoted more short-sighted DIY/voluntourism-type philanthropic endeavors. So I'm glad to see a critical post-one that is probably true for lost of development-marketing, too...

There is no point in denying that there are competing narratives about what is “real” in the world of international relief and development and philanthropy. Without banging on about which parts of which narratives I personally think are really real, I’ll simply say that we will someday come to the point beyond which it will be no longer possible to separate those competing narratives. There will come a time when our constituents will collectively demand an explanation for why we said one thing and did something else. And if we’re to really learn the lesson of Lance Armstrong, we need to understand that it will be very public and very much into the weeds of detail. We’ve seen what happens when someone the public thought was “pure” turns out not to be.
Tom Murphy rightly points to the Greg Mortenson affair in the comments as one development-related example. I also think that the wish for 'purity' is closely linked to a wish for simple narratives and stories without too much complexities. It's probably part of the human condition to believe that the guy who finishes first is the 'best' cyclist and that saving 'the child' from a humanitarian emergency is making a difference in the long term. Although in all fairness, the aid industry is at least more self-reflective than most professional sport associations and the international bureaucracy that earns much more with the idea of 'purity' than 'overpaid' aid workers can ever earn...

Your Employee Is an Online Celebrity. Now What Do You Do?

Depending on your corporate culture and risk tolerance, you may want to embrace the business benefits of co-branded employees by giving them lots of latitude to build their social-media presence. Or you may opt for tight limits on work-related social-media activities, to control your brand and manage risks.
Either way, clear expectations and guidelines are essential—both to avoid problems, and to attract and retain employees who fit your corporate culture, and your brand, online and off.
And how is this relevant for the development section?! Well, you are probably referring to the corporate-branding-consultancy tone of the article written in a typical WSJ fashion. But when a friend posted this on facebook the other day quite a few development colleagues commented, which indicates, not really surprisingly, that 'personal branding' has become a topic in the aid industry, too. With very, very few exceptions, my friends and colleagues in the development blogosphere with a strong 'personal brand' work in innovative, flexible non-government organization. My feeling is that the institutional environment and the success of personal branding are closely linked to each other. I would always encourage social media activity at the interesection of work, life & global cosmopolitan challenges. But many big aid organizations are still hesitant and my feeling is that they will lose out on talent, debates and legitimacy in the medium-term if they don't adopt a relatively open social media/branding policy.


#180 A solid academic background
Of course you’d never want a non-English-speaking goatherd from Chad teaching your course on Organic Chemistry. He wouldn’t know anything about 99% of the courses taught at your school, and it would be a real travesty to have him shaping the future of university students. You, on the other hand, are a versatile thinker, who can get your head around the ideas of Kant and Freud. Distributing anti-malarial bed nets is no sweat compared to all the important, complex themes you’ve mastered in your education.

What’s that? You’ve also got an MBA? That’s even better! Farming and general economic subsistence in the Third World is exactly like those case studies you’ve read about GM and United Colors of Benetton. You’re just the one to introduce the US mores of competition, innovation, and marketing to the rest of the world so they can follow our same sustainable, prosperous path.
All snark aside, being humble and open to listening and learning will be/remain a big challenge for many aspiring aid workers who were equipped with all the right courses and trainings and firmly believe in their 'intercultural' abilities prior to any encounter with 'development'...

How Teens Do Research in the Digital World
Perhaps the greatest impact this group of teachers sees today’s digital environment having on student research habits is the degree to which it has changed the very nature of “research” and what it means to “do research.” Teachers and students alike report that for today’s students, “research” means “Googling.” As a result, some teachers report that for their students “doing research” has shifted from a relatively slow process of intellectual curiosity and discovery to a fast-paced, short-term exercise aimed at locating just enough information to complete an assignment.
I forwarded this to a friend who teaches Development Studies and added that these may be the next generation of students for his undergrad classes...'They are already here', he replied in one sentence.

All jokes and reflections about the 'good ol' days' aside, the next challenge may not be educating donors and/or policy-makers about 'complexity', but starting (again) with the latest generation of students...


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