Links & Contents I Liked 51

Hello all,

This looks like a nice link round-up of the week. There are 'development news' featuring interesting reports and more factual stuff, followed by 'development opinion'-from a 'polemic against NGOs' to 'Peace Corps Guilt', thought leadership and non-development topics such as a critique of Teach First USA and reflections on the 'high-quality compost' left over after an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in California. Finally, there's more on the question whether 'online courses spell the end of the traditional university' and how (academic) community engagement looks a lot like development (or the other way round?!)...


New on aidnography
Is Coca-Cola a social enterprise now? Why ‘development’ needs to be more critical with global corporations
If you visit Coca-Cola's new website you may think that you arrived at some philanthropic endeavor, a social enterprise or foundation maybe.
No matter how appealing social media communications, conference presentations or field visits for journalists or university deans etc, may be, development studies, research, activism and programming has the responsibility to use their critical thinking skills to point out the half-naked [corporate] emperor.

OLPC conducts an experiment?
Berk Ozler from the World Bank's 'Development Impact' blog finds my response to the 'One Laptop Per Child' project in Ethiopia 'appropriate' - which is kind of a big deal coming from a development economist, isn't it ;?!

Development News
Young People and Agriculture in Africa
Despite increased commitment to evidence-based policy in African agriculture, the profile of certain 'problems', and the imperative to address them quickly through policy and programmes, becomes separated from evidence and understanding. When this happens, policy advocates, policymakers and development planners rely heavily on 'common knowledge', anecdote and narrative to develop and argue policy alternatives.
This is unlikely to result in good policy and development outcomes, particularly when the problems being addressed are associated with complexities such as poverty, livelihoods, agrarian transitions, social justice or sustainability. It is important to ask how common policy responses articulate with ongoing economic, social and political transitions, and with young people's own imperatives, aspirations, strategies and activities.
Interesting new publication from colleagues over at IDS.

Localizing Development: Our Journey

Given the time this report has taken and the sometimes strong emotions it has evoked among friends and colleagues, a short history of its review process might perhaps be of interest. The draft report, after initial review within the research group, was sent out for internal and external review over a year ago. The internal review process was extensive and much longer than is the usual practice within the Bank, spanning several months. It yielded many comments and commentaries. This process was followed by a number of presentations, including to the Bank’s executive directors and to Bank staff during social development week earlier this year. Due to this we were also able to incorporate several new studies that came out this year and to review some unpublished evaluations of community driven development projects that we were alerted to by internal reviewers. A summary of our findings requested by the then President Bob Zoellick led to a joint note written with operational colleagues recommending concrete changes.
I'm looking forward to reading the report. I like the reflections on the process already...

Announcing the $25 Million AidData Center for Development Policy
Brad Parks, AidData's Co-Executive Director at William & Mary, believes that the creation of the AidData Center for Development Policy will “fundamentally change the way that foreign assistance is targeted, monitored, and evaluated.”
“The Center will build a global network of geographers, economists, political scientists, computer scientists, and statisticians who are committed to helping USAID and other development agencies reduce the cost and increase the impact of their aid programs,” Parks said.
Stephen Davenport, AidData's Co-Executive Director from Development Gateway, says, "The AidData Center for Development Policy will have an impact well beyond traditional donor boundaries. The data, visual analytics, and research produced by the The AidData Center for Development Policy will level the playing field among donors, recipient governments, and citizens by providing access to actionable aid information.”
The AidData Center for Development Policy is part of USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) - a new groundbreaking partnership with seven top American and foreign universities designed to develop innovative solutions to global development challenges.
Wayan Vota (formerly with ICTWorks) will be involved on behalf of the Development Gateway and it will be interesting to see how this big project on big data evolves...

UN 'failed Sri Lanka civilians', says internal probe
How did the UN failure happen? The report explores at length how senior staff in Colombo "had insufficient political expertise and experience in armed conflicts and in human rights... to deal with the challenge that Sri Lanka presented", and were not given "sufficient policy and political support" from headquarters.
It also points to the Sri Lankan government's "stratagem of intimidation", including "control of visas to sanction staff critical of the state".
The result was a UN system dominated by "a culture of trade-offs" - UN staff chose not to speak out against the government in an effort to try to improve humanitarian access.
A final note on reports and publications to watch. It will be interesting to see what will happen once the internal report turns into a public one...

Development Opinion
Totalitarianism, Famine and Us
If famine antedated totalitarianism, famine has also outlasted it—even as China’s leaders, still officially communist, have embarked on a major new global venture in food politics, with the state’s vaulting economy and hungry consumers leading them abroad in search of new sources. It is in intuitive anticipation of a new food politics that mid-century totalitarian famine is being revisited. But while the Great Famine is a terrible warning from the past, as well as an occasion for heartfelt commemoration and a tool for Chinese democrats to criticize their regime, it can distract us from the very different food politics to come—especially when it’s used by Western critics merely to sound false alarms about the role of agriculture in contemporary China’s national ambitions. The new food politics, in short, is already under way.
Samuel Moyn reviews a couple of new books on China's famine in the late 1950s .

A polemic against NGOs and the destruction of local innovation – By Jeremy Weate
From Nick Kristof’s heart on sleeve tales of African woe in the New York Times to the bizarre tragi-schmaltz of “Kony2012”, recently we have witnessed a series of well-meaning but completely ineffectual campaigns that speak more to emotional needs of the “White Saviour Industrial Complex” than they proffer practical solutions to complex realities on the ground. The Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole summed up this phenomenon in a neat series of tweets earlier this year.
The conscience of the globally concerned must be salved. From earnest Americans with broadband and fancy cameras, to discreet but shabby offices in the middling parts of Sub-Saharan capitals, what we are witnessing are different points along what might be called the ‘salvation value chain’. The appeal is always on the basis of pristine need (and a sublimated religiosity), rinsed clean of the murky distortions of government blather.
'Salvation value chain' is definitely a keeper for my unofficial development language dictionary!

Please Stop Using the Phrase 'Achievement Gap'
while attending a session at the American Education Research Association's annual conference, a woman from New Mexico complained about Teach For America in her area and referred to its teachers and workers as "colonizers."
Her language was indicative of her regional, cultural, and historical memory. Given her experience, her concerns and complaints were reasonable, real, and similar to those others have of Teach For America and other education reformers: that someone from outside of the community with little to no meaningful or substantial or enduring experience in the community comes in with “new” notions of what learning is, what schooling should be, whose culture matters, and whose is dismissed.
Tom Murphy posted this on facebook and one of his friend's comments was quite remarkable:
This narrator has some compelling thoughts but her willingness to castigate young white women as ignorant and self-serving shows that stereotypes and prejudice go both ways.
Additionally, the post also raises some interesting 'development at home' questions when experienced local talent is replaced with (cheaper) temporary outside talent that is unlikely to stay for longer periods of time. Development has been making and reflection about so many mistakes-maybe other sectors could take up some of those lessons learned...

Peace Corps Guilt
I tell people I joined the Peace Corps to understand what it means to be poor, but that´s just part of the story. I joined the Peace Corps to figure out how to escape the guilt of having so much while other people have so little.
Well, now I'm in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and surprised to find that it was not the way to go for moral masturbation.
Here in my rural-ish urban community in Paraguay, I am living in a vat of perpetual boiling hot guilt. And I've found that I am not the only one. All of the following causes us volunteers to feel that little pang in the chest that means we are doing something pretty horrible
'Peace Corps Guilt' and 'moral masturbation' sound a bit like titles for ' Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like' posts...but in all seriousness: I always enjoy open reflections about the complexities of development life. But what Esther Katcoff's reflections made me wonder is whether part of the 'development experience' shouldn't also be about the stillness, the inaction or the downtime that inevitably happens. In addition to many other things, people with 'development' experience could and should become advocates not only for the 'buy less stuff' discourse, but for example as advocates for public services. You call 911-an ambulance will be dispatched. You send your child to school-most of the teachers will show up and probably do a pretty good job. You need a new passport-just fill out a form and it's done. As more and more services are threatened to be cut, describing your 'boring', frustrating experiences with a local bureaucrat may be as powerful a contribution than describing your positive experiences about 'saving' children.

It's Just a Fad!
What we can also learn from these and similar quotes on technological innovation is that many new ideas face very similar types of objections. Seven very popular objections seem to be:
1) We don't need it - it has no economic value!
2) We don't have time for it!
3) It is not safe!
4) We have it already!
5) We don't work like that here
6) It does not solve the problem
7) It's a fad - I just don't like it!
One big innovation in recent years, both in business and in public administration, is open data. And like many other innovations, the seven arguments listed above are all part of the debate on open data as well. The remainder of this article will describe and address these seven objections regarding open data one by one and hopefully help us become less sceptical about this new frontier in information management.
Although this blog is hosted by the German technical agency giz, they are trying to establish an English-speaking blogging portal that hopefully influences debates in German(y), too...

What makes a thought leader?

I’ve been called a “thought leader” lately. It’s a lot better than some other things I’ve been called in my life, but still, it’s a label I’ve been trying to understand—so much so that I facilitated a session on it at last month’s Opportunity Collaboration.
When I first heard the term, I did a bit of sleuthing to understand its origin. It seems it comes from the private sector. (Isn’t most of the “latest” aid and philanthropy jargon just the last decade’s business terms?) The best definition I found to work from was “proprietary command over a challenging industry issue.”
Jennifer Lentfer's post got me thinking for a while. Less about the concept of a 'thought leader', but more about the questions whether or what kind of resources a 'thought leader' needs. My initial answer would be that 'thought leadership' to a certain extent needs institutional, financial or other kind of 'establishment' power. Your elite university affiliation, philanthropical backing or (mainstream) media presence in one way or another is part in the process of becoming the attention as 'thought leader' (I know, a bit of a chicken-and-egg challenge...). Otherwise you may be a 'thought provoker' or 'critical voice' etc., but I wonder whether leadership without some form of traditional power is possible (yet?).

How to Build a Grassroots Power Base

My counsel to prospective candidates: do not launch a campaign unless you can give it your all and plausibly consolidate most of the progressive electorate along the way. Do thorough groundwork for a long time. Keep meeting people and adding to your database of contacts. Listen and learn about political microclimates. Work on building coalitions. Encourage volunteers and treat them with respect. Insist on meticulous, accurate and principled work from staff. Remember that better process is much more likely to result in better decisions; when disagreements flare within the team, strive to assess the clashing outlooks. Keep your eyes on the prize: not only winning but also making progressive activists and groups stronger for the long haul.
A campaign with resonance should keep evolving after the election. Donor files, e-mail lists, working relationships, infrastructure, public good will and more can sustain and expand alliances. High-quality compost from one campaign should invigorate the growth of others.
These reflections from a Democratic candidate for the California Congress are an interesting look behind the scenes of big-picture politics and fancy CNN graphics. In a nutshell: It's bloody hard work if you are a progressive voice and dedicated to the overall political good. I like the expression 'high-quality compost' that's left after his unsuccessful campaign-there's plenty of that available to fertilize development debates...

Anthropology & Archaeology Research Network
We are pleased to announce the creation of Anthropology & Archaeology Research Network (AARN). It will provide a worldwide, online community for research in all areas of anthropology and archaeology, following the model of other subject matter networks within SSRN.
Freedom from private functions
Sir Keith Thomas, historian, former president of the British Academy and a member of the council, writes in this week's Times Higher Education that the level of "audit and accountability" demanded of universities by the government is "excessive, inefficient and hugely wasteful". In addition, "the very purpose of the university is grossly distorted by the attempt to create a market in higher education". He calls for the UK's higher education funding councils to be scrapped and replaced by bodies truly independent of government.
Definitely something to keep an eye on...

Do online courses spell the end for the traditional university?
And it's amid this uncertainty and this market pressure that these massive open online courses – or Moocs as they're known in the jargon – may well come to play a role. There are so many intangible benefits to going to university. "I learned as much if not more from my fellow students than I did from the lectures," says Lampl. But they're the things – making life-long friends, joining a society, learning how to operate a washing machine – that are free. It's the education bit that's the expensive part. But what Udacity and the rest are showing is that it doesn't necessarily have to be."
Comment from 'Darkone':
Quite right. I work in the field, I'm an e-learning instructional designer. I've worked with very few academics/teachers who understand that learning is the polar opposite of teaching and completely different paradigms and strategies are needed. The didactic doesn't work online since it forces the learner into a passive role. I've worked in my role for over ten years, and I've never worked on a project that involved a formal evaluation of the effectiveness of this shovelware (the practice of dumping content online).
I've a Masters in the field and continue to research this 24/7. I have yet to work with someone who has studied cognitive science or HCI or even the user experience. Generally, the teaching staff involved in e-learning, while being Subject Matter Experts, are oblivious to the effect the e-learning environment has on a learner and don't even know of the existence of the various disciplines employed in developing these strategies.
Reply from 'Masistios':
Don’t you feel that this comment betrays a lack of faith in both lecturers and students? Surely it’s up to the lecturer to stimulate the student beyond passivity and, just as in the real world, some online lecturers are bound to prove more ‘stimulating’ than others aren’t they? Aren’t students capable, in your view, of developing their own active learning environments, wherever they may be physically located?
And finally 'Natascha':
Most online courses tend to focus on "delivering" content rather than learner interaction. The most important interaction in any learning situation is normally learner-learner interaction and I normally include, as a bare minimum; 40% of teaching time as learner-learner interaction, usually much more. Learner-teacher interaction is also important.
I don't doubt that some aspects of online courses can be effective, in some cases, as a form of training but the actual educational effectiveness is limited. Indeed a good deal of training is also very ineffective online.
This is continuing to be an interesting debate. My feeling at the moment is that many seem to overestimate the long-term impact of such online education programs. They can be interesting or stimulating or many other positive things, but I would be cautious about building up a professional profile with them. Even though most courses are free and many are offered by renowned experts, I wonder whether there is an element of the philosophy that for-profit universities employ: Join our program and you can fulfill your professional aspirations - until you realize that the degree in 'Health Management Support Administration' (hopefully no school is offering this and will try to sue me ;)...) is essentially useless to work in health, management, support or would be interesting to hear comments from various industries and how they perceive the future of online education...

Some key challenges to community engagement

One of the rarely mentioned challenges of sustaining community-campus collaborations is that this work inevitably requires participants to learn through experience. Unfortunately, the assumption in the discourse seems to be that being an expert in a discipline is enough to qualify people to collaborate effectively with community partners. But community engagement requires sensitivities and skills that are not highly valued in some academic contexts (e.g., collaborative decision-making and straight-talking skills). As implied above, there is a need for both academic and community partners to unlearn certain habits and attitudes as well as learn new skills. A later post will expand on this observation. My goal here is to make the point that sustaining collaborative relationships requires an explicit commitment to learning by everyone involved. The fact that such learning will sometimes be messy and entail discomfort also needs to be not just acknowledged but embraced.
Again, so much to learn from the 'aid industry' - this time about the complexities of building community relationships between unequal partners...


Popular posts from this blog

Links & Contents I Liked 500

The visible lessons of Invisible Children- #globaldev critique in the viral age (in response to Paul Currion)

Happy retirement Duncan Green!

Should I consider a PhD in International Development Studies?

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