Links & Contents I Liked 62

Dear all,

Due to a longer post on The Global Journal's Top 100 NGO ranking (see below) and another forthcoming piece co-written with WhyDev's Brendan Rigby, this week's link review is a bit shorter than usual.
That doesn't mean that there aren't some interesting, thoughtful pieces included, of course.
Jemima Sherpa's reflections on growing up as an upper-middle class girl in Kathmandu raises some interesting questions about old and new 'elites', the limits and dark sides of global cosmopolitanism, (post-)modernity and how live is different and at the same time the similar for many girls and women around the globe-all written in a much more thoughtful and poetic style. In some ways almost the opposite is Enrique Mendizabal's long essay on Think Tanks in Latin America and how they have been changing over time. And in the academic department, Eunice Williams describes her 'Life as a Job-Market Captive', with an interesting discussion on whether or not you can chose to be a 'captive' in the contemporary academic job market.

New on aidnography
What I learnt from looking behind The Global Journal's Top 100 NGO Ranking

When the second edition of the Top 100 NGO ranking was published in January 2013, vaguely hinting at ‘innovation, impact and sustainability’ as key new criteria to assess NGOs, I was sceptical and mentally preparing for more critical comments. Luckily, the researcher in me won over the potentially ranting aid blogger and I sent out some messages to a variety of organizations featured in the ranking as well as the editorial team asking for more details on process and methodology. I received open and positive feedback all around and one 20 page methodology paper, a couple of email exchanges and a 25 minute phone conversation with one NGO later, a much more nuanced picture had emerged about the ranking, learning processes and the space for discussions the ranking could facilitate further.

P.S.: This post is also featured over at Dave Algoso's blog...


Donors closing wallets to Canadian charities who work with CIDA, mining companies

Plan Canada, one of three NGOs involved in a Canadian International Development Agency project that pairs NGOs and the government with mining companies, says the mining sector’s poor image threatens to tarnish its own reputation. Some Plan donors have complained the mining companies have enough money to fund their own social programs and that Plan shouldn’t be partnering with them.
“Would we try it again? Probably not,” Rosemary McCarney, Plan’s president, said in an interview with the Toronto Star. “It’s upsetting to donors. People are mad. The reality is that working with any mining company is going to be a problem. There are going to be (employee) strikes and spills. Is it worth the headache? Probably not.”
Not surprisingly, Plan is shying away from a clear political statement, calling 'unruly' donors a mere 'headache'...

So What do I take Away from The Great Evidence Debate? Final thoughts (for now)

A fundamental critique of the evidence-based revolution is that it actually diminishes efforts to get rigorous evidence about addressing complex challenges. We all want evidence, it’s a question of whether the current framing of “evidence-based” is distorting what types of evidence we gather and value. For those who think that the current emphases on methods to test what works are distorting how we value the evidence coming in (RCT=gold, qualitative methods=junk), this offers little other than platitudes about lots of other methods existing.
Personally, I would be a bigger proponent of the evidence-based revolution if it was coming to folks interested in power, politics, and development, and asking them what their questions are and what evidence might contribute to their work. Absent a learning agenda set to fit complex space and concern itself with power, it will continue to seem to me to be an instance of methods leading research – or searching for keys under the light rather than inventing a flashlight.’
Duncan Green's summary of the debate around 'evidence-based' research that I highlighted in one of the previous weekly round-ups.I haven't followed the debate in detail, but I have a feeling that the 'qualitative camp' will continue to have a more difficult position while the RCT 'gold standard' camp will be calling the methodological shots. Ed Carr's post below is addressing this as well.

Why science and technology need the social sciences and humanities

This is why science and technology require the social sciences and humanities. They help us separate what is possible in the world from what should be done in the world.
Without the arts, humanities, and social sciences, we are left with a tool (science) and no guidance about how to use it. Further, the growing field of science and technology studies shows that the capacities of particular technologies, in and of themselves, tell us little about who will adopt them and why.
Cantor, and those like him, live in an odd world where technologies and commodities are social goods unto themselves with universal and obvious value. Existing social scientific work already demonstrates this to be untrue. Defunding such work will not make his beliefs more true, it will just make it harder to make the world a better place with the scientific tools we have and will develop in the future.
Just when you thought that we live in a 'post-' everything age some old-school ideas from the early days of development's 'modernization' quest are gaining momentum...

Learning From Failure

The risk is that too few people will follow. Especially in tough economic times, the pressure is on to show that they are getting bang for their buck. Last year an Obama administration official called on the aid community to adopt a “permanent campaign mind-set,” in which fund-raising and promotion are on the front burner. This creates an incentive to go for easy victories, highlight successes and bury failures. Even with the new fad in the aid world for metrics and impact assessments, their public reports are rarely forthcoming about missteps.
That’s bad science. While aid organizations must be accountable for outcomes, that pressure for positive results should not be an encouragement to skimp on the truth. Making a difference in the world is hard, often messy work. Pretending otherwise is no help at all.
'Learning from failure' is sexy at the moment. It will take more time to figure out whether it is just another discourse or really an emerging practice that organizations fully adopt. The Plan example from the article above makes me skeptical...

Lies, Damned Lies and Big Data

What is the problem here? The problem is that a certain kind of approach is being propagated within the “big data” movement that claims to not be a priori committed to any theory or view of the world. The idea is that data is real and theory is not real. That theory should be induced from the data in a “scientific” way.
I think this is wrong and dangerous. Why? Because it is not clear or honest while appearing to be so. Any statistical test or machine learning algorithm expresses a view of what a pattern or regularity is and any data has been collected for a reason based on what is considered appropriate to measure. One algorithm will find one kind of pattern and another will find something else. One data set will evidence some patterns and not others. Selecting an appropriate test depends on what you are looking for. So the question posed by the thought experiment remains “what are you looking for, what is your question, what is your hypothesis?”
More reasons why you need social scientists and data anthropologists ;)!

Do development practitioners need to be more compassionate? - by Tracey Martin

I came away inspired and convinced that the research and practice on empathy, compassion, happiness and well-being is important for how we work to bring about social change in the 21st century. As development practitioners, we see ourselves as working for others and often take the moral high ground but when I meet with fellow practitioners they often complain about internal politics and animosity within their organisations. We bad-mouth our bosses and colleagues instead of trying to understand them. How can we hope to change the world if we perpetuate the negative behaviours that have caused so much harm? How can we enable others to develop strong and healthy organisations if our own organisations are unhappy and unhealthy?
Evidence, failure, science, data...but at the end of the day development is made and remade by people-Tracey Martin's important reminder that 'healthy', compassionate organizations lead to better 'results'.

Call for Papers—The Peace Journalist

Submissions are welcome from all. For the April, 2013 edition of The Peace Journalist, we are seeking short submissions (300-550 words) detailing peace journalism projects, classes, proposals, academic works in the field, etc. The Peace Journalist will not run general articles about peace, but rather invites only those with a strong peace media/peace journalism/conflict sensitive journalism angle.
Steve Youngblood's blog on peace journalism is always worth a visit!

Think tanks in Latin America: what are they and what drives them?

This isn’t just an issue of changing communication spaces. In fact, the costs of entry to the world of ideas and political participation have been reduced significantly. What Latin American think tanks face now is the arrival of an endless number of new actors with the capacity to fulfil the same functions that we associate with them. And, unlike the old think tanks that have to learn to use these new spaces and participate in them, for these new actors the simultaneous co-production of knowledge and public exchange with different actors of society are everyday occurrences. It is how they are being formed themselves.
Therefore these changes promise important effects on the Latin American think tank community. A new family, of virtual or digital think tanks, has already come to life in the US and in Great Britain where the concept is more developed. These have minimal costs of entry and exit to the sector, share roles and characteristics with organisations like the press, advocacy campaigns and social networks, and employ strategies and tools of research, management and communication that are virtually unknown by many of the think tanks in the region.
Once again, the level of institutionalisation of the political–intellectual space and the actors that participate in it will be what defines the capacity for renewal of think tanks in each country.
Enrique Mendizabal's long essay raises some broader and very interesting questions about Thinks Tanks in the digital world and how Latin American ones are starting to embrace the '2.0' challenges.


Kathmandu Girls

You know that your privileges are your shield, your educated voice, your parent’s names, the walls and dogs that guard you, the quality of the clothing you wear and the company you keep. You know that these are the things that have saved you countless times from the ‘bad’ being the ‘or worse’, because these give you an imperfect measure of protection by making you a difficult and unpredictable target, the kind of girl who could cause a fuss and someone would take notice.
And you know, always, always, that you have just been lucky; that these men that surround the many unlucky women in the newspapers and the far-too-many others whose stories never make the pages, these are the same men that surround you too.
This week's must-read.


After Aaron, Reputation Metrics Startups Aim To Disrupt The Scientific Journal Industry

To break out of the tragedy of the commons, new reputation metrics, developed by a number of startups, have been developed that incentivize scientists to share their research openly, rather than incentivizing them to put their research behind a paywall. Scientists are adopting them to better stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs. Examples of these new reputation metrics include inbound citation counts, readership metrics and follower counts.
The emergence of a 'brave new world' of reputations metrics? I'm currently working on an essay that engages with the idea of what the future may hold for a professor who agreed to become a 'total metric professor'...

Life as a Captive of the Job Market

The academic job market is an exercise in captivity, and I am still its prisoner.
To some extent I've ensured my place in this life by acceding to the terms of academe. I've defended my dissertation, and so I've unofficially transformed myself from Eunice Williams, Ph.D. candidate, to Dr. Williams. Even if I'm befuddled by the job market, I've still agreed to abide by the rules of the game. The problem, I think, is that I'm still not sure that I've learned all of the rules.
There is no easy answer to the challenges Eunice is facing and the comments reflect this well. Maybe commentator xmichaelx is right about the 'fit' argument?
I serve on a lot of academic search committees, and am surprised by the number of people who don't understand that there's really only a single question they are expected to answer: "What can you do for this organization?"
Every question I ask is geared towards finding this out. You don't get points for coming on time, or not spilling food on yourself, or carrying yourself professionally -- those are things that every candidate shouldn't have a problem with. You get points for convincing me that you will make my organization better than it is currently.
Repost: Panelicious
This is what has always aggravated me -- the proposal championed by the biggest a$hole on the panel generally gets funded because most people are nice. But I have grown to be as combative as the next person and always try my very best to make sure the proposal I am backing gets funding. I must admit I enjoy all the arguing.
Without a doubt, sitting on panels is the best way to learn how to write grants. It helps you see what people respond to, what others in your field propose to do, how good proposals are organized... You get to learn something new and you get to flex your debating muscles. It's good fun.
...and when you finally got your tenured job, dealing with large funding bodies is likely to be one of your next challenges...


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