Links & Contents I Liked 69

Hello all,

This week's review is quite an eclectic mix - including cats and sex (in the blog-appropriate
form of ethnographic research on Ugandan Internet memes and a 'sex strike' of Indonesian women for conflict resolution). But there's more for the forthcoming long holiday weekend! New publications, how drones impact development work, the media's non-engagement with the conflict in Mali, what people think is the most effective tool to curb corruption, BRICS and the new global capitalist imperialism, lazy aid journalism around UK's Red Nose campaign as well as reflections on the precious work-life balance. I already mentioned that chickens and goats are the cats of the Ugandan Internet and last not least, some reflections on how 'post-publication' (peer) review can work through social media. And there's more!

Happy holidays!

New on aidnography
Paved with Good Intentions–Canada’s development NGOs from idealism to imperialism (book review)
The book tells and important – and certainly not just limited to Canada! – story about the changing relationships between the state, civil society, NGOs and, depending on your political viewpoint, the professionalization/depoliticization/selling out of this growing sector of the global aid industry.
The book attempts to, and often successfully manages, to bring together three narratives about the history of Canadian NGOs, neoliberal politics and a focus on the situation in Haiti where the authors were involved as a cross-cultural activists.
Despite its minor flaws, Paved with Good Intentions is a stimulating and important book. Even if you or your organization disagrees with parts of the narrative of the book, it is still a valuable resource and entry point of coming together to discuss, reflect and potentially write down your own version of how change has (not) happened and add a more nuanced narrative to the bigger picture of what civil society and NGOs can do across Canada and in the world.

Improving the Evaluability of INGO Empowerment and Accountability Programmes

This CDI Practice Paper is based on an analysis of international NGO (INGO) evaluation practice in empowerment and accountability (E&A) programmes commissioned by CARE UK, Christian Aid, Plan UK and World Vision UK. It reviews evaluation debates and their implications for INGOs.
The authors argue that if INGOs are to successfully 'measure' or assess outcomes and impacts of E&A programmes, they need to shift attention from methods to developing more holistic and complexity informed evaluation strategies during programme design. Final evaluations or impact assessments are no longer discrete activities, but part of longer-term learning processes.
Given the weak evaluation capacity within the international development sector, this CDI Practice Paper concludes that institutional donors must have realistic expectations and support INGOs to develop their evaluation capacity in keeping with cost - benefit considerations. Donors might also need to reconsider the merits of trying to evaluate the 'impact' of 'demand-side' NGO governance programmes independently of potentially complementary 'supply-side' governance initiatives.
As IDS opens its new Centre for Development Impact, this is an interesting first publication.

Peacebuilding & conflict transformation : A resource book

When Katharina Schilling showed us the two compilations, resource book and methods book, she had painstakingly put together on the basis of her work experience and the challenges of working with many young people in Sierra Leone and Cameroon, we felt these tools should be made available to a larger public in Africa and beyond. An additional bonus is that the beautiful illustrations have been developed by her colleague Julius Nzang, a young Cameroonian journalist who participated in the facilitation of youth workshops. In our work with Civil Peace Service Networks in several African countries, we have come to realise that working with youth on and in conflict is one of the most important tasks for building a better future. Katharina’s colleagues and superiors in SLADEA (Sierra Leone Adult Education Association) and PCC (Presbyterian Church in Cameroon), as well as the many young people in the training sessions, have over the years supported and made this work possible and we can now all benefit from their insight and experience. These books address peace issues and conflict transformation at the individual, group and community levels. Many of us work in situations of violent or latent conflict that throw whole regions or countries into war or warlike situations.
A comprehensive and openly accessible resource for teaching, training and learning around peace and conflict.

Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship 2013

We’re training future data scientists to work on the world’s most challenging social problems.
Fellows will work in small teams with mentors from the Obama campaign analytics team and seasoned data scientists from academia and business on high-impact projects in education, healthcare, energy, transportation, and more.
This full-time program is selective, intensive, and hands-on:
- You’ll work with nonprofits and governments to solve big problems with data.
- You’ll learn how to apply statistics, machine learning, and big data technologies to problems that matter.
- And you’ll work collaboratively with interdisciplinary teams.
Although the Fellowship doesn't mention international development explicitly, it is probably of interest for some who work in development-the only issue I disagree with is that the focus is exclusively on the quantitative, mathematical, statistical side of things rather than encouraging debates between the qual and quant camps...

Energize, Polarize, Mobilize! Human Rights, Participation, Activism, Internet. International Workshop Conference

The spread of digital technologies has given new opportunities to activists around the world. At the same time they can also be the cause of new threats to activists and people using digital media for political communication or mobilization. Successful campaigning and political action requires knowledge of digital technologies and social media, as well as skills in communication strategies and creative forms to express a message.
The event will attempt to answer the question: "What are the tools and trends, the opportunities and challenges for activism in 2013?" both on a theoretical and practical level and also both online and offline.
I started to listen to some of the audio recorded presentations and there's really some good stuff available.

Analysis: The view from the ground: How drone strikes hamper aid

“The public debate, rightly so, has focused on the transparency and targeting of drones, but for humanitarians, there are a whole set of much more specific concerns that we don’t necessarily have answers on and ought to be thinking about,” says Naz Modirzadeh, a senior fellow at Harvard Law School and a leading expert on the intersection between counterterrorism and humanitarian aid.
In places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, strikes by unmanned planes are increasingly affecting humanitarian operations, aid workers say, necessitating a greater discussion by humanitarians on how to deal with the impact and a greater focus by US policymakers on how to mitigate it.
Long and balanced post that outlines that drones are (and are likely to become even more so in the future) a development issue that deserves more attention and discussion.

Mali’s War, Unseen

Despite many correspondents’ repeated and sometimes risky efforts to reach the front lines, there are virtually no first-hand journalistic accounts of the fighting in Mali.
Even casual media consumers are now accustomed to and expect such images. More than a decade of compelling combat footage provided by embedded correspondents in Afghanistan and Iraq—and more recently from embattled Syria, although from there most often by citizen reporters or militia fighters—have convinced viewers that we can access on demand the latest horrific moments of faraway conflicts.
French media organizations have publicized the restrictions on their reporting [as well as sometimes criticizing their colleagues’ offerings], complaining vigorously, as have press freedom groups. “The French authorities, supported by their Malian counterparts, have achieved their ‘zero image of the war front’ media objective for Operation Serval by strictly controlling access to information,” the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders stated in mid-February.

A very detailed and interesting analysis of the media's (non-)engagement with the actual conflict in Mali (and on a side-note on how much we as media consumers have relied on the goodwill of armed forces and official entities when it comes to 'embedded' footage from Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria).

Business People: Investigative Journalism Best Against Corruption
TI’s survey, Putting Corruption out of Business, gathered responses from 3,000 business people across 13 sectors that included real estate, banking, forestry and mining. The survey asked them to rank the effectiveness of six measures, from corporate due diligence to national anti-bribery laws to international treaties. What do you think came up on top, in country after country?

Investigative journalism.

Business people in 20 of the 30 countries surveyed chose investigative journalism as the most effective tool at fighting corruption. In 27 countries it was ranked higher than international agreements, and in 24 countries higher than national anti-bribery laws.
Among the countries ranking it highest: Brazil, Chile, Poland, the Philippines, and Indonesia. In Brazil, 70 percent of the respondents called investigative journalism the most effective tool against private sector corruption. This sentiment was evenly spread, too, among different industries: oil and gas (58%), pharmaceutical and healthcare (56%), and transportation and storage (54%).
“It is clear that journalists are critical players in the anti-corruption fight,” wrote Deborah Hardoon, Senior Research Coordinator at TI. At the same time, Hardoon noted that a watchdog press is just one key ingredient. “To stop corruption, investigative journalists must be able to work in an environment where whistleblowers are protected… where citizens reading the news do not tolerate corruption and demand better from their society and their leaders (and) where anti-corruption legislation is adequate and effectively enforced.”
Talking about transparency: Transparency International's latest study has some interesting food for thought for development-related journalism and other forms of writing, such as blogging, I think as they can be effective tools for communication and social change.

Make love not war: sex and peacebuilding in Mindanao

Confronted with a lack of food, supplies and the prospect of dependency on humanitarian aid, the women of a sewing cooperative banded together to withhold sex from their husbands until they agreed to no longer fight, bringing peace to a village in the Philippines.
Before conceiving the idea to organize a sex strike, the women of Dado Village had no say in the decisions for either army to fight. Precisely due to this marginalization, they were freer to think in more radical terms of possible solutions to abate the violence. This commenter fails to acknowledge both the cultural significance of the women’s strategy and the extraordinary risk the women faced. Failure to comply with demands for sex may have been answered with forced submission or abuse. The women of Dado should be commended for their ability to resolve conflict in a culturally unique way. They make the case that NGO’s working in conflict management should search for and build upon existing norms rather than simply bringing two parties in a conflict together. Furthermore, the women should be lauded for their courage and solidarity rather than put down for calling for a sex strike.
Luckily, this story is backed by the UN and comes with more serious questions around women's participation in conflict resolution- in case anybody want to accuse me of going after the catchy headlines ;)!

BRICS chafe under charge of "new imperialists" in Africa

"We think there's too much back-slapping," said Patrick Bond of the University of KwaZulu-Natal's centre for Civil Society, who helped to organise an alternative "BRICS-from-below" meeting in Durban to shadow the BRICS summit on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Bond and other critics of the BRICS' South-South pitch say developing countries that receive investment and assistance from the new emerging powers need to take a hard, close look at the deals they are getting.
Beneath the fraternal veneer, Bond sees "incoherent imperial competition" not unlike the 19th Century scramble, saying that BRICS members are similarly coveting and exploiting African resources without sufficiently boosting industrialisation and job-creation, all much needed on the continent.
This view has gained some traction in Africa as citizens from Guinea and Nigeria to Zambia and Mozambique increasingly see Brazilian, Russian, Indian, Chinese and South African companies scooping up multi-billion dollar oil and mining deals and big-ticket infrastructure projects.
Many of these deals have come under scrutiny from local and international rights groups. More than a few have faced criticism that they focus heavily on raw material extraction, lack transparency and do not offer enough employment and developmental benefits to the receiving countries - charges often levelled against corporations from the developed West.
Warning Africa was opening itself up to "a new form of imperialism", Nigerian central bank governor Lamido Sanusi accused China, now the world's No. 2 economy, of worsening Africa's deindustrialisation and underdevelopment.
"China takes our primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism," Sanusi wrote in a March 11 opinion column in the Financial Times.
"Africa must recognise that China - like the U.S., Russia, Britain, Brazil and the rest - is in Africa not for African interests but its own," Sanusi added.
Interesting and important reminder that rather than focusing too narrowly on 'North' and 'South', global capitalism is driving the BRICS's engagement in Africa in similar ways than previous capitalist expansions.

It’s an emotional subject

First of all relief among many participants to be in a collective space where it’s OK to talk about how they feel about what is happening to them – and to find that others were experiencing similar emotions of frustration of the impact of the results and evidence agenda on their jobs. ‘All I do now is write reports’ said one. ‘I make up numbers’, said another, bitterly. There is anger at the absurdity of ‘targetitis’ and the proliferation of tools and protocols. People mentioned being forced to develop Theories of Change that ignored the ‘politics of how’ and the sheer stupidity of a large global programme that has 300 indicators for measuring change. The long-standing anxiety was aired about how alternative pathways of change are ignored by the logical framework single linear cause-effect proposition.
There is despair that mandatory approaches to design, monitoring and reporting are ‘ignoring the knowledge of those you are working with and for. ’ One evaluation specialist spoke of how his organisation is being obliged to do ‘objective’ evaluations, excluding interviews with a programme’s diversity of stakeholders because these are seen as biased points of view. Evaluations are increasingly ignoring ‘context and power relations, said another.
There is a bit of a 'note the irony' moment involved when IDS inaugurates its new Centre for Development Impact when at the same time IDS Participation Fellow Rosalind Eyben reflects on her recent encounters with people who often seem to suffer from the objective-evaluation-impact-theory-of-change debate...

Red Nose Day: Media short changes the poor with its soft-soap aid coverage

It is all seen as great fun for a good cause. But pause for a second. Why does the state broadcaster hand over huge chunks of its valuable schedules for fundraising marathons that promote so powerfully an increasingly controversial and outdated worldview?
It is not just the toe-curling coverage of celebrities abroad, seen at its exploitative worst two years ago when a quartet of stars spent a week in a Kenyan slum and discovered that, hey, life's tough there. It is the underlying message that aid is an unalloyed good thing, something at odds with so much evidence and a swelling chorus of African and Asian voices questioning the west's right to meddle in their countries.
This stance is evident across the BBC. News programmes, so admirable in their challenging approach to most issues, provide unquestioning platforms when covering the work of charities abroad. Feared inquisitors bowl bouncers at politicians, business leaders and even their own bosses, yet aim the softest of questions at aid workers as if they are secular saints.
I agree to some extent with Ian Birrell that many mainstream media outlets are quite lazy when it comes to reporting on the complexities of aid and quite easily resort to traditional images of how charities help poor people in Africa etc. But fundraising is also 'big business' for a charity sector that can no longer rely on public money and private donations as countries like the UK are cutting back funding and many people cannot afford donations. It's complicated...

REDD: a good idea donorised and projectised to death?

To donors and other big aid sector players these multiple technical and social challenges must have appeared rather like stumbling upon a car crash scene for an ambulance-chasing lawyer. “Aha!” they said, “Here is a role for us.” Projects were created left, right and centre, the dollars flowed, and the consultants came and feasted. People were trained in analysing satellite imagery, whilst gender and indigenous peoples experts galore advised on how to ensure REDD delivered benefits to all. I expect there were even strategies drawn up for dealing with HIV/AIDS in REDD.

But where are the carbon savings that all of this work would support? Here we meet what is both the great strength and the great weakness of REDD: it is almost impervious to fudged or sticking-plaster type solutions. In order to succeed in REDD one must not just conserve a patch of forest, but reduce the drivers of deforestation, so that another forest loss (and hence carbon emissions) are not simply displaced elsewhere. This is hard. Seriously hard. Most of the time someone will lose out, whether it is big business intent on industrial-scale logging or adding another oil palm plantation, or poor farmers pushing further into the bush in order to find more fertile soils.
Such challenges are not susceptible to ‘projectisation’ in the standard aid model that works with mid-level managers plus advisers. Instead they require tough political decisions, probably at cabinet level. It is clear that in some countries (Brazil, Indonesia and Guyana come to mind) REDD has reached this level of serious political engagement, even if (in the case of Indonesia) the desired outcomes are not yet secured. However, elsewhere REDD appears stuck a rung or two lower on the government bureaucratic ladder, and thus the actual mechanism by which forest carbon savings will be generated remains either theoretical or entirely undefined.
Bottom Up Thinking on how ambitious, big ideas get absorbed (or ignored) when they meet the political, social and technical realities of various complexities of 'development'

The power of the ‘package’ in communicating forestry research

A multimedia package brings together a combination of text, photographs, video clips, audio, graphics and interactivity together on a website. At CIFOR we tend to create a platform or landing page, which features a number of the following:
Online publications (drawn from our RSS feeds)
Blogs (taken from our CIFOR blog site, posts created in WordPress)
Videos (listed in Youtube)
Photos or photo stories (featured on Flickr)
Powerpoint presentations (from SlideShare)

The aim is to use a variety of different media to tell a story of your research in a compelling and informative way. Think of every blog, video or photo as a ‘teaser’ intended to engage the audience and encourage them to explore your research further, for example, by downloading your policy brief or working paper. At CIFOR, we always ensure that our packages include links to relevant research papers, and we have seen a strong correlation between readership of packages, increased downloads of linked publications, and increased citations of these publications in scientific journals.
Deliver your ideas to policy makers the digital way, fast: With the proliferation of media channels and so many research organisations releasing a wide range of products, policy makers are saturated with information. A targeted multimedia package, containing strong and relevant content that is well promoted through social media and digital channels will undoubtedly stand out from the crowd. Whilst presenting at the U.N. climate negotiations in Durban, the Costa Rican Environment Minster commented on a ‘great map of REDD+ projects across the world’ that he had read about on CIFOR’s blog. The story was part of a package of stories to update policymakers with the latest news and research on forests – it shows that you never know who is reading.
Interesting coincidence...I liked the post because of the communication aspects and then realized that the contents engages with REDD as well...

Work life balance: How we can put “work” and “life” on equal levels

Having been working in development since 2006 I, too, experienced the difficulties of bringing together one’s aspirations of “doing good” while ending up in an environment where many people holding junior positions (and not only those) feel enormous pressure. This pressure often resulted from aiming at being promoted to the next higher level (where there were fewer positions available), waiting for short-term contracts to be renewed or simply wishing to get positive recommendations for future applications. Maintaining relationships and friendships or thinking about having children often came second or third or hardly at all.
I am not suggesting this was a nice and easy task (and an evidence-based best practice collection yet has to be put together), but here are a few strategies I found helpful for improving my own work life balance.
My colleague Claire Grauer on some of the all-too-familiar challenges that the 'Generation Y' faces in development life- and workstyles over at the great 'Women Working in Aid and Development'.

The Chickens and Goats of Uganda’s Internet

Could internet culture be a bridge culture, much like hip hop and Hollywood films have done so successfully? Everywhere I travel, people know Michael Jackson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. These cultural references are driven by large companies, but internet culture is more bottom-up. It’s at once universal and at once highly local. Ugandans don’t have lolcats, and they don’t have lolchickens. Ugandan internet lingo doesn’t use the word “lol”; they have their own laughter words online like “*dead” (for dying of laughter). But we in the West can still relate to and understand Ugandan internet humor, just as they can understand Western cat memes.
As more and more people join the internetz, we often talk about opportunities for politics, commerce, education and exchange of information. But I also think we shouldn’t forget about why most people come online in the first place–to chat with friends and share funny pictures. The internet is a highly cultural and creative space. Though prosaic on the surface, what we chat about and what we share will be quite different around the world. And perhaps that too is a vehicle for telling stories.
No meme, cat, or Ugandan animal picture should be safe from ethnographic inquiry ;)! But seriously, this is an enjoyable Internet ethnographic contribution when local and global digital cultures meet.

Blogging as post-publication peer review: reasonable or unfair?

The response by the authors highlights another issue: now that the paper has been published, the expectation is that anyone who has doubts, such as me, should be responsible for checking the veracity of the findings. As we say in Britain, I should put up or shut up. Indeed, I could try to get a research grant to do a further study. However, I would probably not be allowed by my local ethics committee to do one on such a small sample and it might take a year or so to do, and would distract me from my other research. Given that I have reservations about the likelihood of a positive result, this is not an attractive option. My view is that journal editors should have recognised this as a pilot study and asked the authors to do a more extensive replication, rather than dashing into print on the basis of such slender evidence.
Finally, a comment on whether it is fair to comment on a research article in a blog, rather than going through the usual procedure of submitting an article to a journal and having it peer-reviewed prior to publication. The authors’ reactions to my blogpost are reminiscent of Felicia Wolfe-Simon’s response to blog-based criticisms of a paper she published in Science: "The items you are presenting do not represent the proper way to engage in a scientific discourse”. Unlike Wolfe-Simon, who simply refused to engage with bloggers, Facoetti and Gori show willingness to discuss matters further, and present their side of the story, but they nevertheless it is clear they do not regard a blog as an appropriate place to debate scientific studies.
The politics of research and peer-reviewed publication - and the emerging question of the value of non-traditional post-publication (peer) review through social media.

The Commercialization of Academia: A Case Study

In America, the concern is that the sector is being pushed towards a mission dedicated solely to the production of vocationally-equipped graduates with skill sets easily measured, all administered in a commercial framework driven by ever changing business models glossily packaged in the buzzwords fashionable to the day .

We’re already there in Britain.


This has been the one constant in my experience. Each of the ten academic years I’ve been at my current institution has been subjected to some fundamental reorganization, to the point where my colleagues have a joke about it: it’s a Mao-esque permanent revolution. In this time, my department has been based in two faculties under four (soon to be five) deans, housed in three (soon to be four) “schools”, with four different heads of school, and my department has had five chairs. The university writ large has seen a massive building program, the consolidation of branch campuses on the main campus, the reduction in faculties from eight, to five, and then a year later four. Physically, my department has moved offices twice in two years, and for some three times. We’re facing yet another physical move in the summer of 2014, as our extant offices are redeveloped into on-campus housing for students. My own major has been reduced to a minor twice; once in 2005, for reasons that remain somewhat mysterious but corresponded with the sacking of two colleagues. Following the byzantine process of validation, which I’ve now achieved a certain proficiency at, it relaunched three years later, only to have it suddenly pulled on that Saturday morning, three years ago.
A long essay for the forthcoming long weekend on how commercialization has become part of a 'permanent revolution' in academia, creating an ever-increasing dynamic of uncertainty and pressure, in this case in the UK.


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