Links & Contents I Liked 76

Hello all,

Quite a range of interesting links (as you would expect...)! My move to Sweden and co-authored research on the development blogosphere lead right into more interesting links on American food aid, Canadian ODA and Kenyan anti-corruption
efforts. There's more on the power of social media, the difficult times of international journalism and two pieces on an individual exit from the aid industry and organizational exit strategies of project funders round off the development part.
The interview with the author of 'Interviewing Users' is a great pieces on the value of organizational ethnography, before a peace researcher lifts the curtain of the academic paper production process and confesses 'I never knew Kenneth Waltz'! Finally, OnThinkTanks asks for more social science innovation in Latin America and an open-access special issue of the Political Studies Review engages with 'tyranny of relevance' and impact.


New on Aidnography
Aidnography will be moving to Sweden!

New research by Aidnography (& Andrea Papan)
Reflexive engagements: the international development blogging evolution and its challenges
Writing weblogs (blogs) has become a substantial part of how development is discussed on the Internet. Based on experiences as blogger, this article is an exploratory case study to approach the impact of blogging on reflective writing, work practices as well as knowledge management. Based on research with development bloggers and the authors' own social media practice, the article undertakes an analysis of bloggers’ motivations and the potential as well as limitations of blogs for different sectors of the industry, for example in academia, inside aid organisations and in understanding expatriate aid workers. Finally, the article explores the question of whose voice is represented in blogs.

I posted this long-overdue article just in time for today's social media debate at the GUARDIAN. Once the official article will be online with latest issue of Development in Practice there will be a proper blog post-and, more importantly, a proper 'Thank You' message to all the colleagues I contacted throughout the research!

What We're Reading: Recommended Books in Peace and Security

A list of books on peace and security, recommended by staff at the International Peace Institute
Like myself, the IPI likes books...

For Inclusive and Dynamic Development in Sub-Saharan Africa

The JICA Research Institute has prepared a report that summarizes the experiences amassed by JICA and its thinking regarding African development. The report, titled "For Inclusive and Dynamic Development in Sub-Saharan Africa," was put together in the hopes that it would contribute to the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V), which will be held in June this year, as well as to subsequent international debates regarding African development.
This is basically a open-access book from JICA-and since they are doing interesting work, but are usually a bit underrepresented in global development discussions it is worth sharing.

How to get food aid right

Yet a powerful coalition of U.S. agribusinesses, shippers and a few international development organizations want to block this sensible proposal. Why? This “iron triangle” of special interests benefits from the outdated arrangements, at the expense of taxpayers and hungry people around the world. Agribusinesses get a small profit boost, but mainly a reliable government market without having to compete all around the world for this business. But thanks to high food prices in global markets American farms and agribusinesses have enjoyed record profits in recent years and don’t need more handouts.
And interesting post on US development debates that - as usual - come with partisan baggage on each side...

Corruption? Don’t try it at my university please, an Internet site developed by concerned individuals, among them professionals and students who prefer to remain anonymous, is now in Kenya and university students are using it to expose malpractices in their institutions, including corruption.
Bottom-up anti-corruption initiative from Kenya that hopefully strengthens the academic system.

The Future of Canadian Aid

Liam Swiss' fancy Prezi presentation on the current state and future trends of Canadian ODA
Tomgram: David Vine, Baseworld Profiteering
But after an extensive examination of government spending data and contracts, I estimate that the Pentagon has dispersed around $385 billion to private companies for work done outside the U.S. since late 2001, mainly in that baseworld. That’s nearly double the entire State Department budget over the same period, and because Pentagon and government accounting practices are so poor, the true total may be significantly higher.
Scrolling through 1.7 million spreadsheet rows, one for each contract, offered a dizzying feel for the immensity of the Pentagon’s activities and the money spent globally. Generally, the companies winning the largest contracts have been doing one (or more) of four things: building bases, running bases, providing security for bases, and delivering fuel to bases.
David Vine is an anthropologist who has been doing incredible work on the cost of the US military presence abroad. The major reason why I'm sharing this is the mind-bogging amount of money that is involved-and how any real development (with proven 'impact' or not) will always pale against the seemingly endless flow of billions of $ for military spending.

To better understand development, stop reading development blogs

So, here, I would like to make some suggestions of blogs and other sites across a variety of disciplines and studies, and that do not mention the words ‘development’, ‘aid’ or ‘SEAWL’, but which are relevant to expanding and bursting the development bubble. I would also love to get your suggestions and interests (there are many standard suggestions in regard to economics, which is usually conflated with development, so lets try to get beyond Tyler Cowens in this field).
Brendan Rigby is absolutely right: Reading outside of the development filter-bubble can be quite liberating-and secretly, I hope that my humble link review sometimes encourages such reading, too...

Is social media the cure to poverty porn?

Criticism of pornography centers on the morality of its depictions and the exploitation of people involved.
News reports and fundraising campaigns about poverty run into similar traps when stories strip people of their dignity and, in a similar sense, objectify them. Activists decry this as poverty porn.
Tom Murphy summarizes an interesting discussion around 'poverty porn'. My take in short would be that social media is currently less influential let alone 'powerful' than 'we' think, but that compared to many other fields of development communication, social media have some potential to provide an alternative discourse that hopefully those 'in power' will be exposed to over time and maybe even change their mainstream media reporting, policy-making or communications strategy...

On Journalism and Global Development--Nicholas Kristof

But if you’re looking at lowest common denominator, I’d say that news consumption is shrinking. People aren’t getting much news from social media because they’re following Justin Bieber; they’re not following NPR.”
Some highpoints from the rest of the interview:
Why ABC decided to not renew a $1.5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to improve coverage of global health and development. (Spoiler alert: the stories won prizes but ABC discovered that viewers weren’t watching. They were leaving the TV to get snacks or go to the bathroom).
The Center for Global Development talk about the state of (development) journalism with Nick Kristof. And despite all the legitimate criticism that Kristof has received over time: Yes, he is doing a great public service job in a very difficult media and funding environment

I Came to Haiti to Do Good ...

But the longer I lived in Haiti, the less I believed in my work.
“A year spent in Haiti gets you street cred for the rest of your life,” somebody once said about what our stint in the Caribbean could mean for our careers. And that’s exactly what my development work had become: a career.
I left Haiti eight months before my contract was up. I went to Scotland, back to university, with a clear goal of my own: to quit development work and find myself a different career path. I still feel that was the most honest thing I could do for Haiti. Because another truth is that I would not have wanted to live in Port-au-Prince without that big house.
I am writing this from Haiti. I came back here eight months later to visit friends and rejoice in the country’s beauty — as a visitor. So far, nobody has asked me for money — maybe because this time I get around mostly on foot or on the back of a motorcycle taxi. But if they do, I’ll say no. If they ask: “Aren’t you here to help?” I’ll say: “No. I’m just here to be in Haiti.”
Nora Schenkel's reflections deserve a longer response, but for the time being, I would just be a bit cautious looking for a 'perfect' way to engage in today's aid industry. I think development needs people like Nora and quitting may not be the most helpful answer (although I like the idea of visiting a developing country as a 'normal' person/tourist...).

Foundations Moving On: A new guide on exits

Funders struggle with endings more than with entries. Yet, we seem have a lot of tools to support decision-making on giving grants, starting programs, entering fields and countries; however, we lack resources for developing strategies to move on. Do we actually invest enough time and thought in exits?
What should happen with the brand you developed when your pilot is being scaled-up by the government? Do you want researchers to be able to access your archives after you closed down your trusts? How can you best support soon-to-be-former grantees? Should you help them find a ‘replacement’ funder? How best to stay in touch? What happens with the URL? Who owns the infrastructure that was built? How much time do we give them? What if personnel has to be let go? How big should a reasonable endowment be?
To none of these questions does the new Grantcraft guide provides a blueprint-answer. Several funders shared how they answered them, but it is quite clear that there are no one-size-fits-all solution. The guide highlights helpful practices, but more importantly, I hope it triggers and feeds into internal discussions in foundations about how to improve exit practices.
Very interesting resource that really engages with many tough question that are highly relevant in international development.

Interviewing Users by Steve Portigal

This post for May’s Special Edition on ‘Talking to Companies about ethnography’ comes from Steve Portigal who has a new book out this month titled Interviewing Users. As someone who’s been in the trenches for decades now running his own successful consultancy, Steve has done a great deal of both ‘interviewing users’ and ‘talking to companies about ethnography.’ Below we take the opportunity to interview him!
Chris Conley has described how modern corporate life is dominated by PowerPoint (along with email and meetings). I can’t speak to the history of adoption that has led to this but it’s certainly the context in which we’re engaging with people in corporations. I was bummed the other day to hear a presentation from a junior researcher inside a major technology company who was creating research decks that weren’t even to be presented, just emailed to the team who commissioned the research. I think the context here is an evolving belief (aka “lean” and its friends) that while we should be talking to customers, we shouldn’t be making a big deal out of it. There’s no time for aligning on objectives, framing the problem and ensuring we have the right people to talk to. There’s certainly no time to deeply analyze the kind of data that comes from research and so it’s not too surprising that the default tools in those types of organizations are the ones that generate the least creative friction. Ultimately, I care less about the formats we use than whether or not we are connecting with people in the organization around what they can do with what we’ve learned.
What I particularly like about the interview is that I immediately spotted the similarities between the corporate world and the world of aid donor bureaucracies...

I never knew Kenneth Waltz

Over the past few years I have been working on ideas of hybridity and resistance. I have to admit to having only the scantest knowledge of the works of Bourdieu, Foucault, Spivak and de Certeau. Frankly, although their ideas are important, I find their word very difficult to read. Usually whenever I give a conference or workshop paper, my fellow panellists or audience members mention these authors. I used to feel like a fraud, hoping that they wouldn’t uncover the fact that my knowledge of these people was paper thin. But now I’m happy to be a fraud. You see, I have got myself to similar intellectual positions as Bourdieu, Foucault, Spivak and de Certeau by observing my daily life, and my very broad reading. I hasten to add that I am in no way comparing the sophistication of my thinking to the likes of Foucault! I’m still messing about with Play Dough while they were building grand temples. I’m merely reflecting that I have been able to work out that the meanings of words matter, that politics is everywhere, and that power is often hidden and takes multiple forms without wading through their work in great detail. I have read a little of it, appreciated it, but have not done the cultish thing of reading everything and obsessively citing them.
Roger MacGinty confirms that like sausage-making you may not want to know all the details of academia-making ;)! But more seriously, he makes great case for intellectual debates inspired by great thinkers, but without a cult-ish engagement with their scriptures...

Developing countries are investing in science and technology, but what about the social sciences?

What is worrying, however, is this apparent trend among Latin American countries to invest heavily in innovation and research in science and technology, and not doing the same for the social sciences. Peru, for instance, has a state –funded scholarship program for those secondary school students living below the poverty line who want to go to university. But there’s a catch: they must study something related to science and technology if they want to be eligible for the scholarship. It is understandable that developing countries want to focus on the “hard sciences” – they bring investors and stimulate the economy. Nevertheless, let us hope that they understand that science does not cure all evils.
OnThinkTank's Andrea Moncada on the challenges that equaling 'innovation' automatically with natural science methodologies can have on creating knowledge societies in Latin America.

Political Studies Review: Symposium on Relevance and Impact in Political Science

The ‘tyranny of relevance’ captures a widespread sense of concern among social and political scientists that their academic freedom and professional autonomy is under threat from a changing social context in which scholars are increasingly expected to demonstrate some form of social ‘relevance’, ‘impact’ or ‘engagement’ beyond academe. This article attempts to reframe the current debate by reflecting upon the history of the discipline and different forms of scholarship in order to craft an argument concerning the need for political scientists to rediscover ‘the art of translation’. This, in turn, facilitates a more sophisticated grasp of key concepts, emphasises the need for the discipline to engage with multiple publics in multiple ways, and suggests that engaging with non-academic audiences is likely to improve not simply the discipline's leverage in terms of funding, or scholarship in terms of quality, but also teaching in terms of energy and relevance. The simple argument of this article is not therefore that political science has become irrelevant, but that it has generally failed to promote and communicate the social value and benefit of the discipline in an accessible manner. Resolving this situation is likely to demand a little political imagination.
Great open-access collection of articles that address the 'impact debate' from a political science perspective.


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