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Hello all,

Welcome to this Thursday's double feature (book review + link review)!
Amartya Sen's words of wisdom kick off this week's post and there are quite a few more stories to enjoy: From the beltway development industry to participatory video, a call to 'send them to the field!', a balanced view on Kibera slum tourism and MSF's error reporting. Some guy at Yale wants to reinvent social science and African library leadership, advice on choosing the perfect place for a PhD and the reloaded 'prisoner's dilemma' wrap up the academic part of the review.


New on aidnography
Radical Approaches to Political Science (book review)
You have to be a bit of a polsci nerd to fully enjoy Radical Approaches to Political Science. Roads Less Traveled, a collection of essays by German political scientist Rainer Eisfeld.
But if you choose to indulge in this eclectic collection, I can almost promise you that you will come across new and interesting insights from fields of inquiry that are certainly not political science mainstream or well-covered by conventional literature. And even though Rainer Eisfeld does not explicitly talk about ‘international development’ he actually presents quite a few things that are relevant in the context of regime (changes), history and the complex shades of grey that often get lost in dominant black and white narratives.

‘Critics cry “unaffordable” only when the beneficiaries are the poor’
There are lessons there for India which we have persistently overlooked thanks to the strong temptation — often fed by the business media — to see the pursuit of growth to be a matter of cunning commercial policy, in particular providing extra incentives for business, rather than as a social and economic exercise of enhancing human lives and human productivity. I am not against incentives being offered for economic expansion (and Indian entrepreneurs are admirably adaptable and responsive), but the balance that has been lost requires emendation through appropriate reorientation of public policy and democratic pressure to make policy priorities more humane as well as more intelligent.
Nothing like words of wisdom by Amartya Sen to kick off this week's link review!

Main trends in humanitarian aid 2012: less successful appeals; rise of Turkey; poor countries doing a lot of the heavy lifting
Turkey was the fourth-largest donor of humanitarian assistance in 2012 (over US$1bn or 0.13% of GNI). This illustrates the rising significance of ‘emerging’ donors but also more comprehensive reporting of humanitarian assistance from a much wider range of providers. (...)
Many of the poorest countries provide humanitarian assistance by hosting refugees – for example Pakistan hosted over 1.7m refugees in 2011, Kenya 567,000 and Chad 367,000.
Duncan Green summarizes the latest edition of the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report.

Measuring the impact of international aid
Since then, Social Impact, their 100-person Arlington-based firm, has won contracts with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department, the World Bank, the United Nations Children’s Fund and Georgetown University, among others. Bringing in about $22 million in revenue this year, Social Impact provides qualitative or quantitative evaluations and consulting services. Three-quarters of the firm’s staff work in Arlington, while the rest are sent overseas for years at a time, working in the field in locations such as Lebanon and Zimbabwe.
This Washington Post article is meant as a small business success story and I am sure that Social Impact does excellent work and has dedicated people. But as commentators have noticed: Why do those $22 million have to be spent on beltway firm? There is growing local capacity for M&E work and the 'send staff to Zimbabwe' model needs to become outdated to ensure that more of the proverbial taxpayer's money is spent abroad and not on the domestic development industry.

A scoping and partnership building visit by Nick Lunch, Director, Insightshare
As my photos show (see link below), I was able to meet community groups across the region and spend time talking, listening, sharing some of the basic PV exercises, screening community films from other places, and discussing local needs and global themes. Ultimately I was there to explore the value of PV to these groups. Back in the UK I am convinced of the value PV can have as a tool to affirm cultural identity, strengthen resilience and to use for advocacy and exchange. Our challenge is to build capacity and a sustainable legacy in the region.
Nick Lunch reflects on his recent visit to Northern Kenya and the use of participatory video.

Send them to the field!
From my experiences in Asia, getting at the root of the problem takes time and intimacy with the local people and culture in “the field” – a field visit or two is not enough. A person can ask as many questions as they possibly can think up over a three-day period and not get a straight answer that touches on the real issue. Situations are most effectively and thoroughly assessed through everyday relationships, through which free-flow, long-term conversations can take place.
The result of this would be actual outcomes, realistic approaches, improved partnerships and lines of communication, and generally more effective projects. (Not to mention the theoretical decentralization advantages of giving local governance a voice, see above.) The field gives easy access to our most knowledgeable informant: the beneficiary.
Alison Rabe has started a great discussion over at It has been a busy week, but by early next week my response will be up and I will try to challenge some of the assumptions about 'the field'...

The New Yorker's John Lee Anderson Goes to "Mali"
I do know a bit about Mali, but I hardly recognize Anderson’s version of it. There is a strange tail-wagging quality to his article—as in the tail wagging the dog, and the inconsequential muscling out the meaningful. The best parts of Anderson’s Afghanistan work drew straight-forwardedly on conversations with Afghans rendered in his dry, precise prose. In this piece, even people who talk sense and who know what they are talking about are drowned out by the sensational and by Anderson’s own pre-conceived but poorly supported ideas. So here are a few facts.
Gregory Mann on yet another journalist's field visit to a strange, foreign place somewhere in Africa...

Is Slum Tourism Wrong? Kibera’s Residents Voice Their Opinions
Indeed, most people I spoke to along the route were positive about slum tourists. To Frederick Otieno, 28, who sells water and washes cars with a youth group, tourists mean potential donors. “When muzungu (white people) go to see animals, it is mostly the government that benefits,” he said. “We’d rather prefer that the muzungu comes to see us because they [might] come and fund a school here.” Otieno’s hope isn’t so far-fetched. In some blocks of this Kibera neighborhood, almost every other storefront is a local or foreign NGO, and volunteers and interns flock to the area every summer.
Still, perhaps a hundred thousand people live in Kibera, and tours like Samuel’s bring in only a few tourists a day in the high season. So Evelynne Shiangala, who heads an HIV/AIDS support group that sells beaded necklaces and colorful cloth wraps to tourists, was more measured in her expectations of slum tourism. “Sometimes it becomes a profit for the people in Kibera and sometimes not,” she said. “Not all the people will benefit from the tourists.”
An interesting and balanced review of Kibera slum tourism. Like with any other form of tourism there are those who benefit and those who will not. Also important to know that the scale seems smaller-maybe slum tourism has been over-reported and over-academicized?!

To Err is Humanitarian
The introduction of the error reporting system has led to learning at all levels in MSF – for individuals, teams in our programmes and for staff in headquarters. Reading the reports of things that went wrong has been at times troubling, but mostly it has been both humbling and inspiring. The courage of our staff to share mistakes and openly discuss how to do better is impressive. The response of patients and families to disclosure has in most cases, been encouraging despite some extremely challenging environments. There remains a long way to go. Yet even with these early steps we have been able to make changes in how we work in order that mistakes, such as the one I made as a young doctor all those years ago, can perhaps be prevented in the future.
Cudos to MSF for going beyond fail fare fanfare when it comes to engaging with failure. I also like the non-disguising way of using the word 'error'.

Episode 11: Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch
The executive director of Human Rights Watch is on the line this week.
Ken Roth and I have a fascinating discussion about contemporary human rights issues. He discusses the role that his father, who fled Nazi Germany, played in shaping his outlook on human rights; how the human rights landscape has shifted since the Cold War and after September 11th; and why the Human Rights Movement needs to evolve as global centers of power become more diffuse.
Great podcast on UN Dispatch to wrap up this week's development link review!

Let’s Shake Up the Social Sciences
It is time to create new social science departments that reflect the breadth and complexity of the problems we face as well as the novelty of 21st-century science. These would include departments of biosocial science, network science, neuroeconomics, behavioral genetics and computational social science. Eventually, these departments would themselves be dismantled or transmuted as science continues to advance.
One friend who happens to teach at Yale summed it up nicely: 'Hasn't Nicholas Christakis heard about Anthropology?!'...This kind of seemingly inter- and multidisciplinary research only looks good on paper and may work well in the sheltered environment of Ivy League universities that have money to burn. But in the reality of academic evaluations, grant applications, peer-review and policy advice 'neuroeconomics' et al. sound sexier than they probably will be. Well-funded, 'proper' disciplinary research will produce relevant and interesting findings. Just hire more historians or anthropologists and you will see...

Leadership in African Libraries
One on one conversations with librarians revealed the persistence of challenges that have been well recognised for years now, particularly inadequate ICT infrastructure, the puzzlingly low use by teachers and researchers of the e-resources that have been purchased for them by their librarians and the distrust of Open Access journals and books.
But for every one of those, there was a story of recent change and improvement or of a determination to make a difference – of a research and education ICT network just getting off the ground in Nigeria, of a possible national focus group to drive towards full use of information in universities, of students enrolled to act as ambassadors for the library driving their peers to use journals and books, of embracing social media to communicate with students and faculty.
Great insights from a recent conference of the Africa Library Summit!

10 truths a PhD supervisor will never tell you
Do not select a supervisor who needs you more than you need him or her. Gather information. Arm yourself with these 10 truths. Ask questions. Make a choice with insight, rather than respond – with gratitude – to the offer of a place or supervision.
Great advice from Tanya Brabazon. The only piece missing for me is the powerful truth of whether or not you should be doing a PhD in the first place and whether a good supervisor should be open with you about this possibility...

Prisoners and their dilemma
We report insights into the behavior of prisoners in dilemma situations that so famously carry their name. We compare female inmates and students in a simultaneous and a sequential Prisoner's Dilemma. In the simultaneous Prisoner's Dilemma, the cooperation rate among inmates exceeds the rate of cooperating students. Relative to the simultaneous dilemma, cooperation among first-movers in the sequential Prisoner's Dilemma increases for students, but not for inmates. Students and inmates behave identically as second movers. Hence, we find a similar and significant fraction of inmates and students to hold social preferences.
The original 'prisoner's dilemma' reloaded-this time with actual inmates of a German prison. Looks like inmates are actually more cooperative than the group of students that is usually group for this experiment...


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