Links & Contents I Liked 86

Hello all,

There's the factual (elections in Zimbabwe, innovation in Kampala & more new publications), there's the critical (Are Canadian diplomats pampered? Are charity CEOs overpaid? Are RCTs overrated? Is Qatar really a wonderful place for academics?) and there's the uplifting (Why you should be less aid-cynical and why you need to be kind in your life-great graduation speech!) -- in other words: All the things you have come to expect from the weekly link review ;)!


Zimbabwe’s elections 2013: more confusion, more uncertainty

The political uncertainty that these elections have delivered means that, sadly once again, the immediate future is in the balance. Whoever individual Zimbabweans voted for, the final overall outcome may not be what anyone wanted – which was peace and stability. As a friend commented on the phone from Gwanda just now: "It's trouble again". Let's hope that a spirit of accommodation and compromise prevails.
Ian Scoones' nuanced post on the uncertainty after elections in Zimbabwe is a good starting for catching up on the latest elections.

Mission Report: Technology and Innovation in Kampala

This report highlights the preliminary findings of a field trip conducted to explore the use of technology and innovation in refugee’s livelihoods in the urban setting of Kampala, Uganda. The fieldwork examined three things. First, it highlights refugees’ own use of innovation in relation to their livelihoods. Second, it discusses the broader landscape of innovation spaces available in Uganda, as a means to explore what insights and opportunities they might offer for refugee innovation. Third, it offers a summary of the findings based on time spent researching a refugee focused business model for a sanitary women’s product offered by MakaPads by the company Technology for Tomorrow.
Very interesting report with great examples explores the nexus between technology, innovation and refugee's economic activities.

Special Issue: The Impact and Effectiveness of Transparency and Accountability Initiatives

This issue of Development Policy Review arises from a study of the impact and effectiveness of transparency and accountability initiatives (TAIs) in different development sectors. It analyses existing evidence, discusses how approaches to learning about TAIs might be improved, and recommends how impact and effectiveness could be enhanced.
This special issue edited by IDS Sussex researchers is currently (?) available as open access!

Development Research: The Shape of Things to Come?

While I welcomed the introduction of RCTs and Systematic Reviews into the development toolbox 4-5 years ago, in my view, their advocates have gone way too far and have overplayed their hand. Over and over I see excellent research being blanked out of decision making because it does not fit the narrow definitions of RCTS and Sys Revs. Bizarrely, senior researchers within funding organisations are advocating these methods in a one-eyed way without themselves ever having done one! I can only hope the pendulum will swing back to the middle--and soon.
Lawrence Haddad who will be leaving IDS Sussex later this year reflects on some broader issues of development research and communication.

Beyond the Echo Chamber

To achieve a revolutionary shift in how Canada and Canadians engage the developing world, such an in-group conversation is insufficient. A true dialogue, inclusive equally of aid enthusiasts and critics, cross-partisan politically, and incorporating voices of Canadians who might not deal with development issues in their day-to-day lives would be more desirable to achieve the sorts of important shifts that McArthur outlines in his series.
Making development a central concern of Canadian society’s relationship with the rest of the world must extend beyond simply using development assistance to shore up Canadian interests and certainly requires something more than an enlightened self-interest that argues we protect ourselves by helping others.
Liam Swiss' post certainly extends beyond Canada and Canadian development debates. But in the highly professionalised aid industry of today I am not sure what dialogue beyond the 'echo chamber' (which is quite big, but also very elite-driven, comprising academia, think tanks, NGOs, policy-making etc.) is really feasible-and desirable. Maybe we have to accept the fact that 'development' will only be of interest to relatively few people outside the circles who are involved in it more or less professionally? And quite frankly how many debates along the lines of 'let's build more schools' and 'let's waste less aid on fragile states somewhere' can you really have?!

It’s not all champagne and caviar in the foreign service

But many Canadian diplomats may never get the chance to be stationed in such cities with all their attractions. Instead, many find themselves serving in countries embroiled in civil wars like Egypt or countries rife with dangerous health and living conditions, chronic food shortages, lack of potable water and confronted by racial and religious tensions. Many such countries can and do take a toll on diplomats and their families.
While representing Canadian national interests in other nations obviously has considerable appeal, knowing that one will be able to return to a country like Canada with its stability, respect for human rights, relative prosperity and open-mindedness towards all members of society, is something which should make anyone grateful.
The debate about the foreign service and remuneration packages for diplomatic personnel has been going on for quite while in Canada. Harry Sterling's comment focuses a bit too much on the traditional and conservative notions of foreign service (not just in Canada--you could basically insert any OECD country in this text). Highly skilled and motivated, family-oriented representatives of a country should be compensated accordingly, no doubt. But in an age of job uncertainty, short term contracts, vountourism and really tough humanitarian assignments the foreign service provides some form of a nice cushion-even with air pollution in Ankara or Seoul...

Charity CEOs' pay: let's talk about transparency

There should be a public debate on salaries in the NGO-sector, just as there should be one on salaries in higher education, the health service, banks and so on. The amount people get paid is a moral matter, as well as social, economic and political – and one that needs to be openly discussed. But let us not be distracted from what is really important: boosting transparency and openness in all organisations that work with the poor and marginalised, regardless of where they get their funding, and regardless of whether their CEO is one of the few in the sector who receives a six-figure salary.
After an article on Foreign aid charities defend rising executive salaries another interesting debate about the development industry and its professionalism ensued. I mostly agree with Michael Jennings-although 'transparency' seems to have become one of those buzzwords that you can use to 'highjack' any aid-related discussion and that often seems to replace tough discussions or decisions. The aid industry is an industry. Some people chose it as a 'career'. And the line between 'greed' and 'attractive compensation' needs to be re-negotiated regularly.

Women in leadership: 'It's not going to work the way we're doing it'

Surprisingly, given the development sector's championing of gender issues, the challenges faced by women working in NGOs echo those faced by women in male-dominated sectors. "I'm not sure that the barriers for women's leadership in the NGO sector generally are that different from those in other sectors, which is a bit disappointing", says Loretta Minghella, director of ChristianAid, reflecting on her time working in finance and as a lawyer.
Another important, but also long-standing and almost-impossible-to-resolve issue. But given the disproportionate ratio of female-male development students, won't the numbers work in favor of women in the medium term compared to many other industries? It's more complicated, of course, but if we can't get this right in development, where else can we?!

The Sneakernet Reality of Big Data in Africa

In this context, I see a major challenge, and therefore opportunity, in automating data collection and aggregation processes like this with management information systems to have accurate, real-time data for better decisions that also happens to produce rich, detailed big data, which can be made into open data and benefit all educational stakeholders – from children to their parents to teachers and administrators, right up to the Education Minister.
And to be realistic, until countries invest in this basic, unsexy, and often ignored level of infrastructure, we’ll never have “big data” nor Open Data in Tanzania or anywhere else.
Wayan Vota on the challenges of using offline, non-digital 'big data' to create meaningful open data initiatives for example in the education sector.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust the Moneylender

This made me realise that the times that I’ve unfairly assumed bad faith far outnumber the times that I’ve been innocently cheated. I think distrust and cynicism can act as a protective barrier, helping to cope with disorientating changes of environment and personnel. This may help keep many aid workers sane – but also contributes to their tendency to lock themselves up in compounds, seek out expat bars and isolate themselves from the world in which they work. So next time you take a taxi, trust the fare meter.
I wouldn't go as far as aidleap and trust taxi meters, but on a more serious note s/he makes a good point about the protective barrier of cynicism that provides its own tunnel vision.

Storify Has Competition, and It’s Called Brickflow

Brickflow allows users to search for hashtags and compile corresponding pieces of content (bricks) found across Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Tumblr into a workable story. You can drag and drop each tile where you want it, piecing together a sensible visual narrative, and voila — you’ve got embeddable and sharable content for the Web. If the topic doesn’t need to be chronological, you can “remix” your flow and rearrange the story.
From the digital communication corner-a new tool to 'storify' social and digital media stories.

Much ado about nothing new

The paper does not address the real research frontier in the study of conflict and climate change because it does not further our understanding of how climate variability and change result in increased risk of conflict
To the author’s credit, the paper does not purport to explain how observed climate variability and change are translated into conflict
The paper merely summarizes existing literature exploring this issue
The findings of the paper do not present an opportunity to adjust policy, programs, or diplomacy to avoid future conflicts, as they do not identify specific issues that should be addressed by such efforts.
To some extent, this makes the critique under #2 above irrelevant – the “risk of conflict” figures were never actionable anyway
Media coverage of this paper amounts to much ado about nothing new
Edward Carr dissects the recent Science article and its media coverage on whether, how and why climate change may lead to more violence and violent conflict.

An academic journey to Qatar

That afternoon, Dad took me to Education City. Not far from the malls and five-star hotels, this section of Doha is devoted to higher learning. “Looks kind of empty,” I said as we passed endless expanses of dried up seabed and desert shrubs. “Just you wait,” replied Dad, defensive of his new home. “In a few years Qatar will lead the Gulf states in education.” He then pointed to a large pile of rock and sand and said, “That’s going to be the largest teaching hospital in the Middle East.” Eventually we arrived at a school, the Qatar Academy, part of which Cornell was renting while its campus was being constructed next door – the massive ovoid lecture halls, which would become the signature element of the Cornell medical building in Qatar, were already in place.
I'm surprised that University Affairs posted this completely uncritical piece about academia and expat life in Qatar. Maybe the Gulf states invest in natural science, medicine and other 'apolitical' endeavors and pay handsomely for Western academics 'who couldn't stand retirement'. But this is only one small aspect of 'education'-one that focuses entirely on technical skills and employment in areas that are always as far away from critical political or social thinking as possible. The non-existence of basic rights for foreign workers, the premise that no scholarship can challenge a narrow interpretation of 'Islam' and the ruling powers and a range of stories from academic and non-academic colleagues who have worked in Qatar and neighboring Gulf states make it very doubtful for me to see the future of critical education there. But I'm glad David Smith's dad's hip replacement went well.

George Saunders’s Advice to Graduates

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.
So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.
Read George Saunders's speech in full for a boost of good, positive energy for the rest of the week!


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