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Hello all,

A busy week with a full plate of interesting links!

New literature on conflict prevention and ICT and the limitations of 'trickling down/up' accountability through technology; more on ICT pilotitis; goodwill ambassadors and good ideas gone big and bad...
My reading recommendation for this week is Natalia P. Hule's essay on the pros & cons of being a development professional in India and beyond.
Two anthropologists ask challenging questions about the afterlife of generals in Sierra Leone and life under democracy in Mongolia. Lastly, a look at redefining MOOCs, CaSs & POOCs and a great essay on the birth of social media science.

I am on my way to Berlin, but there will be new content on aidnography next week; however there will probably be no link review as we are busy with our ComDev retreat and teaching seminar at the European Liberal Arts College.


New from aidnography
Online lecture on development, fiction & development fiction
As part of our regular ComDev teaching I spoke about the value of fiction as source of knowledge, links to development theory and the emergence of more and new forms of 'development fiction'. My 40 minute lecture starts around the 21:00 mark.

New Technology and the Prevention of Violence and Conflict

Amid unprecedented growth in access to information communication technologies (ICTs), particularly in the developing world, how can international actors, governments, and civil society organizations leverage ICTs and the data they generate to more effectively prevent violence and conflict? New research shows that there is huge potential for innovative technologies to inform conflict prevention efforts, particularly when technology is used to help information flow horizontally between citizens and when it is integrated into existing civil society initiatives.
As such, instead of focusing on supply-driven technical fixes, those undertaking prevention initiatives should let the context inform what kind of technology is needed and what kind of approach will work best.
New article on the potential of ICTsin conflict prevention-maybe this time conflict prevention will actually work somewhere...

Friend Not Foe

US-driven counter-terrorism policies that treat humanitarian and charitable organizations primarily as a liability are counterproductive and undermine efforts to prevent terrorism.
Short paper on islamic charities and their entanglement in US-driven counter-terrorism efforts.

Top 20 International Development Videos
David Girling at Social Media for Development collected an interesting range of development videos-from chilling campaign videos, to parodies and some usual suspects, but overall a great starting point to engage with videos for development.

Understanding ‘the users’ in Technology for Transparency and Accountability Initiatives

It is not always certain that marginalised people actually want more direct means of engaging with their governments. The people who are meant to be ‘sensitised’ and brought in are often time-poor – especially women – and also may have historic reasons to expect little responsiveness from their governments.
The gender bias in uptake of both M4W and TRAC FM draws attention to the risks of T4TAIs unwittingly 'empowering' only some kinds of citizen, which could further entrench discrimination and social exclusion rather than increase accountability and equity for all.
New IDS Policy Briefing that cautions about the seemingly natural empowerment potential of ICT to achieve more transparency and accountability.

The ICT4D Funding Conundrum And Why Pilotitis Needs to Change

I think it shows that the nitty gritty of getting any of these ideas to work is ALWAYS much more difficult than it might initially appear. It requires a stronger commitment than anyone anticipates when they first realize that technology could become a game-changer in development.
Erica Hagen on the challenges of technology-driven pilot projects. Side note: I really do not like the word 'game-changer' and the mindset that often comes with it...

Combining Local Radio and Mobile Phones to Promote Climate Stewardship

Move beyond dissemination and interaction to engagement and action – “Radio has a great value in disseminating information and making listeners aware. Adding mobile telephony can turn this into an interactive process.”
Keep technology “within the envelope…. Don’t push so far ahead with ICT [information and communication technology] innovations that you lose your project partners.”
Interesting piece on a FrontlineSMS project that, among other things, highlights the importance of radio in development communication.

How good are Goodwill Ambassadors?

Humanitarian professionals tend to cringe at the spectacle of khaki-clad celebrities handing out food rations to refugees in Sudan or singing nursery rhymes to orphans in Malawi, but there is no denying the global attention and resources that well-known personalities can bring to their chosen causes.
This is balanced introduction to debates around celebrity humanitarinism (although the article focuses on goodwill ambassadors) highlighting some of the benefits for UN organizations and NGOs. What I find interesting between the lines is that there may be a risk that well-intentioned and well-briefed celebrity ambassadors may get caught up in the celebrity journalism machine that dramatizes, reduces and speculates as they see fit.

Aid’s segmented future

Some final thoughts on the intellectual direction of travel. Firstly poverty is increasingly understood as a multi-dimensional state of identity, characterized by shame and anxiety as much as by low income. But the pioneering work of OPHI and others has yet to carry across into the kinds of debates on aid and poverty that are the focus of this blog. In addition, the debate on inequality is still largely carried on in terms of income and (at a stretch), assets and access to services. Multidimensional inequality is an essential next step.
Second, our understanding of development increasingly sees it as a complex system, in which change is unpredictable and often unattributable to any given intervention. Yet currently, the operating model of aid funding and evaluation is highly linear – there seems to be every chance of a titanic intellectual clash between the results community and the complexity thinkers.
Duncan Green's interesting reflections on aid's future always make good food for thought.

The pros and cons of being a development professional in India and just about anywhere

Ok, attention is enjoyable and one does know that it is a rarity to see a city dweller leave the comforts of urban living and come work in a village. However, it is not flattering but embarrassing to be at the receiving end of blind praise. You feel grateful for all the appreciation and praise but since only you know how much you have truly achieved, beforehand praise makes you uncomfortable. Anyway, young people who praise blindly today will be hard core critics tomorrow
This short excerpt certainly does not do justice to Natalia P. Hule's long, detailed, self-reflective post on the learning of a young aid worker. Really recommended reading!

Your ideas – better before they were famous (deal with it)

So what can a change activist do when you see your great idea taken up and messed up by others?
Maybe you should let it go, and accept that in order for an idea to be successful it will need to be taken up and adapted by others for both better and for worse (and worse for you might be better for someone else), recognizing the adoption of others is in fact one of the best measures of the quality of the idea. Maybe you can help adapt the idea, and yes, even dumb it down or commercialize it yourself to help it spread (as well as possibly to make a living out of it). That way you can also help do your best to ensure that the most critical (to you) parts of your idea are preserved.
You can keep pushing forward to further refine and develop your idea in order to improve and evolve it so it keeps being ahead of the curve – so it remains revolutionary or leading edge while everyone else is moving to where you were 5 years ago. Just remember though that in 5 years time you want them still to be following behind you.
Ian Thorpe's post on ideas going mainstream really made me think about development buzzword and discourse cycles.


Once a General, always a General?

With former commanders and ex-combatants still being active in structures that in many ways resemble the command structures of the rebel groups one could state that Liberia and Sierra Leone is still militarized, yet I would say that this is the wrong conclusion. Indeed there is still the risk that these structures could be used for yet another war. The networks have indeed been used to mobilize mercenary soldiers aimed for Côte d’Ivoire, but also to mobilize soldiers aimed for Iraq by international private security companies. They could equally be used so if a new war would be waged in Liberia and Sierra Leone. But, and I think this is the important point, the maintenance of them in the postwar has shown that they may equally be used to foster peace and stability. As such the networks are neither military nor civilian, moral nor immoral, they are neutral and what they do depends on what they are mobilized for. Thus by and large what they do depend on what the political elite wants them to do. It is politically naïve to try to destroy them and as proven by the realities in Liberia and Sierra Leone the DDR processes have only driven them under the surface. The ties are still there, but now only for the initiated to see. Quite the contrary these commander/combatants networks have proved to be the chiefly means of survival to many ex-combatants, thus the more they are severed the more likely are ex-combatants to surface in violent means of survival. Indeed in a current research project that I run together with Anders Themnér we find that the weaker ex-combatant networks are at greater risk of being remobilized.
Mats Utas on the complexities of former combatant networks in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Fascinating to read about the different roles these networks play for peace-and conflict.

Paula Sabloff: Does Everyone Want Democracy? Insights from Mongolia

While the Mongolians interviewed very much want the democratic ideals of human rights, political and economic rights and freedoms, they also want to practice their own kind of democracy. That is, they want a government that is more patron than partner.
This idea comes out of their culture (i.e., the nomadic tradition that stresses independence), socialist experience (acceptance of a passive citizenry and veneration of leaders educated to the job), current situation (adapting to capitalism and the free market), and their hopes for the future (the desire to remain independent of China or Russia, to succeed in a capitalist world, and remain free from government oppression/oversight).
Interview with anthropologist Paula Sabloff on her research and book on Mongolia. Exploring Geopolitics is a great site to discover new research and book reviews, by the way.

Rebranding: "MOOC" to "CaS"

CaS: Course at Scale.
Why CaS?
Because a Course at Scale is a much more accurate description for what goes on in one of these course than calling it a MOOC.
In fact, 3 out of the 4 words in MOOC are misleading.
Massive: Maybe? Sometimes? Perhaps the Stanford AI course could live up to that name, but most Coursera or edX courses don’t get nearly those numbers. And if we counted finishers rather than starters we are seriously diminishing the term.
Open: Not really? If a MOOC was truly open then we would be able to locate and utilize its building blocks in a different educational setting. It would be easy to transform MOOC content as all the pieces, the lectures and the assessments, would be unbundled, searchable and portable. A MOOC, as currently constituted, is only open as an entire unit - and only open during a specified time.
Online: Okay. Sure. But lots of things are now “online”. Do we call Wikipedia - “Wikipedia Online”? Appending online to courses on the Internet is sort of like appending “digital” to camera. No new information is imparted.
Course: Yes. Course is the only word in MOOC that is accurate and descriptive. A MOOC is a course in that it starts at a certain date and progresses through time with a defined cohort of learners.
A CaS (Course at Scale) is a much better definition because CaS describes the true challenge (and potential) of this new type of educational offering.
In a meeting the other day a colleague preferred 'POOCs' over 'MOOCs' to stress the participatory nature of good teaching and learning. So there is definitely movement in the movement to shape the future of academia...

Understanding You: the birth of social media science

This new universe, where Facebook likes, Instagram posts, tweets, FourSquare check-ins and Pinterest pins are important forms of political, social, intellectual and cultural expression, should have been the bread-and-butter of the ethnographer, anthropologist and sociologist. Yet they have been strangely absent. This was a revolution being fought with algorithms and infographics, new weapons that many scientists from the "softer" disciplines have been afraid, or simply unable, to wield. Others were theoretically and morally indisposed to the whole endeavour: afraid that reducing You to a number reduces your complexity, identity, even your humanity -- and, of course, they had a point.
But a new chapter is about to open with the birth of a genuinely new discipline: social media science. A small body of researchers have been chipping away, building the foundations of a way of researching social media that goes beyond metrics -- one which is now set to explode. After years of scepticism, even cynicism, the two big juggernauts -- Government and academia -- are beginning to dip their toes into these new, inviting research waters.
The next generation of researcher will be a hybrid, able to more fluently move between coding new tools and thinking about textured language and norms.
Good yo know that my research seems to be on the right path as a development anthropological social media researcher and teacher ;)!


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