Links & Contents I Liked 109

Dear all,

There was a simple reason why there was a short hiatus in the link review last week and I wish I could insert some fancy policy-influencing, mind-changing education or undercover field research event here. Truth is, I accidentally deleted the document where I keep my links. I know...maybe next time I will make up something fancy instead ;)!
This week features snark on development industry forecasts and celebrity engagement and more serious posts on the limitations of humanitarian aid, the gang war in Colombia, equipment graveyards in low-resource medical systems, complexity thinking 'on the ground', ICT4D in Uganda, storytelling for social change & tips from a novelist on how to be discoverable in the virtual world beyond your written product.


New on aidnography

Getting ready for #smwcph, Social Media Week in Copenhagen
Actually, Social Media Week is wrapping up today, but we had a really good time yesterday at UN City in Copenhagen for Örecomm's Communication for Development at a Crossroads –The Challenge of Social Movements event
My presentation on digital development trends is below and we also recorded all three presentations and you can find those and many more at our ComDev Bambuser channel.

Nick Kristof, professors with smart minds and lots of impact are already active outside the policy bubble!
In the end, Nick Kristof presents an outdated and very narrow picture of how academics ‘influence’ the ‘real world’ and focusing on ‘better’ policy-advice is short-sighted and simply does not reflect the range of engagement opportunities that academics actively seek to connect in- and outside of their ‘filter bubbles’ in their communities, countries as well as globally.
Instead of looking for the ‘holy grail’ of actionable policy-advice, popular publications and public intellectuals that help us steer nations through uncertain times we need to stress the many ways academics are already ‘useful’-and under more and more pressure from various institutions that proclaim academic freedom, democracy and a better future, but buy into a market-driven logic that often achieves the exact opposite.


How should INGOs prepare for the coming disruption? Reading the aid/development horizon scans (so that you don’t have to)

The even-more-awful truth is that the prose in these reports is some of the worst I come across in the aid biz, and that’s a pretty high bar. Try this: ‘This report explores whether INGOs can leverage their distinct assets to proactively create greater impact to benefit the people they serve.’ I tell you, I’m taking one for the team by reading these.
Duncan Green dissects recent reports on INGO business model 'disruptions' filled with managerial bullshit bingo terms and deserved our respect for doing so!

An NGO's Handbook for Celebrity Disaster Relief

At this point, any celebrity who can find Africa on a map has been taken.
A word of advice, if you’re the development officer of a not-for-profit yearning for a celebrity of your very own: resist. Take two ibuprofen and lie down until the feeling passes. Down that path lies danger.
Amanda Taub and Kate Cronin-Furman on celebrities and disaster relief. Nothing new, really and I wonder how much damage Elizabeth McGovern's trip to Sierra Leone has really caused World Vision...I mean outside the snarky development blogopshere...

Opinion and Debate: Building resilience by deconstructing humanitarian aid

But when a response becomes a mixture of ‘all things to everybody’, about saving lives, building capacity, reducing vulnerability and ensuring sustainability – often the basics are overlooked, and there is a danger that ‘building resilience’ becomes an excuse for inaction on the basics of saving lives and alleviating suffering.
Humanitarian aid targets those individuals that are the least resilient, at a time that systems are becoming less, not more sustainable. For that reason, humanitarian aid should be left purposely outside comprehensive approaches, integrated solutions and sustainability or resilience objectives.
All these may be very laudable goals, but humanitarian aid is purposely limited, in time, in place, and in who it targets.
Great post by MSF staff members. MSF still manages to challenge development discourses and plastic words and concepts while doing great work on the ground!

Building Inclusive Coconut-Based Livelihoods in Post-Haiyan Reconstruction in the Philippines

Typhoon Haiyan damaged or destroyed more than 33 million coconut trees in the Philippines in November 2013, putting at risk the livelihoods of more than one million farming households. This paper summarizes the key results of consultations in affected provinces, held to help inform the government’s rehabilitation and recovery plans and ensure that their implementation is inclusive and participatory.
New paper from Oxfam on coconut trees and reconstruction efforts in the Philippines.

War for Cocaine Corridors Consumes Colombia's Busiest Port

The reason for this violence lies in Buenaventura's strategic location: the city is one of the most prized territories in the Colombian underworld.
Located on the southern Pacific coast in the department of Valle del Cauca, it is surrounded by a mangrove labyrinth consisting of kilometers of waterways connecting the cocaine processing laboratories of the 30th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to the open sea.
According to the Coast Guard, an estimated 250 tons of cocaine moves through these waterways each year, the majority in speedboats destined for Panama and Costa Rica. The city itself is the beating heart of this trade: it is where the deals are made, logistics are arranged and money is laundered.
While the city has suffered for over 15 years at the hands of drug traffickers, guerrilla militias and paramilitary groups, the current round of conflict can be traced to the fall and rise of two criminal groups that have dominated the country's underworld since the demobilization of Colombia's paramilitary movement: the Rastrojos and the Urabeños.
James Bargent reports from Colombia again. Very important reminder that beneath any discourse of how Colombia is doing better/well still lies a huge drug problem that won't go away until legalization in North America and Europe.

If a piece of equipment breaks in a hospital and there’s no one to fix it, does it make a sound?

All of which is to say: We don’t have to accept medical device graveyards as inevitable. But if hospitals in low-resource settings are forced to use equipment that wasn’t designed with them in mind, that’s what we’ll get.
Getting rid of equipment graveyards starts with recognizing the importance of Knowing Thy Hospital, and building devices – and an accompanying repair ecosystem – to fit what the hospital needs.
Mike Miesen and the challenge of 'equipment graveyards' in low-resource medical systems.

The Unbearable Lightness of ICT4Development – Picking the flies out of success and failure in Uganda

There are still too many people developing ICT4D applications whose primary skills are technical. Relatively few organisations have a deep and rooted understanding of their core audiences and not many conduct real tests on their user interfaces and make changes to them.
They tend to assume that if there is a rational, efficiency based case for a service, people will see it as a “no brainer” and use it. Far from it as behavior often only changes slowly and has other perverse incentives. One education SMS app we looked at had the facility to let head teachers know when teacher’s wages were in the bank. Thus it was argued that this would prevent long and unnecessary journeys to the nearest town to discover this in person. Nobody actually thought that the head teachers might actually enjoy these breaking up their routine with these jaunts.
The first part of this newsletter is a very provides a good overview over some bigger ICT4D projects in Uganda and how they work in practice and also highlights some of the reasons why many ICT4D projects fail.

Complexity science meets bottom-up development

But, he then asked, “what happens when ‘is’ meets ‘ought’?” Meaning, what happens when practitioners come face to face with the tension between dealing with realities on the ground and the top-down goals they work towards.
In Ball’s view, there must be a compromise between how things appear to happen and how things should be — and that’s where he sees a role for systems modelling. He used the example of the route of park trails being designed by first trying to understand how people actually use them.
Non-intuitive behaviour can be modelled, he said, and can lead to bottom-up solutions. There’s potential value in figuring out how people are naturally predisposed, rather than imposing a structure or an idea from the top down.
It seems to me that the potential of complexity science is yet another reason to support any effort that aims to strengthen data collection and statistical capabilities in the developing world.
Interesting summary of a discussion with Ben 'Aid on the Edge of Chaos' Ramalingam. I am a bit skeptical whether this is at all a direction where 'the industry' is moving towards. And data collection and statistics have never been used for 'smarter' more complex yet bottom-up aid work. Only for more statistical analysis, mathematical and econometric models and more monitoring and evaluation. I am not convinced...

What’s so special about storytelling for social change?

Michael Margolis, a San Francisco-based ‘story architect,’ makes this point elegantly by asking that our stories of social change become love stories. His argument is that undermining belief systems – a necessary step in social change – requires an emphasis on shared values and commonality. These shared values can then be used to show when, why and how some people aren’t living up to them in practice.
I like this post because it situates story-telling in a unique space between marketing, thinking along shared values and creating a vision of social change.

The Business Rusch: Blogs, Guest Blogs, and Blog Interviews (Discoverability Part 9)

Everything I say here, everything, MUST take place after you’ve finished writing your story/book/novel. Do NOT take ANY of this advice into your writing office. None of it. Be an artist: write what you love. When you’re done, then worry about marketing it. This new world of publishing allows us to write whatever we want and publish it. Please take advantage of that. When you write, be an artist, be a great storyteller, not a marketer or a salesperson.
Every once in a while a clearly not development-related post makes it into the link review. This time novelist Kristine Rusch continues to share some great insights into marketing your written work, run a creative online presence and be discoverable--with piece of advice certainly applicable to development and academic bloggers and their work, too!


“Divorce your theory” – A conversation with Paul Farmer (part two)

Here is how I feel: It doesn’t matter if my ideas are not that influential in academic circles. If someone doesn’t like a paper I wrote in an anthropology journal, that’s OK. You know, I’ll try some other time, or maybe try a new idea, right? I am not inside a single institution; I am not inside a single hospital at Harvard, or in Haiti. I admire people who can do that – enclose themselves – but I can’t.
And I am not offended when people don’t like a paper I wrote. I used to be when I was a graduate student, but I was cured of that by being a physician and working in places like Haiti.
Anthropologist and so much more Paul Farmer on ivory towers (good for reflections!) and more!


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