Links & Contents I Liked 111

Hello all,

Finally a weekly link review that's pretty much on time ;)!
New research on peacebuilding rituals, old insights into Nepal development politics and how the ADB is only 'open' when it suits. There's more on the relationship between NGOs and journalists, a PhD thesis on OLPC, the limits of collaborative technology and 'hacking' as a life motto.
In Academia, we look at whether African PhD education will be repeating OECD mistakes, mental well-being and innovations in collaborative learning!


New on aidnography
Performing Peace-building: Conferences, Rituals and the Role of Ethnographic Research
The basic idea is to apply classic anthropological concepts such as 'ritual' and 'performance' to the expanding spaces where peacebuilding is non-happening, i.e. indoor events, workshops and conferences. As the excerpt from the conclusion indicates, the emerging 'ritual economy' of organizations and experts has become an important and powerful part to sustain a dominant discourse around liberal peacebuilding...and we need to conduct more organizational ethnography ;)!


Actually, wasn't the aim to make one Joseph Kony 'famous' and put him on trial/in jail? Is a very sad looking anniversary cake what's left of a movement that was supposed to change development communication and campaigning in the digital age...?

Cover Stories

This year, help make International Women's Day more than just a cover story.
A new form of celebrity culture meeting development campaigning...certainly interesting from an academic and visual studies perspective, but how effective is an approach that forces Western notions of fashion, sexuality etc. into the discourse of lifestlye magazine cover stories?

Why Planning Fails (and ‘failed’) in Nepal?

Planning in Nepal has little to do with anything that happens in that country. Planned targets are not met. Planned expenditures are not made. This paper explores the reasons- insufficient information, few and poor project proposals, inability to program foreign aid, opposition of the finance ministry, and severely limited capacity to administer development -given for the failure of planning. Special attention is paid to the tortuous release of funds and the effort to overcome basic political and administrative factors through surface changes in the form of organization for planning. The author argues that planning cannot create the preconditions for its own success.
So what's new you may wonder? Well, Chandan Sapkota dug deep in the archives and discovered a great article...published in 1972! So next time we need to discuss 'academic impact' we may want to point to research like this, pointing out that it is still relevant after more than forty years-something you cannot always say about policy and managerial fads and reports that come and go...great find!

Asian Development Bank failing in mission to protect poor and vulnerable

CRP also found that when ADB was provided with evidence as early as 2010 that vulnerable households were being impoverished by the project, it chose to ignore it. It did seek the expert opinion of Michael Cernea from the LSE-Brookings Institute project on internal displacement in 2012, but when he submitted his findings, the bank refused to release the full report. Instead, it published only Cernea's recommendations and launched a video that touted the project's benefits while dismissing the notion that households were being harmed. It has so far refused to pay compensation.
Despite all the enthusiasm of how the development banks are changing and how new middle classes are emerging it is thanks to critical reporting from The Guardian that we are reminded that those institutions in many ways are neither 'open' nor 'serving the poor'; Keep your open data Excel sheets and publish critical evaluations instead!

Technology hubs in Sub-Saharan Africa

Whilst it was clear that the creation of a social network centred around BongoHive was critical to the success of its projects, the success and sustainability of tech hubs is yet to be proven, according to Andrea. “At the moment there is a lot of hype around the hubs, everyone is talking about them, but it isn't yet clear how many of these hubs are successful in launching businesses,” she says. “There are also issues around power and ownership: who are the hubs for? The Zambian government has offered to pay for the expansion of BongoHive, but the offer comes with the expectation that it will contribute towards ensuring that the government is seen to be an open, technologically aware, democratic government. The members of the hub are worried that they will be working for the government rather than concentrating on developing software for the community.”
Interesting observations from the 'frontline' of the tech (hub) bubble (?) in Africa.

A PhD Thesis About OLPC Asks: What are we doing? What are we bringing?

Let me give away my position from the start: I was/am highly enthusiastic about the opportunities of new technology for learning (I have benefited from these my whole life). But studying OLPC and the project at Akila's school has convinced me that we need to fundamentally re-conceptualise what it is we do when bringing laptops, tablets, internet, etc. into impoverished settings. What OLPC projects do, I argue, is not to bring in laptops, but to reconfigure already existing networks of relations between children, teachers, hardware, software, pedagogy, parents, poverty and so forth. But my argument is not only that we should re-conceptualise what we do, but also what we bring. What is it, really, that we are working so hard to deploy/implement/sustain? I argue that XO laptops (or tablets) too are networks of relations. Not objects, not tools, but networks of relations.
As interesting as this PhD thesis sound I don't find the summary post very enlightening. I get the idea about bringing 'networks of relations', but it would be great to have a better summary of the thesis and main findings.

Journalists should not be the public relations team for NGOs

There is widespread concern that too many media stories are driven by NGOs who provide not only access, transport, and ‘facts’, but more worryingly, the narrative as well. Indeed, I have heard George Alagiah himself voice concern on this precise issue. This is not to say NGOs should not get their campaigns, findings or concerns on the news; nor that journalists should not engage with NGOs. But more care needs to be taken to both assert media independence and provide full transparency.
Mike Jennings reminds us that the NGO development industry, despite using PR mostly for 'good' still needs to be scrutinized properly before journalists become their spokespeople.

Casa Materna: A Critical Service in Need of Redesign

Contrary to what the new building may have implied, the physical upgrade of the casa materna was not emblematic of a higher standard of care offered. Many of the women reported disappointment with the attention they get from caretakers and doctors. They find themselves on the receiving end of harsh treatment and obligations to contribute to the daily operations of the facility when late in their pregnancy. When the facility’s water tank broke, women were made to haul heavy water buckets from the backyard well. One woman said she was even forced to mop floors just a few days before her delivery date.
Casas maternas are supposed to be places of support, but regulations meant to maintain an orderly experience at the facility end up regimenting the experience, limiting the diversity and quality of personal supportive care women receive.
Samantha Hammer makes an important point on 'compassionate development' and focusing on people and interactions when providing important services.

'The View from Here': Member's Blog - Experience of the recent UN 'Social Media Week' in Copenhagen

Building off of this point, it was also discussed that social media does not necessarily affect formal structures and engage people in the way those behind the Twitter handles and blogs of public sector organizations hope. Just because people pick up on and retweet a story, does not mean that the critical mass will trickle upward and affect policy outcomes. Rather, social media provides platforms that connect people, who share ideas, who find common beliefs and causes, who bind themselves together and take to the streets, and who join their voices, in that way affecting change, influencing, society as well as policy and governments. The online networks that have been created as "invited spaces" are most effective when they become "claimed spaces." It is within these claimed spaces that people transfer movements into the real world and that is where change happens. In short, social media works best when used from the bottom up.
Lauren Bolinger shares some of her reflections on a panel at UN City Copenhagen that Örecomm colleagues (including this author) participated in during the recent Social Media Week.

Why Bill Gates Can't Solve Problems For The World's Poor

“Philanthropists that are supporting the general advocacy of individual rights are doing more good for development than those that are doing what they think is more direct and more concrete,” Easterly asserted. He brought up George Soros and his support of Human Rights Watch and the Open Society Foundations as prime examples of that type of support.
The PR machinery for Bill Easterly's new book is getting into gear-but this is a very readable piece on the book launch in New York and some of the core issues of the book.

Solving collaboration issues with technology is a myth

The new technologies make communication easier and cheaper for sure, you can work with Skype, webinars, email, Yammer, and other tools. This makes collaboration internationally more practical than 20 years ago. But you have organize this collaboration specifically. It is a myth that technology will resolve collaboration across borders and across cultures. Technology can also obscure the difficulties: everyone continues to work from personal and cultural assumptions. Importantly, it is always about creating confidence to effectively work together. The new technology is fantastic but you have to learn to use it effectively to work together. That's the same as always: you have to stay alert to human interaction, pay attention to non-verbal communication in virtual teams. Is there no answer because the technology does not work or because someone is disengaged for other reasons? And then how do you solve this?
Joitske Hulsebosch on why digital collaboration is difficult and technology has and does not simply create a 'global village' of partners and collaborators. From MOOCs to over-ambitious ideas about collaborative research to global team work technology will aid solutions, but won't be one itself.

It's Complicated

What is new about how teenagers communicate through services such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? Do social media affect the quality of teens’ lives? In this eye-opening book, youth culture and technology expert danah boyd uncovers some of the major myths regarding teens’ use of social media.
danah boyd's book is definitely on my reading list-and you download your digital copy for FREE from her website!

Why You Should Stop Hacking Your Life and Invest in The Journey

Moreover, the explosion of hack culture seems to inherently disrespect the paramount value of the journey — the true value in any experience — by supplanting it with an expedited rush to access to a result. And result is empty without grappling with the resistance that inevitably defines the battle.
Let’s assume for a moment that there really is a way to circumvent the time-tested notions of hard work, patience, dedication and passion to achieve prosperity, success, health and true satisfaction in life. Spoiler alert: there isn’t. But okay, let’s assume…
No shortcuts. Just a good, solid Malcolm Gladwell-esque 10,000+ hours of downright busting your ass on something that means everything to you. Toiling in obscurity. Failing relentlessly. Picking yourself up off the floor when all is lost and going the extra mile when nobody is looking. Slow, incremental progress. Tiny hard fought victories along the way that begin to take form. And ultimately congeal to lay the foundation for a life and legacy that has true value.
So first he complains about how the lifestyle industry infiltrates development and the he rounds off the Development section with life-coachy advice from Rich Roll ;)?! I know, I know...BUT the hacking metaphor has become a powerful philosophy in development, communication and ICT4D and Rich Roll reminds us that the long journey is an essential part of your personal and professional development.


Reshaping African PhDs for development

Linking PhDs and growth
In fact, the recent emphasis on the expansion of doctoral training in Africa is not driven by the need to grow academic careers and institutions for this purpose alone. While there is recognition of the need to fast track the production of the next generation of academics, the very recent drive for expansion is linked to a desire to accelerate high level skills development and also to shift African economies towards greater levels of knowledge and innovation as essential ingredients for economic growth in the twenty-first century.
Climate change, food security, peace-building, poverty eradication and other pressing issues have the best chance of being addressed through multidisciplinary teams of individuals who, in addition to scientific expertise, exercise ethical judgement, empathy and a commitment to social justice.
As much as I would like to agree with Cheryl de la Rey, I think that there is a real risk of replicating some of the mistakes that OECD-academia has been experiencing for many years now. I don't think that the expansion of PhD programs has really led to contributions to the 'knowledge economy'. Outside of STEM there are many over-qualified and under-employed graduates that followed the promise that more education will equal better jobs, income and life-satisfaction. I also think that 'multidisciplinary' research sounds almost always nicer on paper than it turns out in reality. As much as I like her vision of engaged scholarship, I wonder whether this reflects the realities of the global academic industry in which African universities and graduates will have to compete with.

Dark thoughts: why mental illness is on the rise in academia

However, a study published in 2013 by the University and College Union (UCU) used health and safety executive measures, assessed against a large sample of over 14,000 university employees, to reveal growing stress levels among academics prompted by heavy workloads, a long hours culture and conflicting management demands. Academics experience higher stress than those in the wider population, the survey revealed.
Since we would criticize a survey conducted by a neoliberal think tank, we should also be aware that this one was paid for by an academic union. I have not read the study yet and cannot comment on any biases etc.
I think the risk of this debate is that it focuses to narrowly on better (mental) health services. If you want to improve staff well-being hire more (support) staff, admit fewer PhD students and pay less attention to university rankings. In other words: We all know why academics (like most other segments of society) are experiencing higher levels of stress and better counseling is only the tip of the iceberg.

Feminist Theory, Online Action, and Networked Learning

“It’s not just about studying and learning,” says Pitzer College student Susanna Ferrell. “It’s also about activism,” adds fellow student Jade Ulrich, both of whom were beta testers for a Distributed Open Collaborative Course (DOCC) about “Dialogues on Feminism and Technology” that started with Pitzer, University of California, San Diego, and Bowling Green State University students and spread to 18 colleges and a worldwide community of online learners.
Interesting innovations happen online and it will be interesting to see how they can be incorporated in traditional teaching environments as they sound potentially quite staff intensive and probably need a lot of pedagogical guidance.

Maker culture

We can expect for example to see some of the more visionary professors encouraging their students to create and edit Wikipedia pages for course credits, or publish their own articles and books through open publishing for Kindle or other e-book platforms. Some may even decide to publish their own personal research through similar outputs. Those who involve themselves in constructing and building tangible objects to support their own learning are engaged in a process Seymour Papert called Constructionism - or learning through making. It is powerful because it is often situated in real contexts, and is therefore authentic and experiential. These activities are already being adopted by the innovators within the higher education sector, but how long will it take for these practices to become widespread, or even common places practices in universities? What will it take to break the strangle hold pay-per-read publishers have over government research funding regimes?
Steve Wheeler on 'making things' differently as part of academic courses and assignments. ComDev for example offers a module on New Media & ICT that is inspired by Interaction Design, digital technology and the practicalities of new media in communication for development-so students design their own blogs, write posts and comments as part of their assignment. Time-consuming, but very rewarding for students and staff!


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