Links & Contents I Liked 123

Dear all,

Back from a proper holiday it is time to go through the link assemblage and share a mix of 'brand new' and 'still relevant' content with you: More on Canada's crackdown on civil society; why 'value for money' in aid is an austerity excuse; research on the ineffectiveness of celebrities in development branding; a critical view on social enterprises; will there be more jobs in aid? How to get a digital aid job-and how to build an exit strategy to leave aid altogether-plus new publications.

Our digital lives looks at data and politics, the 'children of silicon valley' as well as data and Disney...finally, Academia & Anthropology looks at research on academic influence on Twitter, ethnography and policing & ethical questions of the 'data overflow'.


New from aidnography
It’s about the thesis-PhD and PWFP (People With Formal Power)

First, when contemplating non-thesis activities and engagements be aware of the People With Formal Power (PWFP) and the structures you and they occupy in the academic universe.
Second, I want to make a stronger case that your thesis and closely-related writing is still your main asset when applying for university-based positions after the PhD.
Letters Left Unsent (book review)
Letters Left Unsent is certainly more than a compilation of blog posts and diary-style vignettes. As with his previous fictional takes on humanitarian aid and dating work he manages to tell a story-the story of humanitarian aid in the 21st century: Aid work and workers are compassionate professionals, operate in complex environments and their stories are very often not coherent. Letters Left Unsent supports this important narrative by escaping aid worker memoir conventions of a linear storyline from grad school to first burnout to post-earthquake Haiti.
A picture says more than (03)...what facebook & Indigo Travel know about my desire to pay for voluntourism in Nepal
After almost 7 years on facebook and petabytes of data and sophisticated algorithms later they put together the keywords 'Nepal', 'Sweden' and 'something with learning' to advertise this fantastic offer by a voluntourism agency registered in Bangkok/Thailand...
Development news
Last Week Today: 15 August 2014

In case you missed the news last week, WhyDev just launched a new feature – designed to make sure your busy life doesn’t stop you from getting the top news and development stories. Last Week Today brings you the week’s best links, all in one place, every Friday. So sit back, relax, and get all caught up. just launched a weekly review post that should be a perfect addition once you are finished with yours truly link review ;)!

Foreign-aid charities join together to challenge Canada Revenue Agency audits

The Canada Revenue Agency has built a team of 15 auditors specifically to audit the political activities of select charities. Some 52 audits are underway or concluded, with eight more expected to be launched by 2016, drawing on a special $13.4-million fund.
“The situation is negative and it’s very worrying,” Julia Sanchez, executive director of the council, said in an interview.
“The big concern that we’ve had for a long time, and which continues now, is the implicit questioning of civil society’s . . . capacity to advocate and do political work. That is a huge concern for us.”
Canada's move towards an oil money-run quasi-democracy does not seem to generate much news outside the country. Many of the audits were triggered by an oil lobby group and if something similar would happen in, say, Russia or Egypt there would most likely be talk about a 'crackdown' on civil society. Canada and Australia, driven by their natural resource economies, are de facto no longer part of the international development consensus.

Does value for money help or hinder the search for social transformation?

As a consequence, governments tend to use value for money to justify rather than inform their policy decisions, especially in times of austerity - while pumping scarce resources into a burgeoning industry of consultants.
What has not gone down so well among groups funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) (and indeed among some DFID staff) is the Department’s narrow focus on economy and efficiency rather than impact and effectiveness. My clients cite many examples of being pushed to make cost savings which actually reduce their impact. One was advised to accept the lowest bid for services on a programme designed to transform the lives of young women even though she knew that the bidders lacked the necessary competencies. Ironically, the selected provider then had to build their capacity to deliver what was necessary, making them more expensive than the original estimates submitted by stronger organizations in the first place.
Cathy Shutt on 'value for money' aid in the context of 'evidence-based policy-making' and how good intentions get absorbed by DfID's powerful neoliberal disccourses.

International Aid and the Making of a Better World: a great new book

Her big conclusion from her life in aid is the importance of ‘reflexivity’, a process of those in aid agencies recognizing their own power and impact on those around them and cultivating ‘a process of deliberately making myself feel insecure about how I understand, speak about and behave in relationships with others.’
Reflexive practice, she argues, begins with looking in the mirror, but also ‘cultivating marginality’ – stay on the outside of the power structures within the aid system, seeking ‘the gift of being on the edge’. Focus on history and relationships, not ‘best practice’. Learn through dialogue and at all times, everywhere ‘become aware of power.’
She remains painfully honest ‘I am still struggling to understand my own motives and why for so long I have wanted to do good somewhere else that at home.’
Duncan Green reviews Rosalind Eyben's aid memoir.

Celebrity promotion of charities ‘is largely ineffective’

According to journal articles by three UK academics, “the ability of celebrity and advocacy to reach people is limited” and celebrities are “generally ineffective” at encouraging people to care about “distant suffering”.
“overall, the results of this research suggest that celebrities are generally ineffective in cultivating a cosmopolitan engagement with distant suffering. In conversations about the mediation of distant others, research participants rarely talked about instances of explicit celebrity humanitarianism.”
Interesting-but worth analyzing the original articles and data. As I read elsewhere, there is a a question that goes beyond branding and education: Do celebrities encourage people to give money?!

AP reveals secret US program in Cuba

The Obama administration secretly sent young people from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico undercover to Cuba in an effort to provoke political change against its communist government, according to a report published Monday by The Associated Press.
According to interviews in six countries and internal documents, the AP discovered the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) dispatched nearly a dozen young Latin youth to Cuba who posed as tourists. They were paid as little as $5.41 an hour, the report said, and visited college campuses to recruit anti-government activists.
The young people used civic programs, including an HIV prevention workshop, to conduct the mission, the report said. Innocent-looking content was also installed on their laptops to disguise sensitive information they were carrying.
Maybe it is just a temporary glitch, but I couldn't find the full story on AP's Big Story site...

Knowledge from the Margins: An Anthology from a Global Network on Participatory Practice and Policy Influence

This anthology will draw on Participate’s experience of:
• Applying, adapting and innovating participatory methods to promote the voices of participants in all stages of the research process
• Creating opportunities and spaces for including the perspectives articulated through the research where possible in the policymaking processes
• Embedding participatory approaches in local-to global
policymaking processes
New IDS publication

Making Connections-What GDNet has learned about using social media to raise the profile of Southern research (pdf)

We have found that there are no firm rules about how to use social media; every community is different and every program is different in the set of activities it undertakes. In our experience, no online community dies overnight; however, members drift away when nothing is happening online or if the community becomes hyper- active and is difficult to follow. Finding the right balance is as difficult as finding the right relationship. You need to work for it, invite and welcome members, come up with great content and focus on community rather than the number of followers.
Interesting reflections on social media and community management that would probably benefit from a more accessible format for linking and sharing...

Social Enterprises – and why we must stop romanticising them

The problem with this type of narrative is that it creates an utopian idea about social enterprises, that shifts the conversation to a simple yes or no question, rather than creating the space to discuss the real opportunities and limitations that social enterprises offer.
This is why we have to stop idealising social enterprises, and start analysing them as a means to achieve a social goal, rather than as the goal itself. I have seen social enterprises offer platforms to reach goals, and the conversation should not stop here because few overhype them.
Maria del Mar Maestre Morales offers useful reflections on the hype around social enterprises-but I wonder whether the challenges are more fundamental, partially based in an Utopian believe in the power of capitalist markets and a Utopian Silicon-Valley-inspired-culture of starting your own enterprise with innovative ideas to 'eradicate poverty'.

How to get a digital job in international development

"I love the kind of people who work at the intersection of digital and development. I find this bunch to be consistently seeking, experimenting and reflecting," says Linda Raftree, founder of Kurante, a company that advises charities on technology in development.
So if you want to work in global development and are a keen blogger, digital graduate or IT specialist, what digital roles are out there? And how can students and graduates break into this new sector?
I really like the comment by IslaBonita which sums some of the changing mindsets and opportunities nicely:
For me therefore, the potential for work for "digital people" in NGOs is really big and my experience is that with the right attitude (i.e. never forget that who we really all work for are our beneficiaries), a kind, patient and smart approach to convincing old-timey and/or scared-of-the-new stakeholders this can be changed. I do feel (and I know!) that I as a digital person can be a real and useful asset for my organisation.
As humanitarian crises grow, so does the aid industry
The humanitarian aid industry is growing, fueled by large-scale conflicts and natural disasters. Last year it took in a record $22 billion from donor governments, foundations, corporations and individuals. It employed more than 250,000 people.
Easterly says he has seen a "huge increase" in the number of his students interested in pursuing careers in aid. Many of them will start in NGOs, where salaries are relatively low.
"They are small and operating on a pretty limited budget," Easterly said. "There's also a big phenomenon in NGOs of unpaid interns. Part of this is just supply and demand. There's a huge amount of young people who want to work in development and that's great, but there's just not enough jobs for them."
Noel King's article is slightly misleading because she adds humanitarian work, development work, expats and locals to the same 'aid work' total. The article also mentions highly paid career aid work, short term humanitarian work and internships as the same line of work. Expat (!) careers in development will not necessarily grow because of natural disasters or an increase in conflict and war. This probably deserves a longer response and more time/reflections...

A quick guide to getting out of aid work

While I am happier and more stable than I can remember in my adult life, I remind people I am by no means materially better off. So. This will not help you decide how to make money or choose a new career. If you are looking for advice about how to feel ok again, and (re)construct meaning in your life after working in international development here are some tips
Janet Gunter shares some measured reflections on building an exit strategy for leaving aid work without simply 'quitting' and writing a memoir about it ;)!

Our digital lives
The Data Revolution Will Fail Without A Praxis Revolution

And the limited incursion of techies into praxis is partly welcome. As Evgeny Morozov has noted, the techie prescription for praxis is algorithimic regulation – a steady incursion of automation into the downstream stages of the value chain which assumes digital decisions and actions are some apolitical and rational optimum, which denies the importance of politics and thus neuters political debate, and which diverts attention from the causes of society’s ills to their effects with the attitude: “there’s an app for that”.
First, an explicit recognition of information value chains in the design and implementation of all DReD projects. Second, a more multidisciplinary approach to these initiatives which incorporates participants capable of both debating and delivering the praxis revolution: those with information systems, organisation development and political economy skills are probably more relevant than decision scientists – to paraphrase Morozov, we’ve got quite enough Kahnemans and could do with a few more Machiavellis.
Richard Heeks on how data-revolution-for-development initiatives need to understand practice beyond data to make data-driven work count and contribute to social change.

The Children of Silicon Valley

In truth Silicon Valley does not change the world as much as it changes my way of being in it, or better, of not being in it. It changes the way I think, the way I emote, and the way I interact with others. It corrodes the worldly core of my humanity, leaving me increasingly worldless.
Becoming a boring human being is the fate of most people who keep the tech economy’s lights burning deep into the night. These industries may be among the most vibrant and dynamic in the world, yet those inside the hive are among the most tedious people in the room, endlessly plugging into their prosthetic devices. The bad news is that their employers excel at finding ways to make those devices, in their continuously updating versions, universally available.
Excellent essay by Robert Pogue Harrison which raises interesting questions about the model of self, community and society that 'we' are exporting to developing countries via ICT4D.

Welcome to Dataland
The MagicBand is the world’s largest and most diverse experiment in wearable data fashion. And like all fashion, MagicBands are classist. Automatic visits to Dataland are limited to guests who book their stay on Disney property. Those who visit Disney World for a day trip or who stay in a nearby, non-Disney owned hotel are limited to the old RFID credit card for their park tickets. But fear not, for MagicBands can be purchased for $12.95 at any Disney theme park gift shop. And everyone is allowed the opportunity to customize and personalize their MagicBands: “MagicSliders” sleeves and “MagicBandits” charms that bear the images of Disney characters can be purchased ($6.95-14.95) and attached to a MagicBand.
Disney World is many things, and many of those many things involve crass conspicuous consumption and diluted, lowest-common-denominator cultural reverie. But despite commercialization, the phantom of Walt Disney’s down-home, populist futurism still drifts between the gaslamps. It’s a subtle alternative to both the dystopic surveillance state and the autarkic techno-futurist corporation. Here at Disney World, commerce takes place within a real, bounded physical community, and one already premised on the idea of fantasy in the first place. Perhaps this is all we really want: to participate in the fantasy of the future, to be invited to ponder and respond to it ourselves, rather than to be presented with it already formed.
Ian Bogost confused me with his great essay on Disney-/ reality taking place inside Disneyland or where does the 'real world' really take place?!?!

Academia & Anthropology

academic influence on Twitter: the findings

The central theme that ran through participant data was that scholars do employ complex logics of influence which guide their perceptions of open networked behaviours, and by which they assess peers and unknown entities within scholarly networked publics. More specifically, all scholars interviewed articulated concepts of network influence that departed significantly from the codified terms of peer review publication and academic hiring hierarchies on which conventional academic influence is judged.
Finally, it was noted that the relational connections created in open networks nonetheless reproduce many of the power relations of institutions and society, even while challenging some of their hierarchies. Networks were reflected as an alternate status or influence structure that intersects with academia, rather than as truly open fields of democratic interaction.
Bonnie Stewart shares some findings from her ongoing research on academic social media practices-very interesting!

As Data Overflows Online, Researchers Grapple With Ethics

Now Professor Hancock and other university and corporate researchers are grappling with how to create ethical guidelines for this kind of research. In his first interview since the Facebook study was made public, Professor Hancock said he would help develop such guidelines by leading a series of discussions among academics, corporate researchers and government agencies like the National Science Foundation.
I wonder whether CIA or NSA will be part of this discussion...but on a more serious note: This is going to be an academic exercise, because in 'reality' government entities and corporations will continue to 'do' things with data-and maybe not publish it...

Interrogations: Heath Cabot and William Garriot on Policing and Contemporary Governance

I am reminded here of Markus Dubber’s work on the police power. Though writing about the US, he traces the concept of police to the patriarchal management of the household by the householder. For Dubber, this is an essential and constant aspect of the police power. And it deserves critical attention because such power is virtually limitless and largely discretionary. To the extent that Dubber’s analysis is correct, I think it encourages a focus on how such power manifests itself in diverse contexts today. The household provides an interesting site where the older, more general notion of police-as-governance might meet the more recent, specific notion of governance-as-police. Sticking with the US, changes in the response to domestic violence come to mind. What just a few decades ago was seen as a private matter has now been more formally criminalized and thus made a matter of police intervention.
Anthropological reflections on the ethnography of police and policing-very relevant in the current U.S. context including debates around the militarization of police forces, of course.


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