Links & Contents I Liked 128

Hi all,
This week's review comes live from Istanbul where UNICEF and academics are going to discuss child rights in the digital future.

And there are plenty of interesting links and readings to be discovered! New publications focusing on the digital representations; more on the recurring theme on all-male panels and conferences, RCTs, sanitation in Bangladesh, Ebola & global governance, Ebola & failed technology, expat living without staff; in our digital lives we ask whether you should you stop reading news, explore the age of 'super-excitedness', learn about the future of transportation in a brilliant piece of critical futuristic writing, and visit Zadie Smith's 'beach' in Manhattan...the academic links focus on twittering scientists, the emergence of 'non-elite journals' and an interview with anthropological blogging veteran Savage Mind!


New from aidnography

Should the voices of senior consultants feature more prominently in public debates on international development?
Initial reactions ranged from ‘definitely and area that deserves more attention’ to ‘do we need another privileged and powerful group in virtual discussion?’

Hot off the (virtual) press

Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves

Selfies, blogs and lifelogging devices have become important ways in which we understand ourselves. Jill Walker Rettberg analyses these and related genres as three intertwined modes of self-representation: visual, written and quantitative. Rettberg explores topics like the meaning of Instagram filters, smartphone apps that write your diary for you, and the ways in which governments and commercial entities create their own representations of us from the digital traces we leave behind as we go through our lives.
Jill Rettberg’s new book is a relatively short, accessible long-read on key questions in the digital age-and best of all, the ebook is open access!

Making Futures: Marginal Notes on Innovation, Design, and Democracy
Innovation and design need not be about the search for a killer app. Innovation and design can start in people’s everyday activities. They can encompass local services, cultural production, arenas for public discourse, or technological platforms. The approach is participatory, collaborative, and engaging, with users and consumers acting as producers and creators. It is concerned less with making new things than with making a socially sustainable future. This book describes experiments in innovation, design, and democracy, undertaken largely by grassroots organizations, non-governmental organizations, and multi-ethnic working-class neighborhoods.
A fantastic group of my colleagues and their collaborators just released a new book and pursue an interesting open access strategy that I see for the first time:
One chapter per month, starting November ’14, will be released under a Creative Commons license.
“I. Love. This. Job. Oooh-rah!” Letters Left Unsent. My humble review
While I was reading through the pages of Letters, it helped me think of my own journey and experiences. I think it’s a great book for anyone who works in the aid and development industry. And also for those who want to know more about the life of aid workers. This doesn’t mean that every point or idea put forward resonated with me (…) or will do with you.
Soledad Muniz reviews J.s aid worker non-memoir. I also enjoyed the book very much!

Development news
12 ways to communicate development more effectively

From fundraising to behaviour change, communications is key to development work. Our panel explain how to do it better
Last week I was fortunate to participate in a GUARDIAN Q&A on ‘the future of development communication’; here are some key quotes. Plus, Jerry Agenyi also compiled an unofficial Storify of the debate.

Life After Help: A Returning Expat’s Account

While other people were cleaning up our mess, I spent quality time with my child, had another baby, worked in emergency teams in a few natural disasters, joined every school committee, classroom volunteer, wrote a bit and studied for a Masters. And became a Lady Who Lunched.
There may have been trips to spas, and malls, and fancy cocktail events. I learned that a creambath did not involve literally getting into a bath of cream. I was introduced to the concept of a Lemon Gin Sorbet. At lunchtime. All while people were cleaning my house.
While our Pembantu (domestic help) looked after our children, when she eventually married and had children, she struggled with her own childcare arrangements. Girls from the village can no longer be enticed to come look after her kids, they are all in the Middle East and Malaysia now. She can't afford to give up working, yet she can no longer find affordable childcare in Jakarta. Ironically, the same problem I struggled with 10 years ago in the UK. It has become a big issue for debate; behind every successful working mother in the new booming economies of Asia, how many other workingwomen are there?
Rosaleen Cunningham reflects on the pros, cons and realities of living the expat live that may be familiar to some of my dear readers ;)!

Why I will no longer speak on all-male panels

There is no topic that cannot be discussed by women. There is no circumstance that would prevent one from inviting women. There is simply no rational excuse for excluding women. And, if you are invited to join a panel with no women, you must conclude it is being organized by fools.
I do not perform for fools. So, I am taking Owen’s pledge, and I will never speak on another panel that excludes women.
Scott Gilmore contributes to the ongoing debate of female (re)presentation in the developmentosphere…reminds me a bit about a debate around feminism and development blogging that some of us men wrote about.

Iceland's men-only UN meeting on women

As part of that celebration, it was announced earlier this week that Iceland will host a UN conference in 2015 looking at the issue of women’s rights, with a specific focus on violence against women.
Oh, but only men and boys will be invited to attend, participate or speak.
In what has been dubbed the “barbershop conference” (because men hang out in barbershops, geddit?), Iceland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson said of the assembly, “We want to bring men and boys to the table on gender equality in a positive way.”
It will be interesting to follow the debate on what seems like a bad, and surprisingly un-Nordic, concept…

How useful are RCTs in evaluating Transparency & Accountability projects?

Overall, RCTs do not work in evaluating impact in terms of political transformation. Neither do they work as a sole method of evaluation where a programme is taking an adaptive and iterative approach.
As an evaluative tool, RCTs can be an effective and useful means of deciding between different variations in an intervention design in the context of piloting a programme.
In programme design, implementation has to be randomisable and there need to be exclusionary factors. This can be difficult in T&A especially if policies apply nationally, for example, or regionally, or at other administrative levels for implementation.
Consideration of context is also limited. If context is not taken adequately into account then evaluations are of limited external validity as we cannot be sure if they would work if scaled up.
A clearly defined and well-articulated theory of change is necessary – both for effective programme implementation and evaluation of impact. This could be instituted as a crucial and evolving tool in design and planning, as a framework for learning and for assessing and managing risk.
Jennifer Leavy introduces her new paper on RCTs in the context of transparency and accountability.

Helpdesk Question: Funding appeals for complex humanitarian emergencies

Based on a sample of high value protracted complex emergency humanitarian appeals and responses please provide information on: (i) the factors that contribute to the sums requested and the coverage of appeals; (ii) characteristics of how the appeal sums and their coverage changed over time as the crises evolved.
The GSDRC features an interesting review on a key humanitarian challenge.

Jocalyn Clark: Why has Bangladesh had such success in improving sanitation, but not neighboring India?

Why, in contrast, does neighboring Bangladesh—a country not only sharing a border but many religious, social, and cultural norms of South Asia—show such sanitation success?
So vast are the differences in current open defecation rates—3% of the population in Bangladesh compared to around 50% in India—that insights from the Bangladesh experience are worth examining.
Reviewing health communication and behavioral change around open defecation-interesting and important insights for C4D.

Seven things we now know about how the world has handled Ebola

If the WHO is that reliant on major donors, then it has very little ability to prioritize pandemics that affect the least developed parts of the world.
Daniel Drezner provides a refreshing piece beyond WHO-bashing reminding readers about the importance of non-medical health engagement in development scenarios and the risks of depolitizing Ebola and other major health challenges.

You can’t fight Ebola with drones!

Of course you can ask: “What’s the harm? Why not try everything that people come up with in the hope of making even a small difference?” The problem is that ideas like this bind resources that could be better used to make a real difference. In the best case it just wastes money that could be better used elsewhere. In the worst case it also forces people to commit time to deal with problems these so called solutions have created.
Timo Luege takes a critical look at some suggestions on how to ‘fight Ebola’, e.g. drones, or Google Hangout helplines.

Our digital lives
Why I stopped reading/hearing/watching the news.

Poverty, hunger, murders, war, terrorism, accidents, celebrity gossip. I don’t need to know this stuff and you don’t either. I know, you might be thinking that news is necessary because it keeps us informed about the world, but first ask yourself these questions. Does it really improve your life in any way? Does it affect you personally? Your family, your businesses or your career? Is it a true representation of our world? Does it encourage thinking? Does it encourage acting? Think about it. In the last year, has any piece of news changed your life? In a way that if you hadn’t read it, your personal or professional life would have be different?
Alejandra Quintero raises some important questions that are, maybe ironically, also relevant for my own blogging and writing practice. Why do we write, share & comment-especially on ‘breaking news’ items about which we cannot do anything really…

Super excited-Does relentless enthusiasm really help the world, or should generation TED learn to take a more sceptical view?

Nonetheless, Generation TED does lack sufficient scepticism. Truly great ideas are sculpted with the chisel of critical thought, not created fully formed by spontaneous genius and good intent. We don’t need to wallow with postmodern irony in the contradictions and paradoxes of the modern world but nor should we ignore them. There are signs that Generation TED is learning this lesson. TED, for example, has added an asterisk to its strapline ‘Ideas worth spreading’, which leads to a series of wry footnotes including ‘and challenging’. It is as though even TED has realised that undiluted positivity is not enough and that critical, sceptical voices are needed too.
Julian Baggini’s essay on a TED-infused ‘generation super-excited’ is a must-read…which also reminds me that there will be a great new article on TED and development published soon and you will read more about it here first…

The 4 Transportation Systems You'll Meet in the Future

Re-Programming Mobility conceives four fictional-but-fact-based urban-mobility scenarios set in roughly 2030. The 15-year window is far enough away for mobility to be uprooted—the U.S. interstates were largely completed between 1955 and 1970, after all—but still close enough to be reshaped by public input. While each scenario feels a bit far-fetched in its own right, together they offer plenty of food for thought to anyone concerned with the future of urban movement.
What is this study/link doing here in the review?! To be honest, I read the whole document as non-development bedtime reading and it was one of most stimulating food for thought readings in a while. Great scenarios, lots to think about, well written and narrated!

Find Your Beach

Finally the greatest thing about Manhattan is the worst thing about Manhattan: self-actualization. Here you will be free to stretch yourself to your limit, to find the beach that is yours alone. But sooner or later you will be sitting on that beach wondering what comes next. I can see my own beach ahead now, as the children grow, as the practical limits fade; I see afresh the huge privilege of my position; it reclarifies itself. Under the protection of a university I live on one of the most privileged strips of built-up beach in the world, among people who believe they have no limits and who push me, by their very proximity, into the same useful delusion, now and then.
It is such a good town in which to work and work. You can find your beach here, find it falsely, but convincingly, still thinking of Manhattan as an isle of writers and artists—of downtown underground wildlings and uptown intellectuals—against all evidence to the contrary. Oh, you still see them occasionally here and there, but unless they are under the protection of a university—or have sold that TV show—they are all of them, every single last one of them, in Brooklyn.
It is a bit difficult to fit Zadie Smith essay into the link review, but then again her reflections on live, writing and existence in New York/Manhattan indirectly says a lot about a (digital) development elite and New York as a cluster to stimulate innovation while perfecting a tunnel vision…

Academia & Anthropology

Twitter's science stars, the sequel

We listed. You tweeted (often in outrage). We listened (mostly). And now we’re doubling down on our recent list of Twitter’s 50 most popular researchers with a revision that names 100 of the most followed scientists on the social media platform.
Interesting list-and interesting how seriously academics are debating the methodological challenges, ethical implications and pros and cons of such a ranking; it shows that ‘brand-building’ on social media is an important and more and more accepted part of academic communication and public engagement. Great!

Rise of the Rest: The Growing Impact of Non-Elite Journals (pdf)

In this paper, we examine the evolution of the impact of non-elite journals. We attempt to answer two questions. First, what fraction of the top-cited articles are published in non-elite journals and how has this changed over time. Second, what fraction of the total citations are to non-elite journals and how has this changed over time
Interesting new paper on the impact of more publications, more journals and more more in academia…

Hail to the Pioneer – Interview with Alex Golub from Savage Minds

Blogging did have an ‘invigorated start’ — in about 2004. Soon anthropology got into act. Savage Minds and Zero Anthropology got started in 2005, Media/Anthropology and Culture Matters in 2006, Somatosphere in 2008, and Anthropolitea in 2009. In 2010 they were featured in American anthropologist, which indicates they had attracted the mainstream — that is, they were now old-fashioned. Jason Antrosio started blogging in 2011, and I think of him as ‘the new guy’. Now blogs are old hat. So comparatively, Allegra is relatively late on the scene.
I mean, who even reads blogs anymore? Back in the day blogging flourished because the genre seemed faster, more vital, and less confined than books. Unique communities, like the University of Blogaria, formed. A variety of blog communities (linked by ‘blog rings’ or ‘blog rolls’ as they used to be called) existed, and you could use the new search engine ‘Google’ to find them, or read them using a new-fangled format called ‘rss’. But they were still relatively balkanized. And — maybe I need to say this for people who don’t remember back that far — there was no such thing as Twitter or Facebook.
Today, blogs are just one element in a rich ecosystem of social media. The velocity of information has increased dramatically, the quality and length of content has fallen, and the total volume has increased by orders of magnitude. I value the democratic, public nature of twitter and, to a lesser extent, Facebook and other social networking sites.Twitter has really created an anthropological public in a way blogs could not. It’s incredible. But I’m not that interested in the content it produces. I find it too easy to be successful, and as I get older, the easy wins are less and less interesting to chalk up
One of anthropology’s leading blogging voices in a long interview with the Allegra Lab.


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