Links & Contents I Liked 133

Hi all,

The last link review of the year-and it is basically list, listicle and 'best of' free! There will be my own end-of-year reflection tomorrow to wrap up aidnography before the holidays, but let's focus on some critical readings and new publications:

Good intentions to do automatically eradicate poverty as miners in DRC and inhabitants of a waste site in Thailand experience in contacts with Western aid; Ed Carr on the emerging 'co-production' discourse; J. on UNICEF's controversial 'fake campaign' at a games convention; Alex De Waal on the perpetuating rituals of 'peace talks' in Darfur; the end of Invisible Children; the rise and rise of humanitarian technologies (and the absence of tough discussions around their pitfalls); a World Development Report that includes blind spots, group think and the fallacy of development professionals; a new important report on the damages of orphanage tourism in Nepal; behind the scenes of the TED conference enterprise; the Perez Hilton of science blogging & should academic mega-conferences be curbed for environmental reasons?


New from aidnography

Spenden-Rituale durchbrechen! Dieses Weihnachten keine Kinderpatenschaft!
Over at my German development blogging colleague Claire Grauer's blog I encourage readers to break through the cycle of Christmas donations and think beyond convenient child sponsorship models and engage with development's complex issues.

Chasing Chaos: My decade in and out of humanitarian aid (book review)

If you are looking for a last-minute holiday gift for a non-development professional with an interest in ‘our’ industry, Jessica Alexander’s book is a very strong starting point for moral, practical and meta-reflections on what drives those who fill humanitarianism with life, passion and professional work ethics.
Development news
How a well-intentioned U.S. law left Congolese miners jobless

But the legislation, signed by President Obama four years ago, set off a chain of events that has propelled millions of miners and their families deeper into poverty, according to interviews with miners, community leaders, activists, and Congolese and Western officials, as well as recent visits to four large mining areas.
“The intention of the law was good, but in practice, it was not well thought-out,” said Eric Kajemba, director of the Observatory for Governance and Peace, a regional nonprofit group. “This is a country where the government is absent in many areas, plagued by years of war and bad governance, where the economic tissue has been destroyed. The American lawmakers didn’t appear to take this into consideration.”
Repeat after me: 'Good intentions are not enough'-another lesson in how a seemingly simple 'solution' is always embedded in a complex context that often does not follow 'our' rules and incentives.

Co-production: The next “participation”?

While I think that most people calling for the co-production of climate services recognize that this will be a complex, fraught process, there is a serious risk that co-production could be picked up by less-informed actors and used as a means of pushing aside the need for serious social scientific work on the presumptive users of these services. It’s pretty easy to argue that if we are incorporating their views and ideas into the design of climate services, there is really no need for serious social scientific engagement with these populations, as co-production cuts out the social-science middleman and gets us the unmitigated, unfiltered voice of the user. If this sounds insanely naïve to you, it is
Co-production is a great idea – and one I strongly support. But it will be very hard, and it will not speed up the process of climate service design or implementation, nor will it allow for the cutting of corners in other parts of the design process. Co-production will only work in the context of deep understandings of the targeted users of a given service, to understand who we should be co-producing with, and for what purpose.
Ed Carr also reminds us that there are no 'shortcuts' and that stakeholder engagement is complex, time-consuming and comes with power relations and all these nitty-gritty challenges that qualitative researchers have been talking about since the 'putting the last first' was published...

King of the Dump

A group of volunteers from Australia had handed it out by the sack-full, but Stockwell got stuck with the blame for the villagers who missed out. He’s been growling about it all morning. “They’ll come in, throw out rice, throw something out, shoot photographs, lots of dirty kids. They want to see misery,” he sighs. “They ruin everything I’ve set up here.”
Stockwell is less forgiving. For him, the dump’s mystique is the root of the entire conflict. Kids in garbage can be anything for any group: Some use them to impress volunteers, others as potential converts, most to simply justify their own existences. “If they’re not competing for fundraising, they’re the fundamentalists competing for your soul,” he says. “I’m the only humanitarian organization out here.”
I don't know enough details about the various organizations that claim to 'help' the workers and squatters on a large waste dump/recycling site in Thailand, but the story is an interesting example of how development communication can become the aim of a project rather than communicating its challenges or with 'the people'. A good photo-op goes a long way for small charities, voluntourists and those communicating a single story with the aid of dirty children on a waste site.

Fake UNICEF video game 'pitch' leads to walkout

UNICEF sent actors, a film crew and two South Sudanese youth to the Video Gamers United convention in Washington, DC, to present a new idea to the gaming community, and filmed their reactions.
The fictional game 'Elika's Escape' generated gasps from the audience when they were told the protagonist would be a seven-year-old South Sudanese girl escaping the horrors of war. The audience was not told , however, the story highlighted in the pitch was based on the actual experiences of one of the South Sudanese attendees.
The world that those who implement aid and development inhabit, and the world portrayed in marketing, fundraising, awareness-raising, and all the other “ings” are quite simply different worlds. Let’s not make any snap judgments about what UNICEF actually does in the real world based on this video.
Not all awareness-raising is good.
Just because you can find a local person who goes along with it, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
J.'s short commentary captures my reactions as well: It is necessary to engage different audiences differently in development communication-the days of 'the news images from (insert crisis) speak for themselves' are long gone. I also appreciate that organizations like UNICEF try to tap into, for example, the billion dollar gaming industry; there is a lot of money available in non-traditional industries and alliances and even a small increase can make a huge difference in humanitarian crises; this one didn't quite work out and as long as UNICEF engages in transparent discussions this is OK.

Invisible Children to Shutter Operations in 2015

It was really a year and a half ago to a year ago when we started to need to really reengage our base in the fundraising mechanisms that we had and that was when we started realizing—gosh, this is going to be way harder to get people to understand and really buy into, with their time and money, the idea of finishing something to zero.
Despite all the attempts to use corporate and philanthropic success-speak, Invisible Children's story will surely find a well-deserved place in the 'Hall of Shame' of bad development organizations and ideas!

How Fear of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross' Sandy Relief Effort

Three Red Cross responders told ProPublica there was a ban. "We were told not to interact with Occupy," says one. While the Red Cross often didn't know where to send food, Occupy Sandy "had what we didn't: minute-by-minute information," another volunteer says.
"Occupy Wall Street was not very favorably received by the political people in the city," Leahy says. Major Red Cross donors were from the same elite political circles "and they didn't understand Occupy Wall Street."
Red Cross responders says that many staffers and volunteers objected to the charity's stance on Occupy Sandy because among the Red Cross' fundamental principles is that aid must be delivered without regard to politics or ideology. "We are a neutral, humanitarian organization," one staffer says. "We don't take sides."
An interesting insight into the political economy of aid and how any 'disaster zone' is still a highly political and politicized space-in the U.S. and anywhere else in the world.

Darfur Déjà Vu – By Alex de Waal

The participants are almost all the same, except greyer, thicker around the middle, and (in the case of the rebels) wearing smarter suits. It is the same Minni Minawi; the same Abdel Wahid al Nur (booked into a different hotel and refusing to turn up); Khalil Ibrahim has been replaced by his brother Jibreel; Majzoub al Khalifa has been replaced by his deputy Amin Hassan Omar.
The same issues, the same demands, the same procedural gimmickry, the same obstinacy, the same selective memory. (Didn’t they sign a Declaration of Principles that includes all the issues they are raising now, back in July 2005?)
The same claims by the government generals that they are on the brink of victory, and by party bosses that they are about to win round most of the rebel commanders, leaving the rebel leaders isolated; the same earnest claims by the rebels that they are talking to the Arabs who are about to rise in revolt, and the government is about to collapse when the next army offensive fails.
Alex De Waal and the rituals of peace talks/'peace talks' in Darfur...

The End of Humanitarianism, again?

Despite large volumes of humanitarian aid funding on a global level, this is concentrated both geopolitically and in terms of sector, most of it in food aid. This means that the diverse needs and vulnerabilities of people particularly in neglected or protracted crises remain largely unmet. Bureaucratic systems and processes risk eclipsing the needs of the very people who are meant to be at the centre of humanitarian response.
Humanitarianism – and more specifically international humanitarian response – may always have been in some form of crisis, but this time it may really be make or break. In these particularly turbulent and complex times, humanitarian actors need to be much more innovative and resourceful, less dogmatic and insular, yet adhere more tenaciously than ever to the principle of impartiality, at a minimum, if they are to remain relevant. The beneficiaries of humanitarian action will demand nothing less. Failure to rise to this challenge may well signal the end of humanitarianism, with a potentially catastrophic human cost.
ICRC's Yves Daccord shares some very balanced, nuanced and undogmatic reflections around the 'humanitarian system' and some of its key challenges.

Focusing Behavioral Economics on Development Professionals

The deeper point here is of course not just about the World Bank or development experts, but about all policymakers--and especially policymakers who are seeking to use findings from behavioral economics nudge ordinary citizens to alternative courses of action. Policymakers are subject to thinking automatically, social pressures, and misguided mental models as well. Some of the possible answers involve finding ways to challenge groupthink, perhaps by having a group designated to make the case for the other side, or by finding another way to force a more thorough consideration and discussion of alternatives. Another suggestion is that "development professionals should “eat their own dog food”: that is, they should try to experience firsthand the programs and projects they design."
Timothy Taylor with his own analysis of the Bank's 2015 World Development Report which includes development professionals and their behavior-and how often said professional get 'it' (poor people, policy etc.) wrong...

Top 6 next generation humanitarian technology ideas identified

Top 6 next generation humanitarian technology ideas identified during @RedCross strategy meeting. UAVs ranked #1

— Patrick Meier (@PatrickMeier) December 3, 2014

I can only begin to imagine the data, governance, privacy and security implications that these 'next generation' technologies will bring to the discussions...

11 of the best aid parodies

As another Band Aid single contends for Christmas number one, we turn the tables and look at some of the best aid campaign spoofs
A great collection which raises interesting questions for research on how ironic engagement with aid is another 'popular representation of development' and what it all means for communication for development...

Hot off the (digital) press

Actor-Network Theory for Development: Working Paper Series

Actor-Network Theory for Development working papers apply the ideas and concepts of actor-network theory to issues and cases within international development.
These 8 papers were published in 2013, but I only discovered them now and think they are well worth sharing...

World Humanitarian Data and Trends 2014

The report intends to provide a comprehensive picture of the global humanitarian landscape, and to highlight major trends in the nature of humanitarian crises, their drivers, and the actors that participate in prevention, response and recovery. The 2014 edition of the report builds on previous iterations of the report, providing an overview of 2013 as well as selected case studies that can be used for humanitarian advocacy. This edition also features the winner of the inaugural OCHA Data Visualization Challenge and an example of analysis using the Index for Risk Management (InfoRM).
Humanitarian data. Like a lot of it ;)!

New issue of Glocal Times!
New articles, conference reports from our ComDev colleagues, partners and (former) students.

NGN Releases ReportLinking Orphanage Volunteering to Child Trafficking

The report, “The Paradox of Orphanage Volunteering: Combating Child Trafficking through Ethical Voluntourism,” shows that orphanages in Nepal contain over 15,000 children, yet at least two out of three of these children are not orphans. NGN claims that many of these children are being kept in “orphanages” because they are being used as poverty commodities to raise money from well-intentioned but naïve fee-paying foreign volunteers and donors. Indeed, almost 90 percent of “orphanages” in Nepal are located in the top five tourist districts for this reason.
The report reviews the history of orphanage trafficking which stems back to the Karnali region during the civil war when parents looked to traffickers to help their children escape forced conscription into the Maoist rebel army. It argues that the ban by Western nations on inter-country adoptions in 2010 shifted the focus by criminal groups away from “selling” children for adoption toward “selling” opportunities to volunteers and donors to support orphanages. The report also shows how most orphanages in Nepal do not meet the Government's legal standards, and that abuse and exploitation children in such places are commonplace.
An important and sobering report on voluntourism, 'orphanages' and child trafficking in Nepal.

Our digital lives

How TED (Really) Works

Later I went back and found the trailers. They were backstage, of course, exactly where Erving Goffman would have predicted: To understand sociality, don’t just look at the front stage, his work says, but look behind the scenes to understand how things really work.
So, TED, which excels at manufacturing virality at the global scale, and intimacy at the local scale, actually relied on the most 20th century of scales to function well: the dedicated specialists who were going to take care of their little corner of the organization. In fact, there were more than one hundred people who took care of all the details at the different levels, from the person who made sure the slides rendered correctly to the editor who managed the massive website, from the crew that took care of the sound for musical performances to the simultaneous translators who allowed the conference to be beamed locally. Behind the curtain was no single wizard, but a large team.
Digital academic Zeynep Tufekci shares her own impressions from the wondrous world of highly structured, professional and ritualized TED talk events.

The Unusual Strategy That Made This Woman A Billionaire

Contrary to the strategy of the vast majority of startups, Holmes hasn't been out shouting her idea from the rooftops. There was no PR team behind the curtain orchestrating speaking engagements and media coverage. In fact, until Holmes landed on the Forbes 40 Under 40 and the cover of Fortune magazine this year, she was virtually unknown.
In the age of selfies and YouTube stars and "breaking the Internet," isn't it refreshing to discover a young entrepreneur focused more on her business and social good than on her public persona? At just 30 years old and as 50% owner of her $9 billion company, Holmes just now seems to be making a concerted effort to come into the limelight.
It's an unusual growth strategy, to work away diligently, largely out of the public eye, but it's one that's served Elizabeth Holmes, the world's youngest self-made female billionaire, incredibly well.
I tend to focus on the critical stories that emerge from Silicon Valley and the digital (development) world-so it is refreshing to see Elizabeth Holmes' very different-and also highly successful approach to 'disrupting' an industry or two.

Philanthropy Buzzwords 2015

The 2015 Blueprint (...) is now live. It has a buzzword list + special "design school edition" of buzzwords, predictions for the year ahead
They are what they are: Buzzwords-including the author's own in her professional affiliation: 'Stanford University Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society - Digital Civil Society'.

Emily Bell's seminal speech on the relationship between journalism and technology: It's time to make up or break up

Emily Bell, Director at the TOW Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, delivered what the World Editors Forum believes to be the year's most definitive speech on the future of journalism. In it, she challenged journalists and editors to hold dominant technology companies publicly accountable, take the lead in technological innovation in news and help to shape the 'new public sphere'.
As interesting and relevant as Emily Bell's speech is, I found it much more relevant as a summary of the last 1-2 years rather than a talk about the 'future of journalism' (of which we have an abundance anyway...)-makes great reading for the quieter holiday time!

The best things in life aren’t always free, but they are freely available.

Innovative open access publishing can provide avenues other than the traditional monograph or research article to disseminate research. Mosaic is a Wellcome Trust initiative that publishes longer narrative-based science journalism under the CC BY license. This license allows other platforms to take the content and republish it—with remarkable results. An article by Carl Zimmer on why we have blood types was republished on the BBC, io9, Pacific Standard, and The Independent, among others. Stories have been translated into Spanish, French, Polish, and Hungarian. The point is not just that more people read it, but that the content can be taken to the many different places where the people who are interested in this topic gather.
Cecy Marden on the Wellcome Trust's open access publishing efforts...and a reminder that in a world of highly specialized science communities 'open access' does not necessarily mean 'tons of downloads, shares and citations'-there is just a huge amount of publications that will hardly be noticed outside small circles of expertise-regardless of the 'licence' under which it is published...

The Ethics of Conferences in the Age of Climate Change

The Modern Language Association’s annual meeting attracts between 7,000 and 9,000 literature and humanities scholar every year. The American Sociological Association brought 6,000 sociologists together in 2014. The American Anthropological Association regularly hosts over 5,000. Etc etc etc. This is only a tiny sampling—there are over a dozen huge disciplinary conferences every year, and any number of smaller thematic, interdisciplinary conferences that draw from across the country and sometimes around the world. (These numbers are far smaller than some meetings of natural science disciplines: 30,000 people regularly attend The Society for Neuroscience‘s annual affair.
But we should ask of ourselves: Is what is generated at every academic conference truly more valuable than the considerable emissions produced by thousands of scholars flying thousands of miles? (And consider who’s doing the valuing: current actors or the poor people, primarily in the Global South, who will suffer the worst consequences from our present actions?) This is an open question — I can see smart people disagreeing, and the answer depends on a bunch of factors — but many individual scholars I’ve talked to, mostly in the environmental humanities, have pondered it and decided to scale down their conference-going. Others attend with a sense of guilt and a heavy heart. Even beyond the emissions saved — which are admittedly, in the context of total global emissions, barely a drop in the (acidifying) ocean — one could ask: might academic institutions, by consciously meeting less frequently with climate change in mind (and openly communicating the reasoning behind this decision), help disrupt the problematic norms that still assert that environmental issues are third, fourth or fifth priorities, if that? As educators, do we have a special responsibility to face moral issues head-on and thereby encourage ethical action?
Matthew Schneider-Mayerson outlines an important debate-but to be honest, I am mot sure that environmental aspects are really at the core of these debates-mega-conferences are expensive, tiring and fairly unproductive for most participants-it's time to re-thing them from a content-perspective as well!

Science journals screw up hundreds of times each year. This guy keeps track of every mistake.

There wasn’t a comprehensive database of retractions anywhere, no one place where you can find all the retractions. They either were intentionally or by benign neglect swept under the rug. Journals are not good at publicizing them. Journals don't put out press release when they retract a paper even if it got a lot of press attention. Journals and publishers are not good at doing this.
Some of it is because it’s clunky, hard to do. Sometimes it’s because it's not in their interest. Lawyers are trying to keep a lid on information that doesn't make people look good. I believe in due process as much as anybody, and think everybody needs vigorous defense. But I think it’s a failing when journals, universities, and scientists who know they are in the right and try to ferret out this misconduct basically bow to legal threats.
We're making a database where there will be an entry for every retraction we can find anywhere. We'll immediately populate the database with everything we’ve already built or written on Retraction Watch. All our posts are categorized by things like country, subject matter, journal, publisher, author, whether or not it’s behind a paywall, the reason for the retraction. What the database will do is allow people to search by all those things.
I'm not sure how man scientists know of Perez Hilton-but who doesn't want to be called 'something of a Perez Hilton for researchers'?! But all jokes aside: This is a great initiative of how digital technology is making retracted scientific articles visible and the industry slightly more transparent and accountable!


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