Links & Contents I Liked 134

Hi all,

Happy New Year! My first link review in 2015-and spending the holidays at home helped to collect a great variety of 2014 reflections, new stuff & the usual potpourri of readings that may be worthwhile to catch up with as the working machine is hopefully slowly getting into gear!

Development news features some critical articles around buzzwords of the development hype cycle, including open data, behavioral economics and social entrepreneurism; more critical reflections on Canadian mining in Peru; the black hole of gender-related USAID spending in Afghanistan and the dissolution of Invisible Children in Uganda; Digital lives features algorithmic filter bubbling and a review of 2014 social media research; a bit more comprehensive than usual (academics use the holidays to write?!) the Academia section: On the evolution of academic blogging and the curious cases of academic publisher profits and the role of 'the book'; bringing 'maker pedagogy' to the classroom and the pertinent question 'how much public anthropology is enough?' round off this review!


New from aidnography

My development blogging review 2014
Annual reflections from my permanent, personal writing retreat a.k.a aidnography

I am also proud to be included in Alessandra Pigni's Disruptive reflections from 2014 post!

Development news

The problem with the data revolution in four Venn diagrams

The report also says demanding more data will lead to better decisions. That is a statement of belief, and not a theory of change. What is often thought of as “evidence-based policy” turns out to be ‘policy-based evidence’. In other words, the body of statistics we have today is a result of policy decisions made yesterday.
The point is that we do not know how changes in statistics will change policy, and that uncertainty should raise the following questions: how much we should invest in numbers and what type of metrics we should invest in?
I understand the enthusiasm, but I want to warn against hubris. This is certainly not the world I want but I also think it should always be possible to say: “We didn’t know”. Numbers, or the act of counting, does not guarantee objectivity nor does it always make us wiser. It is a testament to the richness of life, and the poverty of numbers, that all things cannot be counted.
Morten Jerven sums up the key challenges of the discursive policy hype cycle 'open/big data' edition.

Five years later, and I am proud of Delivering Development again

On one hand, I am thrilled to see this point in mainstream development conversation. On the other…I said this five years ago, and not that many people cared. Now the World Bank says it…or maybe more to the point, the World Bank says it in terms of behavioral economics, and everyone gets excited.
Ed Carr reflects on another discursive hype cycle-and it involved the World Bank and behavioral economics.

The Africa I Know Isn't The Africa In The Headlines Today

We shouldn't allow irrational fears of a virus distort the real reason that Africans and Americans are closer than ever: We share growing interests.
First of all, we have business to do. Cities like Dakar, Nairobi, Lagos and Johannesburg are already major cosmopolitan centers of culture and commerce.
Today, millions of African families are making a remarkable transition similar to the changes that Americans experienced in the 1930s and '40s
As much as I appreciate Todd Moss' piece on how Africa is more than bad news headlines I find the idea that it can/could/should follow an American-inspired development path quite scary, too uncritical and in fact less innovative an eye-opening as it may seems. Modernization theory propagated 'Western' development models a long time ago and it didn't quite work what can an 'African' way of development and growth look like?

$1 Billion Later, It’s Unclear If U.S. Cash Is Really Helping Afghan Women

That’s largely because of a new, global approach at USAID and the State Department to spending money on women’s issues. Instead of creating stand-alone programs to benefit women, the agency “integrates” or “mainstreams” women’s issues into its broader programs. The idea is to make sure that general programming takes women’s needs into consideration, even if a new project isn’t specifically created for women.
But the audit found that USAID in Afghanistan couldn’t evaluate how any of the “integrated” programs actually affect women’s lives, nor could it separate out how much of those programs’ budgets was actually spent on programming addressing women’s needs.
When it comes to U.S. spending in Afghanistan, the 'evidence-' and 'impact'-driven emperor shows her new I'm actually pleased to see more journalism on Buzzfeed.

Fool’s Gold: The limits of tying aid to mining companies

“Social responsibility programs don’t resolve conflict, they are the source of it,” said Ximena Warnaars, a program co-ordinator with the indigenous rights organization Earthrights International in Lima. “People who are directly affected (by the mine) benefit from CSR, but people who are indirectly affected — downriver — don’t. If it were a state responsibility, everyone would have a right to a school. But mines just build schools in nearby communities.”
“In the past — I would say 10 years ago — most people in the public sector believed in CSR, believed it was a good thing,” said Gerardo Damonte Valencia, a professor of anthropology at the Pontifical Catholic University in Lima and a specialist in natural resource management. “But now, you don’t see many results, mostly because these initiatives are more about negotiations for accessing land or water than they are about development projects. If you have this conditionality, you are not doing development. It’s an exchange: land for money.
“CSR cannot replace the state … You cannot rely on CSR for development. It’s never going to work,” Damonte said. “Companies have realized they can buy some social peace, but you’d have to be a fool to think they can develop the country.”
“CSR isn’t bringing the private sector into aid, it’s bringing aid into the private sector,” said Jeff Geipel of Engineers Without Borders. “We aren’t interested in building a school for 100 kids. We want to do something bigger.”
The article also mentions a successful initiative between mining companies, World Vision and the (local) government, but at the end of the day CSR and mining companies' interest are short-term and focused on one thing: As long as the mine produces profits relatively peacefully no one is interested in 'sustainable development'-cudos for Engineers Without Borders for speaking on the record in Canada's worsening development climate!

Why did Invisible Children dissolve?

While in many ways this most recent announcement by Invisible Children had been some time coming – the organization went through major restructurings earlier this year in response to increasingly grim financial outlooks – its gravity is nevertheless telling of the lasting impact of protracted public scrutiny on a model that prioritizes risk while expecting continued growth. It particularly highlights the necessity to avoid misrepresentations or overstating a group’s causal effect on outcomes in conflict situations. Kony 2012 was not the first time Invisible Children had been confronted with accusations of grossly misrepresenting the conflict or its role in ending it. It did initiate, however, an overwhelming tidal wave of exposure to which the organization was ill-prepared to respond. Behind such catchy phrases as “Jump First, Fear Later” and “Don’t study history, make history,” the organization regularly motioned to the sort of market-driven ideology of charitable giving that figures like Pallotta promote. At the moment of its overexposure, Invisible Children behaved accordingly: it hired a public relations consultant, became increasingly insular in its justifications, and dug its heels in for what it hoped would be a short-term setback. For better or for worse, that short-term setback prefaced its long-term closure and its brand remains tarnished.
Kristof Titeca and Matthew Sebastian shed some fascinating light on the demise of one of the most controversial charities and campaigns in 21st development history. In the end, the corporate and market-driven approach did not pay off, well, not for the 'beneficiaries' in Uganda and beyond at least. But the Invisible Children story is also a story about high-profiled and social media-driven critique that was never satisfied with the 'Oprahfied' discourse IC wanted to embrace.

Ice Bucket Challenge: It raised millions for motor neurone disease – but charities told not to waste their time trying to go viral

But now charities are being warned to avoid spending too much time and money devising what they hope might be next year’s Ice Bucket Challenge and instead concentrate on using social media to raise longer-term awareness for their cause.
Not-for-profits also risk alienating older potential supporters by assuming that only younger people use social media, according to a new report on charities and their digital strategies. Many are also failing to keep up with trends that are seeing more under-25s moving away from Facebook and Twitter into Instagram and Snapchat.
One of the challenges for the future is finding that perfect balance: Avoiding 'sponsor a child' messaging that older donors may be familiar and comfortable with and at the same time not running after young 'digital natives' and the craze for the next viral hype (see Invisible Children above)...

The limits of new social entrepreneurship

What social entrepreneurs excel at is extending the reach of the market to smaller players. There are, however, limits to this philosophy. A key constraint is that the approach largely works within pre-existing social and economic conditions.
The market works for those who are willing and able to engage with new technologies, take on risk, and challenge other actors in the market place. This set of capabilities is rare among the poorest of the poor.
The truly poor often lack the education and skills needed to fully capitalise on new technology or the margin of wealth necessary to take on financial risks. Ironically, social entrepreneurs may inadvertently further marginalise the poor by fetishising certain technologies or encouraging individuals to take on too much credit risk.
Sadly for the philanthro-capitalists behind the new social enterprise movement, business acumen is unlikely to resolve some of the major drivers of entrenched poverty. For this, the poor need allies who are willing to spend extended periods of time in out-of-the-way places, learning local languages and developing an appreciation for indigenous ingenuity. Critical pedagogical, social organising and facilitation skills are also paramount for being able allies in the struggles to address injustice.
William G. Moseley reflects on yet another of those hyped buzzwords: Social entrepreneurism...

Hot off the (digital) press

What methods may be used in impact evaluations of humanitarian assistance?

This paper by Jyotsna Puri , Anastasia Aladysheva, Vegard Iversen, Yashodhan Ghorpade and Tilman Brück explores the methodological options and challenges associated with collecting and generating high-quality evidence needed to answer important questions on the impact of humanitarian assistance. These questions include whether assistance is reaching the target populations and at the right time, whether it is bringing about desired changes in their lives and whether it is being delivered in effective doses and ways, with manageable costs.
The paper also uses six case studies to discuss methods for undertaking impact evaluations to address these concerns in a range of humanitarian contexts, from unanticipated natural disaster-related emergencies to protracted crises.
Interesting paper-food for thought whether you 'like' impact evaluations or not...

Our digital lives

Harassed by Algorithms

A friend noticed that the first person to show up in the list of people to follow is usually a cisgender white man that gets more attention for doing the same work she does. Like the problem with Google algorithms defining “beauty” as whiteness per layers and years of discrimination, there is no way to amplify marginalized voices if structural inequality is reflected in our algorithms and reinforced in user pageviews.
Joanne McNeil on how algorithms and filter bubbles seem to be going hand in hand.

What’s new in digital and social media research? Some greatest hits from 2014

We have again reviewed hundreds of papers over the past year and tried to select a diverse mix of research that speaks to important issues. Here are a dozen papers from 2014 that we feel may be worth your time. We asked Amy Schmitz Weiss, associate professor in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University, to help judge the “winners” this year. Of course, we admit it’s not a very scientific contest: How does one compare pioneering work on Syrian Twitter to ethnographic explorations of newsroom technology use?
Great list that fits perfectly between 'hot off the press', 'digital lives' and 'Academia'!

14 Trends that rocked Social Media in Uganda in 2014

Even if one spent their entire day on social media they would be sure to miss at least one of the minutiae details that characterize the congested attention demanding sphere.
Really interesting overview over the hashtags and stories that fueled social media in Uganda.


The Evolution of Academic Blogging

Blogs fill the gap between traditional scholarly publishing and the research process. Charpentier reveals, “There is a stark contrast between the story used in a peer reviewed paper, and the true, untold, research process.” In other words, blogs make science more accessible to wider audiences and give scientists more opportunities to discuss, question, and work through concepts. Peer-to-peer discussions that are lost in published scholarly articles can be captured through blogging.
Susan Gunelius on how academic/science blogging has been changing and how the genre can evolve.

Shorter, better, faster, free: Blogging changes the nature of academic research, not just how it is communicated

One of the recurring themes (from many different contributors) on the LSE Impact of Social Science blog is that a new paradigm of research communications has grown up — one that de-emphasizes the traditional journals route, and re-prioritizes faster, real-time academic communication. Blogs play a critical intermediate role. They link to research reports and articles on the one hand, and they are linked to from Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and Google+ news-streams and communities. So in research terms blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now.
Obviously, I do not disagree with Patrick Dunleavy, but I would be a bit more cautious about his optimism; academic blogging requires time commitment and, since it isn't exactly a well-kept secret these days, takes place in an increasingly crowded market- and attention-place. It can have the 'bridging' function that Dunleavy envisions, but it requires time and effort and rarely happens just because a researcher shares some interesting ideas. My own reflections from 2012 are still very much up-to-date:
Development blogging-How to have fun, avoid disappointment & be a strategic writer

Academic Journals: The Most Profitable Obsolete Technology in History

As higher education is redefined to meet the needs and affordability required of the 21st century certainly the most basic functions of sharing academic research need to be retooled. There is no reason an academic publisher should have such a significantly different economic picture from standard publishers. The stark contrast is troubling as it tells just how far from reality our higher education system has traversed. Correspondingly, there is no reason universities should pay $3.5 million to have access to peer-reviewed data. This academic conversation is society's conversation--and it is time that the digital revolution level one last playing field: because we, the people, deserve access.
Jason Schmitt's post comes with a catchy title and summarizes some key debates that have been discussed in academia more recently; academic publishing will be changing-but it is nit simply the 'greedy publishers' fault: As long as academic recruitment, promotions, research awards etc. depend on journal and publication metrics their price is not purely 'economic'; maybe Thomson Reuters, the 'owner' of the impact factor algorithms deserve more scrutiny as well...

Open Access 2014: A Year that Data Cracked Through Secrecy and Myth

While many believe that much further fundamental change in science publishing isn’t likely, I’m inclined to agree with Pete Binfield’s assessment of open access at OpenCon: “It’s on a sort of unstoppable roll.”
Hilda Bastian's month-by-month review of 2014's major open access developments in academic publishing is a great overview!

What Is the Point of Academic Books?

So if academic books aren’t exactly commercial endeavors, and they aren’t exactly providing knowledge for the masses, what are they doing, exactly?
Academic publishing has confusing and contradictory goals. No one is likely to find a perfect means of reconciling them all. But as different presses and different libraries experiment with different models, they may find better ways of making information both free and/or remunerative. In the meantime, folks like me will continue to write books as a labor of love—with some small hope that someone, somewhere, might want to pay something for them too.
Noah Berlatsky on the challenges of academic book publishing. He is focusing his post on American university presses, but the real culprits in terms of high-prices (and high-profit margins, because there is no way that the top commercial publishers spend that much on the production of a book...) are the global publishers...a friend's edited book, consisting of around 140 pages, is sold by a well-known scientific publisher for around 105 Euros! This is just a way of signing off your copyright in exchange for an ISBN number and the vague hope that 5 libraries may actually buy the book...

Maker pedagogy

Jackie Gerstein recommends that all teachers who aim to establish a maker culture in their schools should consider the above points. A change of mindset is the first step, she says, in creating an environment in which students can explore, discover and create and go beyond the sun of the mill, every day learning that occurs in schools across the globe. The outcome is that students interact with each other, external resources, digital materials and content, more than they do with the teacher. They learn to build their own personal communities of learning, and rely more on their own skills and abilities than they do on those of the teacher or content expert. They learn from their own mistakes and express themselves more creatively through their own endeavours.
As much as I appreciate Steve Wheeler's blog, I find it hard to create such a visionary teaching style within the boundaries of contemporary higher education administration. It would cost so much time and an experiment maybe, but administration and higher education policy must also be involved in 'flipping' or 'turning' classrooms around...

How much public anthropology is enough public anthropology?

So here’s my question: instead of worrying that there isn’t enough anthropology out there, can we (as they say in video games) formulate victory conditions? Can we move from “there’s not enough public anthropology” to “this is how much public anthropology we want”?
In my opinion, anthropology has always had a robust public presence in American society (sticking here with the country I know best). Professors often forget this because we sometimes don’t read what the public reads. Mostly, I think, this is because the great communicators are too busy to engage in the cut and thrust of academic politics.
Savage Minds and the question why there always has to be 'more' of everything...


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