Links & Contents I Liked 138

Hi all,

Another much-needed link review as interesting reads kept piling up in my Inbox...Development news looks at impact of policy briefs, the cost of post-2015 data collection, an extended section on media, journalism & the aid industry and interesting case studies on digital campaigning from South Africa, Chad, Libya & Indonesia; Digital Lives focuses on algorithms-and what they mean for non-profit communication and online community engagement; finally, Academia features a vignette from the bad old days of 1970s anthropology, David Graeber's new book, an uneasy (?) relationship between defense money and open aid data & reflections on Northern-dominated global IR debates.


New from aidnography
5 reasons why everyone should work for a large organization at some point in their international development careers

Look beyond bureaucratic stereotypes when engaging with large development organizations; these organizations can offer a lot of insights into the development system, are often better at ‘practicing what they preach’ and can teach you skills and views that are still essential in a ‘digital’ world; do join one at some point in your life and career!
Development news
Do policy briefs change beliefs?

So in short, the authors find that the brief helped people who didn’t have an opinion on the topic to form one, specifically one in line with the findings of the brief.
More research on the 'holy grail' on how to 'influence' policy-makers and -making.
Better Data Might Cost Huge Chunk Of Global Aid

And some months ago, 70 UN ambassadors in the Open Working Group proposed a bewildering 169 targets. One of these argued that by 2020 the world should “increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts.”
Doing even a minimum data collection for all these 169 targets will cost at least $254 billion, or almost twice the entire global annual development budget, Jerven estimates.
Björn Lomborg on how the post-2015 development goals have the risk to turn into a data nightmare; now that everybody jumped on the 'big data'/'data revolution' bandwagon it will be difficult and costly to deliver and discussions around statistics and numbers may overshadow critical political debates.

5 Reasons poverty porn empowers the wrong person

At the end of the day, poverty porn is the result of well-meaning organizations attempting to raise money for their programs, and it works.
This raises an important question – is the profitability of poverty porn worth the perpetuation of false ideologies and stereotypes? I say no. This may sound counterintuitive to the capitalist nature of Western culture, but it’s really not. Sustainable change in poor communities is more than the sum of its financial donations.
Emily Roenigk on the on-going challenges around representations of poverty and that we may have to rethink the capitalist imperative of 'more money for organizations justifies some ends'.

The Aid Industry - What Journalists really think (PDF)

There has been growing media criticism of the aid industry in recent years. Some of this has been ideologically driven and some opportunistic but it also appears that journalists are more insistent on holding aid agencies to account than they have been in the past. This is a good thing but often the aid sector has appeared unduly defensive in the face of criticism.
This report seeks to understand what a broad range of journalists – both specialists and generalists – think about aid and the agencies that deliver it. The criticisms are wide ranging but several themes emerge. There’s a consensus that the aid sector as a whole needs to be more open and transparent. Since media reporting of the aid industry undoubtedly has a big influence on public opinion, it’s important that we take the views of journalists seriously.
Helen Magee's report for the International Broadcasting Trust presents good food for thought and discussion-see the next two links:

The Aid Industry. The Media

Especially considering that the sample audience was a group of people who make their livings forming and expressing opinions. If we, in the aid industry, based a relief intervention on data gathered from a sample of fourteen plus “several”, we would be unfunded very quickly.
Second, I had a distinct sense of pot/kettle while reading The Aid Industry… Yes, I do understand that it’s a journalists’ job to “ask the hard questions”, “say the hard things,” and all of that. But if one was to only search/replace “aid worker” with “journalist”, “NGO” with “PICK YOUR NEWS-ISH PUBLICATION”, and “Aid Industry” with “The Media”, the paper would remain almost entirely coherent.
J. comments on the IBT report in detail.

Live Q&A: how can NGOs and the media work better together?

Development organisations and journalists need each other to do their best work in developing countries. How can they help rather than hinder each other?
And, finally, in the media & aid section: If you are interested in these questions join us on Thursday, 26 February for a Guardian Live chat!

Opinion and Debate: Refugees are not terrorists

However, at least part of the rationale (in addition to securing access to Libyan oil) seems to have always been the same: preventing refugees from entering Europe.
While this remains the ultimate goal, ‘humanitarian’ concerns might again be used to justify military intervention and ‘terrorist threats’ are used to excuse the poor humanitarian response.
Meanwhile, thousands more people fleeing conflict risk their lives to navigate the policy-made obstacle course to Europe.
It is not so much the content per se that I find noteworthy; but MSF's Jonathan Whitthal is a good example of how large NGOs can still maintain a critical, political edge and provide interesting and relevant entry point for teaming up with 'the media'.

UNICEF collaborate with RL Grime to raise awareness of children’s rights

In addition to the video being used to raise awareness, it was also used to support the African Union’s #ENDChildMarriageNOW campaign. The First Lady of Chad herself presented the video to African heads of state and their spouses at a side event on child marriage during the 24th Summit of the African Union on 30th January in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
I really like the video, and it’s quite unique for an NGO. I’ve seen music spoofs, lipdubs and the use of powerful soundtracks used by NGOs, but NOT a music video style film. I’d love to know why did the filmmaker chose to tell the story in reverse. It reminds me of Sliding Doors, but also of the horrific but acclaimed film Irreversible which is totally shot in reverse and features a brutal rape scene which is unbearable to watch.
David Girling's revamped blog is always worth a visit;
the bigger question here is: How much in tune with the latest pop-cultural developments can and should development campaigns be? Is there a risk of mixing fact, fiction and art to a point where the presumably young audiences no longer takes the core message seriously?

What if black people inverted South Africa’s township tours ?

So apart from the comment on “township tours” (privacy is a privilege of the wealthy and the mostly white, poverty means you are ready to be on display, be a ‘type’), what the video does is gives you a sense of what most black people Cape Town have to keep up with everyday, including random violence, in “white spaces.” On the upside, this kind of interrogation (on video) of white privilege in Cape Town (and elsewhere in South Africa) by black people is relatively new, and with increasing access to social media platforms like Youtube, and media production tools like DSLRS we’ll see more of this.
Another 'flipped campaign'-this time from Cape Town.
Coins for Abbott: Indonesians rally to repay tsunami aid, call Australian PM ‘Shylock’

“Let's not forget that a few years ago when Indonesia was struck by the Indian Ocean tsunami, Australia sent a billion dollars worth of assistance,” Abbot said. “I would say to the Indonesian people and the Indonesian government: we in Australia are always there to help you and we hope that you might reciprocate in this way at this time,” the PM stated, referring to death-row Australian nationals Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.
In order to rebuff the Australian PM, the nation of 250 million is now collecting pocket change to repay the “loan” Australia had once provided.
This may not be the most important development news piece, but interesting how memes evolve-and yes, the link is Russia Today, but I like the stori-fied look of the post.

Hot off the digital press
Breaking the Hourglass: Partnerships in Remote Management Settings–The Cases of Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan

International organizations increasingly rely on local partners to engage in humanitarian action. This is particularly the case in highly insecure situations or when host governments limit or deny international access. Despite these trends, there have been few attempts to examine the effectiveness of international-local partnerships either in general or in insecure “remote management” contexts. This study explores these partnerships in the setting of cross-border assistance from Turkey to Syria in 2014. The case of Iraqi Kurdistan provides historical perspective. We used a paired longitudinal sample of international and Syrian organizations to generate qualitative data over a ten month period. Interviews with another 37 national and international organizations provide additional context.
New report from Tuft's Feinstein Center.

Our digital lives
Facebook's News Feed changes have been "catastrophic" for non profits

Ginsberg said it’s now almost impossible for his organization to reach a majority of its more than 75,000Facebook fans. He said the reduced engagement is a threat in a community where social interaction is vital.
Ginsberg said GHLF, which has an annual operating budget of about $1.8 million, spent $30,000 on Facebook advertising to build up its page, and now he’s unable to reach those fans without paying more to boost each post. “It’s the ultimate bait-and-switch,” he said.
For some newer groups and younger volunteers, Facebook is the only outreach strategy they’ve ever known. “I got involved in animal rescue because of Facebook,” Jenkins said. “For the nonprofit community, Facebook is a bulletin board. It’s how we get donors, volunteers. It’s so incredibly vital to how rescues operate now, and losing this venue is just detrimental to us.”
A new digital, algorithm-driven case of building a sustainable project and then a big, bad 'donor' of sorts moves in and does more harm than good to 'the community'. This review's digital section asks questions about value-added of big platforms in more than one post...

About Face: How Facebook Drove Us Away

As Facebook began to limit newsfeed exposure for brands like ours, our daily posts might reach between 30 and 70 followers . . . out of 6,000+. Let’s call that around 1% on a good day. If we wanted to reach more folks (around 20%) that would cost us $5 for each “promoted” post.
So let’s say we paid $5 per post for 8 posts per week. That’s $2080 per year to reach the AUDIENCE THAT WE BUILT WITH OUR OWN CONTENT. And that’s only reaching around 1,200 people. Want to reach them all? You’re talking 4 times that or more.
But organic reach – that carefully built engagement of followers that took so long to build – is now a thing of the past. You cultivated the relationship, but Facebook decides how often you get to connect with them. They have become the social chaperones of the digital age.
Dave Pilcher is also not happy with the changes in Facebook's newsfeed setting for non-profits. So don't just pay with your data for platforms, but now you need to pay real money to get pass the gate-keeping algorithm.

The Unbearable Lightness of Tweeting

So I wrote an email to my Atlantic colleague Robinson Meyer, who has established himself as one of the smarter commentators on the peculiarities of digital media. I told him I had created something that 150,000 people had seen, 9,000 people had interacted with, and just 1,500 had followed to our site to actually read. (So, 99 percent of my labor on Twitter went to Twitter, and 1 percent went to The Atlantic. That's not a very good deal for our boss!)
In the last month, I've created nearly 2 million impressions for Twitter. Whether that is good for my Twitter persona and my pride is a qualitative question whose answer resides outside the bounds of an analytics dashboard. But it is quantitatively not a good deal for The Atlantic. Something I already suspected has now been made crystal clear: 99 percent of my work on Twitter belongs to Twitter.
The Atlantic's Derek Thompson also experiences how his digital engagement yield very little results for him and his platform and leaves value inside Twitter.

How the Photocopier Changed the Way We Worked—and Played

At that point, one can imagine hitting the Xerox 914 moment—when everyday people suddenly discover the pleasures of replicating objects. We might start scanning everyday objects that we often misplace—the battery-access covers on remote controls, crucial hinges or pieces of electronics—so that when things go missing, we can run off another copy. Maybe we’ll scan sentimental objects, like family jewelry, so that when future 3-D printers can affordably produce complex, metal forms, we can make highly realistic copies of these mementos, too. And maybe we’ll also use 3-D printers for practical jokes and pranks—printing rude objects we find online and leaving them on friends’ desks at work. We might get a new form of information overload: offices and homes crammed with too many weird, junky printed trinkets.
As the hype around 3D-printing enters the development arena, Clive Thompson's great essay reviews the history of the photocopier and asks whether consumerist, capitalist culture will be take to the next, digitally printed level.

Life in the Algorithm

There is an overwhelming feeling of inevitability surrounding all of this. With computational capacity still threatening to double every two years, the algorithmic estate will continue to expand and become more sophisticated. All of this development, testing and research is leading to a predictable outcome. Given that they are leading investment and research in the sector, Wall Street financiers will develop the world’s first fully functioning Artificial Intelligence.
If any of this feels inevitable, it’s because it was designed to make us feel that way. If the algorithms that organize the world of money were turned on their head and used to analyze the defects in their guiding philosophy, they would shred it all on one razor sharp fact: the world beyond the market is still a real one. And no matter how sophisticated the math, how brilliant the AI, we will always be living in it.
Douglas Haddow, yet another male writer, shares some great reflections on the life of/with/against algorithm which seems a very suitable way to wrap up this section...

Report from the Field

What did happen, was that after the seminar we took him to our Refectory for a drink. There I was telling what I thought were amusing stories about “When I was in His Majesty’s service as a private in the Northern Rhodesia Defence Force—actually paid 3 pennies an hour when on duty!”—for, I repeat, I was never in that service in Northern Rhodesia as an expert anthropologist. Scholte in his daze has a dim memory of that statement about “His Majesty’s service” and has completely falsified what I said and its context. He has changed his tune because he is no longer isolated in an atmosphere of questioning and criticism as he was in Manchester, but is back in New York with fellow-believers who work in a welter of anachronistic emotion, without intellect or scholarship. It is one of the most interesting cases of this kind of circular reinforcement of belief and faith I have ever met, or indeed read about.
The year was 1974 and Max Gluckman gives us a glimpse into the anthropological establishment in desparate need for change...

The Utopia of Rules – Why We're Drowning in More Paperwork Than Ever Before

Living in a capitalist, western state means spending more of our lives filling out paperwork, re-submitting internet forms and waiting on hold listening to Bono wailing than our grandparents ever had to. Even if – particularly if – you rely on welfare and spend your life dealing with accountability professionals, who demand you fill out forms, every day, all of the time, to ensure the money keeps coming.

I tracked Graeber down to talk about useless jobs, the rules we live by and why Christopher Nolan's Batman is just a big fat bureaucrat in a cape.
David Whelan talks to pop-cultural anthropologist David Graeber abiut his latest book.

New Minerva Research Explores the Relationship Between Aid and Conflict

AidData’s contribution also includes “the most comprehensive datasets in the world on foreign aid and other types of development finance,” says Tierney. “We cover more dollars and more donors than any other source, so if you want to know the impact of aid on conflict, you want the most comprehensive source.”
Dan Runfola, Geospatial Scientist at AidData, sums up the importance of the project’s focus: “Conflict between countries has been falling dramatically for decades, while conflict within countries continues to be a considerable issue worldwide. By using subnational information, intra-state conflict can be assessed in a data-driven way.”
Martha Staid reports on a new project, but I wonder what the ethical implications are if open aid data projects team up with U.S. defense money...certainly worth a critical discussion around ethics.

ISA’s Sapphire Series – Is Blue the New White?

I realize the apparent whiteness and Northerness of the Sapphire Series panelists was probably unconscious or accidental on the part of its organizers. I realize the Sapphire Series resulted from institutionalized knowledges and practices of normalized whiteness that are the fault of no individual person, institution or collective. Rather, normalized whiteness is infused into how ISA is generally programmed, how IR is generally organized, how IR scholarship and practice are generally conducted.
I also realize it is not the case that no white Northern scholars (can) speak meaningfully and knowledgably about race in (the discipline of) IR. And I realize that a liberal politics of inclusion of racialized scholars in IR is insufficient to correct how normalized whiteness is practiced.
But this case is about more than this. I shudder to think what it could have been about. Were our racialized Program Chairs perceived to be crowding out normative whiteness in their program decision-making and on the program? Did Disciplinary IR need to reassert its superior Sapphire Series white knowledge as a response? I certainly hope not. But it doesn’t look good.
While my ISA-related newsfeed was clogged with fried food pics from New Orleans and snow-related delays at East Coast airports, Megan Mackenzie shares some important reflections on the state of IR as a 'Northern' enterprise.


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