Links & Contents I Liked 139

Hi all,

The latest link review once again reminded me what a fantastic network of friends, colleagues and digital acquaintances I have that do and write about really great stuff!

Development news features a great portrait of the state of the UN and his current leader, insights into the World Development Report, the future of the SDGs, post-traumatic growth, tourism in Haiti, the legacy of Greg Mortenson, and another bad celebrity campaign.
Our digital lives continues with some of the topics, featuring insights into the 'Ferguson industry', hyper-transparency, facebook tips for non-profits-and Buzzfeed.
Academia features a call for better practice in business school ivory towers and thoughts on anthropology's 'long tail'.


New from aidnography
Blinded by Humanity (book review)

I can recommend Martin Barber’s book highly because of his historical view (many aid worker biographies start with the Sudan or Rwanda crises of the 1990s) and, more importantly, because of his unique insights into the field, or, more precisely different fields of UN office work and the ‘silent’, persistent work of guidelines and gentle leadership in the unique political setting of the key organization that has been representing 193 different voices.
Development news
Save the Children head apologises for upset over award to Tony Blair

Forsyth told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that STC recognised the anger the award had caused, but stopped short of issuing a full apology.
“I know that many of our supporters and volunteers were very upset – and several of our staff, too – and I’m very sorry for that,” he said. “But this was an award given by our sister organisation in the United States. It’s a very different political context there, and they’ve had hardly any complaints there. And yes, it was a global legacy award; it was called that. But actually it was an award very, very specifically for Tony Blair’s efforts on Africa at two G8 summits in Birmingham and Gleneagles, not his wider legacy.”
It is not surprising that the 'apology' from Justin Forsyth is as corporate, non-committal and apolitical as you would expect it from Save The Children...

The Secretary General in His Labyrinth

At the end of our interview, I asked Ban if he ever thought about children in today’s Chungjus—the places in Syria, Ukraine, and elsewhere wracked by war, but where, unlike in his case, the United Nations has been unable to reach. Does he think they still think of the United Nations the way young Ban Ki-moon once did?
He paused. “They still believe the United Nations can save them,” he told me. “It’s only the leaders who are blocking—who are hampering their hopes.”
Then his eyes opened wide, his voice rose, and for a moment he came as close to being angry as I’d seen him. Those leaders “should look and work for their own people, not for their own self-interest—clinging to power, disregarding, you know, whatever the people’s pride may be. This—this really angers me. I don’t know how many times I have been really confronting these people directly. That’s what I have been doing! But I cannot do it alone.”
Nice coincidence: Jonathan Katz, whose book I reviewed a while ago writes a very interesting piece on the past and present of the UN system and leadership-very suitable to keep in mind in the context of Barber's 'Blinded by Humanity'...

Media and NGOs: 12 leading reporters on aid and development

Despite some of the tension between media and NGOs, there are some reporters who are doing great work. Here are 12 who, I think, deserve your attention. The list is by no means comprehensive.
Tom Murphy shares a refreshing list of not-so-usual-suspects of development reporting.

Naomi Campbell's Ebola fundraiser shows ‘saviour complex’ alive and well

Surely the supermodel had good intentions, but it’s hard to imagine a more jarring, self-promotional way to support communities that have been devastated by this disease. In her own words: “I am scared, people do not have a clear idea about what Ebola is.”
The event illustrates much deeper issues about the ways in which western culture talks about and portrays the continent.
Perceptions are a high stakes game in a region that has struggled for decades to shed its reputation centred on war, corruption, poverty and disease. This is by no means a call to whitewash the serious structural and human development challenges many countries in the region face. However by reinforcing the disaster narrative, Campbell, amongst others, is disenfranchising those she purports to help.
Adrienne Kasa reminds us that no matter how many discussions we have on celebrities and aid, there's always another bad example lurking around the corner, waiting for us poor academics and journalists to be taken part in front of an already educated audience...sigh...

The Wonk’s Guide to Irrational Humans

Unfortunately, the report’s recommendations on this front fall short. These include simplistic solutions: For navigating the complexity of human motivations, the report suggests applying more social and political analysis upfront. To combat confirmation bias by development practitioners, use red teams or double-blind peer review. To understand the importance of context, implementers should engage in service trials. While these proposed solutions move us in the right direction, they feel shallow.
At their core, these proposals revolve around improving the knowledge of the interveners. That’s a worthy goal. But it starts from the perspective that development interventions are done by development organizations to beneficiaries and communities. It focuses on extracting knowledge from the end-users of development products and services so that knowledge can improve decisions made by others. Why not bring those end-users into the decision-making process? We need a deeper reexamination of the role of development practitioners.
Dave Algoso takes a closer look at the 2015 World Development Report.

SDGs in need of rescue: Part 1

So, I dislike impossible goals because they strip away responsibility for their achievement. If these were ambitious but achievable, it might force those of us in the aid world to think more carefully about how we are going to leverage other sources of funding, other trends already taking place in many parts of the world (declining fertility, rising incomes, etc.), and build on existing knowledge and capacity among the global poor to ensure we reached these goals. In short, impossible goals do nothing to move us beyond aid – they just maintain the status quo.
Edward Carr's three-part post on the SDG process is an excellent summary of the debate and includes enough critical material to fill an entire course on this topic!

Aid workers: from posttraumatic stress to posttraumatic growth

Posttraumatic growth recognises that life is uncertain and that things change. This amounts to a tolerance of uncertainty that, in turn, reflects the ability to embrace it as a fundamental tenet of human experience.
Another theme at the centre of posttraumatic growth is psychological mindfulness which reflects self-awareness and an understanding of how one's thoughts, emotions, and behaviours are related to each other, as well as a flexible attitude towards personal change.
Finally posttraumatic growth requires personal agency, which entails a sense of responsibility for the choices one makes in life and an awareness that choices have consequences.
Alessandra Pigni offers more interesting reflections on aid work, stress & personal well-being.

Essay: The death of international development

International development is failing because it fundamentally misses the point about poverty. It assumes that poverty is a natural phenomenon, a problem that exists out there, as if on an island disconnected from the rich world. Maybe it has to do with bad climatic conditions and tropical diseases in poor countries, or perhaps it’s because they don’t have the right technology. All they need is a bit of aid to help them up the ‘development ladder’.
This view lends itself to technocratic interventions led by ‘experts’ in development ‘science’: take MIT’s Poverty Action Lab, for example, or Jeffrey Sachs’ now‑discredited ‘millennium villages’. On a more popular level this approach manifests as quick-fix fads like merry-go-round water pumps, deworming campaigns, microfinance and laptops for children – projects that studiously avoid thinking about the political context of impoverishment. This is the stuff of TED talks, and donors love it.
Another critical essay on development, this time by Jason Hickel. Good food for thought and discussions!

Haiti Tourism: Challenging, But Charming to Some

At the Marriott’s opening, Bill Clinton said, “I want to thank [Marriott] for giving all of you the chance to show the real Haiti to the world that will come to this hotel.”
It’s a nice idea, but most true tourists, like Taryn, don’t see the Marriott as a good starting place. True tourists are reticent to stay in big hotels with generic furnishings and windows that won’t open. It runs contrary to the cultural Caribbean experience they were promised.
Emily Troutman's piece on tourism and tourists in Haiti manages really well to find a balance between the needs and benefits of tourism and the reality 'on the ground'; she paints a critical picture, but is not dismissive of Haiti's emerging opportunities. I wish there was more travel journalism like this!

So What’s It Take to Get Fired Around Here?

It looks like Greg Mortenson is still in the driver’s seat.
Why is this such a big deal? And why now? Here’s why: In this line of work, we are disproportionately reliant on integrity, and when serious problems come to light, we have to believe that organizations like CAI will take effective action. Standard financial audits help us keep an eye on the money (although for too long, CAI didn’t do them), but there is no such thing as a standard ethics or impact audit. At some point, we have to trust these guys. Most of CAI’s work is in remote areas, and more than 90 percent of funding comes from individual donors who don’t have the resources for serious due diligence. That’s not an uncommon scenario. If we can’t trust the leader, and the board is asleep at the wheel—as was the case with CAI—bad stuff ensues, often without detection.
To reward good intentions is to insult those who do good work. We don’t let CEOs or neurosurgeons get away with passion, good intentions, or even hard work; we expect them to produce results. Should it be any different when we’re trying to save the world? As philosopher Ivan Illich famously said, “To hell with good intentions!” Give us impact! (Alright, that last bit was me.) It’s OK to fire people.
Kevin Starr on the legacy of Greg Mortenson's 'Three Cups of Tea' story and how him being more or less in power of the organization is bad for the non-profit sector.

Training opportunities

This interactive map helps visualize ComDev training opportunities and providers worldwide. Different labels indicate various categories of organizations providing formal (academic courses) or informal training in ComDev (e.g. seminars, workshops) such as universities, NGOs, development agencies, research institutions, among others.
Great tool to explore ComDev training opportunities!

Hot off the digital press
Welcoming the timely release of UN’s Performance Peacekeeping Report

The report’s emphasis on interoperability is a key determinant in the Foundation’s own substantive input to the UN’s peacekeeping divisions in particular, and the UN system writ large, based on the belief that in order for the institution’s many faces to work as a single responsive, agile, effective and efficient entity, the sharing of information in a timely manner is deeply entwined with its mission. We have trained UN staff around ISR technologies, including open source information verification, data visualisation and mapping. 'Performance Peacekeeping’ flags the need for standardised mobile telephony and Internet access to augment, especially during crises, proprietary communications infrastructures and platforms by various peacekeeping actors. Combined with surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) tools, working with, inter alia, open source information sources, the Foundation is pleased that the authors of the report acknowledge how much can be done using tools that are today either open source, freely available online or can be, with little to no cost in most instances, adapted and adopted for peacekeeping purposes - along with obviously larger and deeper investments around information management at the enterprise level
New report-already on my digital hard drive reading pile...

Our digital lives
Ferguson Inc.

Every week at Ferguson Commission meetings, aggrieved locals speak of the urgency of problems like poverty, which the commission duly documents. But while perhaps fruitful in the long run, documentation does little to comfort the many St. Louis citizens scrambling to get by.
“Ferguson” has become a buzzword, shorthand for engaged activism or lucrative chaos, depending which way you lean. Twitter splashes #Ferguson across its office walls; Ferguson T-shirts are sold at rallies across the country; and, in November, media pumped Ferguson for ratings like they were staging a hunger games. Documentaries of protesters abound, with the documented now complaining that outsiders are profiting off their exploitation. Dozens of online fundraisers drop the Ferguson name to push for everything from community service initiatives to independent journalism to restoring burned-down businesses to riot tourism.
Sarah Kendzior addresses a key issue for 21st century development and social change engagement: How can you make sure that your great campaigning work, excellent fundraising and national visibility actually leads to social change that addresses structural root causes-often hidden from the dynamics of an incident or campaign. Reminds me of the Invisible Children/Kony2012 debate and highly relevant for non-profits around the world.

6 Things Nonprofits Need to Understand about their Facebook Pages

The last two years have been tough for nonprofits that rely heavily on Facebook to reach supporters. What’s more: instead of getting easier, it has only gotten tougher. Here are six essential things you need to understand about your Facebook page
Timo Luege continues the discussion I already highlighted in my last link review on how facebook and non-profit communication are facing difficult times.

The Curse of Hyper-Transparency

Something similar happens with ICTs and transparency. Applied in corrupt, opaque, self-serving environments, ICTs have been shown to reduce corruption and improve the efficiency and equity of practice. But applied further in democratic environments where a reasonable degree of e-transparency and openness already exists, ICTs can make things worse rather than better.
Absent other effects, the greater the transparency, the greater the absolute amount of such inappropriate behaviour that will be revealed, and the less citizens will value and trust public institutions. Any effects of transparency in reducing the amount of behaviour that is inappropriate are mitigated both internally and externally. Internally, transparency pushes institutions to spend increasing time on non-value-adding defensive activities.
Richard Heeks raises some interesting points; with the exception of a few highly political and politicized arenas, 'hyper-transparency' and the risks that come with it seem to be a theoretical concept. Most institutions and organizations still have a default mode that encourages meetings behind close doors, documents not being shared and decision-making far removed from actual public influence. More transparency is needed and most people should be quite accepting of mistakes by large organizations unless staff are public figures, controversial politicians etc.

Charities: Flattering Reports, Poor Data

Fiennes says funders would be better served if they began asking charities to cite research that already exists instead of asking them to create their own. After all, plenty of nonprofits across the country do similar kinds of work. “We do not need every one of these organizations to be conducting an evaluation of their programs,” she says. “We would be much better off if a few people answered the question centrally, and then other people were able to use that answer.” Fiennes’ latest project looks at the non-publication of research by charities. She wants to find out the extent to which nonprofits are not sharing findings about their work. Fiennes writes that unshared research hurts aid recipients in two ways. “First, donors and other operational charities can’t see what works and therefore what to fund or replicate, so may implement something avoidably suboptimal.” Secondly, she points out that research consumes resources, “which could perhaps be better spent on delivering something that does work.”
Interesting overview over Caroline Fiennes work on non-profit research, funding and (non-) reporting.

Why BuzzFeed is the Most Important News Organization in the World

Perhaps the single most powerful implication of an organization operating with Internet assumptions is that iteration – and its associated learning – is doable in a way that just wan’t possible with print. BuzzFeed as an organization has been figuring out what works online for over eight years now, and while “The Dress” may have been unusual in its scale, its existence was no accident. What’s especially exciting about BuzzFeed, though, is how it uses that knowledge to make money. The company sells its ability to grok – and shape – what works on social to brands; what they don’t do is sell ads directly (in a narrow sense BuzzFeed almost certainly lost money spinning up servers and paying for bandwidth to deliver “The Dress”). The most obvious benefit of this strategy is that, contrary to popular opinion, and contrary to its many imitators, BuzzFeed does not do clickbait.
Ben Thompson on Buzzfeed, news media and the evolution of 'clickbait'. The question is how we can engage with the power of Buzzfeed in (communication for) development?!


How to free business scholars from their ivory tower chains

But impact should go beyond publications. Awards by governments, businesses and local communities should count as much as academic awards, and public speeches should be as valuable as academic presentations. Impact also means questioning and changing practice by guiding students and practitioners to solutions that are socially progressive and environmentally sustainable.
Of course, the gap between business research and practice will continue to exist. But more diverse funding, new graduate programs and a broader take on “impact” will help build new bridges. And this may benefit not only practitioners and society at large, but it will allow scholars to produce more meaningful knowledge and methods that can make a difference.
Stephan Manning's discussion should not be limited to business studies; many of his arguments apply to range of practice-based disciplines, including communication, media and development.
I agree with Stephan that a more diverse measurement of 'impact' will emerge, but I wonder whether the big global academic brands will also dominate new rankings and measurements as they have the long-term financial muscle; put bluntly, if blogging 'matters', Oxford can just hire a team of editors and put a great blogging product together that will have a quantitative and qualitative impact. But great starting point for further discussions!

Anthropology’s Long Tail, or AAA 2.0

Jason made the point that one of the challenges open access presents to scholarly societies is this: if journals are free to all then they are no longer a benefit of membership. Potentially this might lead to fewer people paying dues to the society. But if fewer people are supporting the society it will not be able to afford to subsidize its OA publishing program. Society publishing quickly becomes unsustainable if we don’t have a compelling reason for people to pay dues. Therefore, making progress on unlocking the content of the AAA’s journals would necessarily entail rethinking what we want out of our scholarly societies.
The implications for Web 2.0 in organizational structures and/ or problem solving (think crowdsourcing) has been about leveraging the power of the Long Tail. It’s cool that we have stars out to change the world, they’re doing a great job too. But there’s literally thousands of us in the Long Tail of anthropology who don’t have prestige, secure jobs, or notable publications. We might wonder, too, if the demographics of the Long Tail are different than than the head.
Savage Mind on the digital future of scholarly societies and their core product, academic journals. If you add the growing discussions around mega-conferences, another important 'product' of these societies, to the mix, we are in the middle of an important discussion around the future of disciplinary discussions in the 21st century.


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