Links & Contents I Liked 144

Hi all,

Greetings from Stockholm where I participated in an interesting consultation meeting about the World Development Report 2016 (I live-tweeted with the #spiderwdr2016 hashtag yesterday).

But before we enter our well-deserved weekend, I want to share some interesting development- and digital culture readings with you: The ICT4DJester talks about the temptation of anecdotal evidence and lack of impact in ICT4D; WHO publishes a surprisingly frank statement on lessons learned from Ebola; UNICEF tries out Snapchat; The World Bank lets down resettled people; U.S. drones kill aid workers; and more personal reflections from a photographer on the limited power of images, from a veteran international correspondent on what he brought back, from a former Peace Corps volunteer who struggles with the legacy of her rape in Mozambique and from a frequent traveler on the changing face of passport visa.
Digital lives comes with a must-read on why technology people avoid to work for government agencies, a long-read on facebook spam and the fake global liking industry and fresh insights from Pew Internet that confirm that Americans are still stuck in Internet 1.0 discourses when it comes to engaging with the government.


New from aidnography
Why Katie Hopkins is so dangerous for development (journalism)
Katie Hopkins painfully reminded me of my own filter bubble-and how powerless we are when you are on a destructive mission and simply deny education, public debates, arguments and ‘evidence-based’ something with your opinion. You can find that in many other debates, but the development and humanitarian field is already quite small and under pressure to lose even the last rougher edges of civil society global social change engagement.
She has made the lives and work of development journalists, teachers, researchers and everybody who is interested in a civilized debate so much more difficult-right in time for the upcoming British general election and probably more debates about the ‘usefulness’ of development in its aftermath.

Development news
The seven sins of humanitarian douchery

It boils down to naughty volunteers who haven’t researched whether their organisation is ethical and committed to long-term sustainable development. They are volunteers who feel comfortable going abroad to do work they wouldn’t be qualified to do at home – stealing a local’s job in the process. Then there are the really bad ones, who are just in it for some messy nights out and the photo ops.
Sometimes the skills they offer simply don’t meet the needs ... “I’m thinking about teaching them Zumba for a few weeks, you know really make a difference.”
The best part of this story is that it has already accumulated more than 19,000 shares! And I hope that beyond the irony, snark and references to Orphan-tumblrs the serious message gets through-to parents, teachers AND students!

Putting Technology in Its Place

It’s the anecdotes that really keep the technology sector going in the [economic] development context. It is so easy to get an interesting story if you take some gadget and give it to a child. I have done this myself multiple times. The first thing that you see is kids just overjoyed that they have this new gadget in their hands. It’s a new toy, and they love it. You can’t not take a photograph of a smiling kid holding a laptop.
Multiple times in my lab, we’d run trials where you compare a control situation with a treatment situation. The treatment situation gets some kind of technology. If you measure some positive benefit in the technology case, your conclusion is that technology helped. But it was always the people that we worked with, the partners that we chose and the people on the ground who interacted with the people that we wanted to support. All of those human factors were required for the technology itself to have an impact; whether the technology helped or not was really up to people.
ICT4DJester Kentaro Toyama shares some important, unsurprising insights form his ICT4D work-and I hope the tech-crazy Technology Review readership takes some notice about humbleness when fixing poverty, education and development through IT...

Silence of the charities

If you look at the 52 groups that have been targeted for audits since the Harper government’s 2012 crackdown on political activity by charities, it’s not hard to see what joins them: advocacy of causes that the Conservative government thinks are, by its own admission, “radical.” I don’t actually know the full list, because it’s not been revealed,
There are many ways to silence a political enemy, as any wily government knows. You don’t have to shut them down to shut them up. It begins by thinking of them as “enemies” in the first place, and not say, as fellow citizens with a right to speak out.
Elizabeth Renzetti on how the Harper government in Canada changed the discourse around charities and their political engagement and is undermining civil society activities.

WHO leadership statement on the Ebola response and WHO reforms

We have learned lessons of fragility. We have seen that health gains – fewer child deaths, malaria coming under control, more women surviving child birth – are all too easily reversed, when built on fragile health systems, which are quickly overwhelmed and collapse in the face of an outbreak of this nature.
We have learned the importance of capacity. We can mount a highly effective response to small and medium-sized outbreaks, but when faced with an emergency of this scale, our current capacities and systems – national and international – simply have not coped.
We have learned lessons of community and culture. A significant obstacle to an effective response has been the inadequate engagement with affected communities and families. This is not simply about getting the right messages across; we must learn to listen if we want to be heard. We have learned the importance of respect for culture in promoting safe and respectful funeral and burial practices. Empowering communities must be an action, not a cliché.
Behind the press release-style headline is a very open and powerful statement by the WHO on its learnings from the Ebola response. I hope that we will see more transparent sharing of lessons learned that will actually lead to better action next time!

Using Snapchat for Social Good: UNICEF Case Study

UNICEF is using Snapchat to communicate the plight of the hundreds of thousands of children who are missing out on their childhoods. They are working with leading Snapchat artists – including Shaun McBride, aka Shonduras – to tell the stories of the children who have fled the violence by sharing images based on drawings from children in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon. The artwork reflects what children miss from home and the atrocities they have endured, including seeing their parents and siblings killed, tortured or abducted
Interesting campaign-at least UNICEF is trying new platforms and tools to communicate.

How The World Bank Broke Its Promise To Protect The Poor

Over the past decade, the bank has regularly failed to enforce its rules, with devastating consequences for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet, an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Huffington Post and other media partners has found.
The World Bank often neglects to properly review projects ahead of time to make sure communities are protected, and frequently has no idea what happens to people after they are removed. In many cases, it has continued to do business with governments that have abused their citizens, sending a signal that borrowers have little to fear if they violate the bank’s rules, according to current and former bank employees.
I will always remember the 'everybody with a laptop can hold the World Bank accountable' quote from a Bank manager. In the end, it needed a global network of investigative journalists, not an open data portal, to shed light on World Bank bad practice. Can the organizational culture change in large organization like the World Bank? What about internal governance and real accountability? These are questions I already asked in 2011:
Why having a computer is not enough-Does the World Bank use aid transparency to avoid tough debates on internal accountability?

South Sudan: Who Got What?

This comic is produced in cooperation with the Justice and Security research Programme of the London School of Economics. Written by Alex de Waal, who many consider to be one of the world’s leading experts on South Sudan, and drawn by Victor Ndula, one of Africa’s leading comic artists as well as editorial cartoonist for the Nairobi Star, the 8-page comic explains how South Sudan was bankrupt and at war within just three years after independence.
A great example of visual storytelling.

Warren Weinstein and the Long Drone War

One aspect of this particular mistake in Waziristan colors the news with a distinctive sadness. Warren Weinstein was the forgotten man of the war against Al Qaeda. He was an Urdu-speaking aid worker on contract with U.S.A.I.D., a man past retirement age, who was kidnapped from his home, in Lahore, in the summer of 2011, days before he was supposed to return to the States.
The political and military implications of drones reach the aid community-an Italian aid worker working for a German NGO was also killed in the strike.

Photographer of Missing Nigerian Girls’ Belongings: Our Attention Was Not Enough

The photos were published and shared widely. Many people wrote to me that they were glad to “see” the girls for the first time. I was glad to cover the story and to help people in Nigeria and around the world connect to the missing girls. 

But now, one year later, when the girls are still missing, I question the value of my efforts and all those who viewed and shared the photos.
If a photographer’s only job is to take the photos, then I succeeded. If my job is to create change, I have failed. The photos may have comforted some but ultimately did little to change anything.
Photographer Glenna Gordon reflects on the moment when 'storytelling', 'sharing' and 'attention' do not lead to change and a 'resolution' and our expectations of a narrative with a positive ending is sabotages by the harsh realities of conflict and war.

Jeffrey Sachs on the Future of Economic Development

In my view, whether it’s the geography questions or the manufacturing question that you asked about or the robotics or whatever it is, what’s fascinating for us in our real lives and in our societal choices is the change that we’re constantly living in during this past 230 years since Watt gave us the steam engine. We’ve been in 230 years of relentless change; technological change, structural change, societal change, cultural change.Yet our economics models are basically static, meant to be timeless.
Tyler Cowen interviews Jeff Sachs who is all 'complexity', 'robotics' and 'change'...well, he's Jeff Sachs and I will post my book review of a critical portrait of 'Dr Shock and Mr Aid' next week!

I Was Raped in Burkina Faso and My Rapist's Trial Will Take 10 Years

I’m writing this not because I want to criticize the Peace Corps, although I have my criticisms. I’m not writing this because I want to advocate for choosing to press charges or enforcing harsher punishments for rapists or providing better aftercare for survivors, although in a different conversation I would advocate for all of that. I’m writing this because I want to know why we don’t want to talk about rape when it happens to us.
I’m tired. I want to let go. I think about what might it be like to let go, and move on, and walk away. But then what? When it’s over, will I be done with it? Will I still be awake at night counting each woman I called my friend and that I left behind, abandoned?
I will never have answers. I will not really get to let go. I will finish this trial, but it’ll never be finished with me.
Writing about and sharing stories of rape is always difficult and I had a long internal debate whether this is the right space to share Yara Zaaslow's story; in the end, I decided to post her story, because it raises important questions about personal and professional well-being, but she also shares powerful insights of the many bureaucratic, medical, cultural obstacles that women in particular experience in the framework of development work and 'development'.

The Things I Carried Back

In all of these places, my experience has been that when it suits the ends of power, ideology can be invoked to prove that 2+2 = 5, or 3, or any other number that suits the state, and to demand that all embrace the madness. It is a truly frightening thing to interview a top-ranked nuclear scientist, or a distinguished brain surgeon, or a concert pianist, as I did in China under the sway of Mao, and to hear them, as ideological outcasts, justify with utter conviction the brutalities inflicted on them by their ideology-crazed persecutors — crushed fingers, smashed heads, broken marriages, vilification by their own families.
An interesting essay by John F. Burns on evilness, undemocratic regimes and the safety and freedom of the 'West' that may become a thing of the past as more digital surveillance moves into our societies.

The Dying Art Of The Visa: A Personal History

Over the past 25 years, the visa's form and function has evolved, along with technological advances. Security holograms, watermarks and other such breakthroughs made visas -- like banknotes -- less susceptible to forgery. Bleeding ink, security fibres and raised printing were often added, serving both security and design functions. And various digital technologies, from machine-readable text to digital photography allowed for easier data access and identification by airline and immigration officials. A glance through visas in my old passports -- I found six going back to 1988 -- revealed some fascinating technological, political and artistic trends from the past quarter century.
That's the Stuff Expat Aidworkers Like to talk about...

Hot off the digital press
Participatory action research: Guide for facilitators

This guide is a resource document for the training and capacity building of facilitators who conduct participatory action research (PAR) in the CGIAR Research Program on Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS). AAS aims to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people reliant on aquatic and agricultural systems for their livelihoods, through collaborative, inclusive PAR with communities and other stakeholders. This guide provides a road map for facilitators to support them in delivering a rigorous PAR process, providing them with guidance for effective facilitation that allows for critical reflection throughout the engagement process.
Although it says 2014 as publication data, this only showed up in my news feed now and may still be interesting and relevant for some...

#PeaceTech Review: A Preview of Promise

The most recent issue of “Building Peace,” a publication of the Alliance for Peacebuilding, on #PeaceTech doesn’t dwell on “what” is being built in technology for peace, but rather examining “how” the peacetech space is operating. And that’s a good thing. The authors in this issue approach the subject as a good engineer should: Disassemble, understand its components, make adjustments, and reassemble. The messy poking about that comes with such new territory is an indication of progress, not confusion.
Interesting new publication

Our digital lives
Americans’ Views on Open Government Data

A potentially significant barrier to government data initiatives lies in the connection between trust in government and skepticism among some citizens about whether these initiatives will bolster government performance. The greater a person’s trust in government, the greater the likelihood she believes government data initiatives will improve government performance. That sets up a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Do government data initiatives spark high levels of trust in government? Or do low levels of trust in government attenuate the benefits to civic engagement that are a motive for many government data initiatives? In highlighting this dynamic, this research points to the challenges and possibilities in ongoing efforts in the open data and open government arena.
A new Pew Internet study with interesting, nuanced, data-driven, albeit generally unsurprising results about Americans being active with Internet 1.0 rather than the next level. An important reminder for all those who predict the 'data revolution' any time soon...

19 reasons why technologists don’t want to work at your government agency

Technologists would much rather answer the call of civic service than optimize yet-another-mobile-app’s ad revenue. As noted before, “[t]he talent you want would be happy to work in an un-air-conditioned garage in New Mexico if it meant the chance to change the world”. Government provides just such an opportunity, but you’ve got to at least meet them half way. While other industries might have golden handcuffs, I’d argue that the biggest barrier keeping technologists out of government today is often their “digital handcuffs” — becoming accustomed to a culture that optimizes tooling and workflows for developers, and a culture that values shipping above all else (and a culture that’s not impossible for you to emulate).
If you’re a government agency trying to attract technical talent to your innovation efforts, it’ll take more than a fancy title. Focus on building an environment that supports innovation, and more specifically, one that supports innovators. If you build it, they will come.
Ben Balter shares some really excellent points that ring particularly true for large aid organizations (and to a lesser extent large universities...). Highly recommended reading!

New media could topple ‘helicopter journalism’ in Africa

Currently, stereotypes and political and economic instability still stand in the way of a fairer representation of Africa in the global media. “Assuming there was a global table of influence, we wouldn't be sitting there,” Ogunlesi admited. “Our influence on the media is small also because our economic power on the global scene is very reduced.”
But from what I saw in Perugia, change is slowly gaining momentum. In a media landscape where there is no space for nuance, Ogunlesi believes that new media can help radically change the mainstream narrative about Africa.
Interesting food for thought on how the media landscape is (slowly) changing in favor of more nuanced engagement with 'Africa'.

How Click Farms Have Inflated Social Media Currency

But the stakes are much larger than pocket money. Researchers estimate that the market for fake Twitter followers was worth between $40 million and $360 million in 2013, and that the market for Facebook spam was worth $87 million to $390 million.
If Facebook comes to suspect that Ashley Nivens is not, in fact, a real person, and suspends her account, Braggs will have Casipong unearth the appropriate SIM card from the tens of thousands of cards organized and stacked around Braggs’s shop, insert it into a phone, and answer Facebook’s text message: Yes, she is a human. “Basically,” Braggs said when we met last September, “there’s nothing Facebook can do to stop me.” Facebook has shut down his personal account, but Braggs laughs it off: “Why would I need one Facebook account when I’ve got thousands?” The main limiting factor for his business is a somewhat unpredictable supply of SIM cards.
Doug Bock Clark's long-read from inside the bot bubble is a fascinating read that shows you how perverted the Internet logic of 'likes' or 'shares' as an indicator of anything is when algorithms fight spam bots-and the thousands of human individuals that sustain this dark, or at least grey, side of the Internet.


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