Links & Contents I Liked 151

Hi all,

This week’s regular link review (after last week’s ‘anniversary post’) focuses on the core themes of the blog, development, humanitarian and philanthropical topics. 

We start with a new NGO survey on fraud reporting and fundraising spending, join Laura Seay and Alex De Waal for a great interview on good & bad ways of engaging in international conflicts, look at Australian mining bad practices in Africa, and are once more reminded that inspirational images, resilience discourses and philanthrocapitalism often empower individuals rather than pushing for social change. Wayan Vota on while most online communities fails, UNICEF celebrates 25 years of research on children’s issues and Ben Parker reflects on aid worker sacrifice, personal danger & more.
Finally, an Adobe ethnographer tells his story creating a user-centered Photoshop and my friend Michael Krona shares his thoughts on looking into the abyss of ISIS propaganda as part of his research.

Have a critical reading & reflection time and stay safe this week!

New from aidnography
What the German government thinks a “Strategic Partnership for a ‘Digital Africa’” should look like

I don’t know whether the fact that the document’s generic language could be used for pretty much any development topic, the one-sided embracement of ‘the private sector’ or the blatant ignorance of ‘digital development’ in Africa are the most striking aspects of this policy document, but it is a very revealing example of how a traditional bilateral agency thinks about ICT4D.
The most obvious approach for a political institution is to re-politicize an agenda, be a (small) critical voice when surveillance, democracy and other digital topics are debated, say, open educational resources, for example.
Development news
EXCLUSIVE-Aid charities reluctant to reveal full scale of fraud

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) revealed 14 cases of financial irregularities in nine countries, including Liberia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its biggest financial loss was in Colombia, where $50,000 worth of building materials did not reach the intended beneficiaries.
"A staff member admitted to having misappropriated the funds and was dismissed," an NRC spokesman explained.
Those defrauded said the problem was not simply one of theft.
"Corruption includes cases where the organisation faces theft, bribery, embezzlement, nepotism, facilitation payments, deception, extortion, abuse of power," said a spokesman for the medical relief charity MSF.
The MSF spokesman said in a separate incident, $790,000 of material goods were looted or stolen from its premises in the Central African Republic in 2014.
EXCLUSIVE-Which aid relief charities spend the most on fundraising?
ActionAid said its fundraising costs vary across the 10 developed countries and emerging nations where it seeks cash for its mission to protect human rights and defeat poverty.
"Internationally, however, the fact remains that for every dollar we invest in fundraising we see a return of nearly five times that much that we spend on transforming people's lives," a spokeswoman for ActionAid said.
ActionAid is followed by Plan International at 14.18 percent and the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) close behind at 13.8 percent although differences in accounting procedures make exact comparisons difficult.
An MSF spokeswoman said the charity relied heavily on private fundraising that is more costly than seeking donations from institutions and government grants.
Since the two articles are based on the same survey and written by the same author they should be read in the same context.
Aid is a complicated business. And if you rely on rankings etc. you may come to difficult conclusions: On the one hand, MSF seems to be very forthcoming on issues around 'fraud' and accounts for the complexity of the issue, on the other hand they seem to spend a lot of money of fundraising-transparency 'good', spending money on fundraising 'bad'. But the two are interlinked and I'm sure there are other issues that commentators have already pointed out, e.g. the fact that independence through private donations is more expensive than going after institutional funding. Definitely an interesting survey and great food for discussion!

Do-gooders, do no harm: What are the best–and worst–ways to help those mired in international conflicts?

Anyone who advocates on international issues will need to simplify. Policymakers should be attentive to some warning signs. One: Any advocacy story that puts outsiders at the center of the script is wrong—especially if that script claims that America’s use of coercive measures can solve a problem. Two: Simple and singular narratives are misleading. If little or no mental effort is demanded to take a position, something is wrong.
There are also some fundamental principles that are useful. Holding all actors to the same standards of human rights is one. Refusing to make humanitarian assistance conditional on political alignment is another.
To a large extent, local activists can be assessed by the same criteria as international advocates. Those who put their faith in external actors, to the detriment of domestic ones, are to be questioned closely. Those who claim certitude for their scripts should be treated gingerly.
And perhaps most importantly, only trust those who distrust force. It is pretty well-proven that nonviolent civil action is more effective in challenging dictatorship and ending violations than any use of force. Even in a hard case such as Sudan, nonviolence has been the only measure that has ever removed a military dictator. South Africa’s democratic movement used force, but it was always subordinate to a political strategy, in which nonviolent action played a larger role. Nonviolence is possible even in very unpropitious circumstances.
Laura Seay talks to Alex De Waal over at the Monkey Cage blog about transnational and local activism for peace and conflict.

Humanitarian Innovation Conference 2015: Facilitating Innovation

Check out the #HIP2015 hashtag for an overview of speakers, topics and tweet-bites.

Are Transparency International’s Defense Company Rankings Defensible?

In short, it is troubling that giving money and/or being a member of Transparency International impacted Transparency International’s recent rankings. It leaves the impression that Transparency International’s scores are a reflection, at least in part, of cooperation in Transparency International initiatives rather than a strict reflection of a specific company’s compliance efforts.
FCPA professor Mike Koehler points out some of the challenges that global rankings have when they are too closely linked to how organizations or cooperations are linked to the author of said ranking.

Fatal Extraction-Australian Mining in Africa

Australia is a giant in African mining, but its vast — and in some cases deadly — footprint has never been examined.
Australian-listed mining companies are linked to hundreds of deaths and alleged injustices which wouldn’t be tolerated in better-regulated nations.
Great multi-media investigative journalism feature by the Center for Public Integrity and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Australia is in pretty bad development shape thanks to another conservative government...

Beware inspirational online images – they may be more insidious than you think

But more problematic than their questionable usefulness is that these methods implicitly encourage socially vulnerable groups, whether poor or unemployed, to stop looking for answers in the public sphere. They are told instead that the barrier lies within themselves.
Again, there is nothing wrong with being moved by a picture of a young boy concentrating hard on his homework. But we should remember that pictures of this kind may serve more sinister purposes when paired with “inspirational” messages. Serious discussion of external circumstances – including a proper understanding of inequality – is not helped by the suggestion that the only thing holding a person back is their attitude.
Carl Cederström reminds us, once again, that empowerment of individuals or 'resilience' of certain groups doesn't necessarily lead to social change if these discourses are firmly embedded in a capitalist, consumerist logic where 'better choices' and 'hard work' will end poverty and inequality.

Resilience Is Futile: How Well-Meaning Nonprofits Perpetuate Poverty

We all began speaking in her language: protective factors, asset based organizing, personal resilience. We started to absorb this woman’s idea that changing people’s behavior was the solution to their problems, which meant absorbing the idea that people’s behavior was the source of their problems. But I knew at the core of me this was false. The problem had never been that I didn’t know the right number to call. It’s a lack of resources that produces a lack of resilience, not the other way around.
On that day I walked out of that job, understanding fully that the story of these people was not one of a lack of resilience but of too many systems to navigate. How to see a doctor, how to enroll in classes, how to get a driver’s license, how to tell people that you are already resilient, and what you need is a job that pays better, a job that will take you out of the surveys and focus groups to a place where you’re no longer so poor.
In this most excellent essay Melissa Chadburn reflects on her journey from a young woman living on the margins of society to being a campaigner for an NGO. She left the organization when she realized that the professionalized philanthropical-industrial complex has an increasingly hard time when faced with the glass ceiling of real social change versus playing by the rules of the existing system...

The downside of Sean Parker's "hacker philanthropy"

While the Gates Foundation puts a lot of emphasis on measuring the impact and outcomes of their work, I also learned that the foundation is only really accountable to its main trustees: Bill, Melinda, and Warren Buffett. Meanwhile, there's been no overhaul of legislation governing philanthropic foundations in the US since the 1950s — despite the fact that the scale and influence of private philanthropists has grown enormously in recent years.
As Georgetown Public Policy Institute's Pablo Eisenberg told Nature: "You may have foundations with assets larger than almost 70 percent of the world’s nations making decisions about public policy and public priorities, without any public discussion or political process."
To wrap up this section on philanthrocapitalism in the broader sense, Julia Belluz reminds us how challenging it still is to get large non-profit conglomerates to be transparent and accountable.

3 Reasons Why Your Next Online Community Idea Will Fail

Online communities don’t just spontaneously form. They start when people who already know each other, connect around a shared focus, then attract others with the same focus. So you have to start with an already existent community, preferably one that meets in-person and has a common desire and connection to others geographically dispersed, and is willing to overcome the limitations of online communication to make and grow those shared topics and connections.
No community is successful overnight. It takes years of hard work to build a high-quality, high-demand community, a time commitment we often don’t realize when writing the online community proposal. The first issue is content. You may think people will jump forward to contribute, but time and again there is a clear 1/9/90 ratio: 1% of users are creators, 9% of users are commenters, and 90% of users are observers. Expect to pay that 1% in either attention, benefits, or straight up cash to keep them engaged.
Wayan Vota on why online communities are difficult, complex and long-term projects that often fail-or at least are not quite successful as you or your organization initially thought.

25 years of research on child rights at Ospedale degli Innocenti

Numerous studies focused on what were deemed “emerging issues” in the 1990’s such as child trafficking, children in conflict with the law and child labour. Research on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child conducted at Innocenti allowed UNICEF to explore aspects of children’s development which were considered sensitive or taboo subjects in various cultural and national contexts.
Before we wrap up this section with a critical essay, let's make some space for good news in the form of acknowledging 25 years of UNICEF research on children's issue with its research organization Innocenti Centre in Italy.

Memento mori

And the aid agency managements let it happen. Yes, they say, we can manage the risk of being present in city X or region Y, and no, we won’t live in bunkers, we’ll be accepted by the local community. We’ll operate on the basis that people understand we’re here to do the right thing. Oh, and not one cent of your donor dollar will be ripped off or bunged to a crazy at a checkpoint, absolutely not. Perish the thought. We’ll have “partners”, remote management and (growth area here) “remote monitoring”. Security and risk management has become a humanitarian specialism.
Meanwhile, I remember the security officer bluntly telling me, the aid worker, of kidnap risk: “you’re a walking wallet”.
Aid agencies are squeamish about their losses. True to form, a UN “day” has been set up: World Humanitarian Day, every August, was meant to honour fallen aid workers. It’s become awkward. How do you honour the sacrifices of aid workers without appearing to value them more than the people they serve?
Read Ben Parker's short, but very powerful essay on aid worker sacrifice, political impotence and the general paradoxes of the humanitarian project, to help without overshadowing local people and projects or to sacrifice safety in unstable environments without becoming cynical.

Our digital lives
20 inspiring open source innovation communities and tools from around the world

What is not so often noticed is how the vision of open source spreads to other sectors and leads to a fascinating array of tools, thanks for example to 3D printing, and communities, which form a new way of open collaboration. I made a small exploration to search for great projects.
Christian Kreutz features a wide range of digital open source tools from race car design to knitting...


Photoshop, Ethnography, and User-centered Design

Immersed in self-organized networks using platforms like Twitter and Dribbble, I documented how designers were building new channels for learning, mentoring, and ultimately, for pushing the relationship between design and technology forward. A lot of designers I met, and have met since, didn’t get to their professional place via traditional design channels and institutions. It was also clear that as designers built new paradigms, values around sharing, openness, and collaboration were important. It was a great space to step into, one I’m still enjoying participating in.
Ethnography deeply informed the Photoshop team’s focus on design. We used it to not only understand trends in design and tools — which shaped development priorities — but ethnography was (and is) also integral to building empathy and connections. These connections resulted in rich feedback loops and user-centered development processes which are continuing to grow and mature.
What I find so interesting in Charles Pearson's reflection on his ethnographic work around Adobe Photoshop is the challenge between a global, proprietary software product of a multi-national company and the creative design and discussion processes behind it that keep the software flexible and user-centered.

Emotions of researching ISIS propaganda

I have sat through so many videos by now. You may be fooled by the weeks/months of silence about new videos on the news, but trust me, currently about two or three videos of this kind are uploaded every week. I have taken notes on everything I have seen. But above all, I more than ever really feel fear. Not for my safety, but the fear of human beings. What men are capable of. My pulse raises as I think about what I have seen. I have nightmares from time to time. I have felt sick, throwed up and have turned my head a number of times.
And I know that the writings I will produce of how ISIS use media for spreading fear, will not ever reflect the agony and feelings of anxiety that I experienced from watching all this. At best it will be a journal article read by fellow researchers and an informational short news piece. At best. But if I can contribute to make one simple step towards understanding how this group operates, and that step leads closer to a more effective work to counter them online and make people aware, then I guess a form of satisfaction will emerge making it all worthwhile.
And on a personal front? When I put my daughter to sleep at night, kiss her good night and stroke her hair, I guess I better and really understand the precious that is life and human value.
My friend and colleague Michael Krona writes on the challenges of researching the very dark corners of ISIS propaganda videos-how necessary the research is, how it may be limited by academic outputs and the personal toll it has on him as dad and human being.


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