Links & Contents I Liked 154

Hi all,

New week, new links as the momentum for the start of the new term builds up.
Development news features Oxfam latest trends on closing civil society spaces; the complexities of (not) paying UN interns; the challenges of sustainable reconstruction in Haiti; how artists can enrich non-profit management; RCTs & the nuances if evidence; what happens when a Kenyan politician leaves his office; Digital lives ask whether Google algorithms can change election results? Has hacking be gentrified and/or appropriated? Are women getting empowered through book clubs?
Academia on the ‘war on learning’ and the question whether there is a ‘Netflix effect’ for training and teaching.


New from aidnography
Does the ADB have a problem with women?

Any high-level development meeting that features contemporary buzzwords like ‘innovative’, ‘inclusive’ or ‘resilient’ in its description feels a bit strange when the participants comprise a very homogeneous group in terms of sex, gender, age and dress code.
Hoffentlich macht Til Schweiger nicht auch noch Entwicklungsprojekte in Syrien
I write about German actor Til Schweiger and his plans to set up his own refugee camp in Germany which leads to broader reflections on celebrities getting involved in development and international politics.

Development news
5 trends that explain why civil society space is under assault around the world

As the rights-based approach gained prominence in the 1990s-2000s, civil society organisations shifted their focus from service delivery to influencing policy. Yet as space to engage in policy and political reform decreases, CSOs are pushed to focus more on non-confrontational, service delivery work. Some countries even mandate the extent to which civil society must work on the provision of services and ‘hardware’.
The spread of ICTs has also led to new legislation regulating these new spaces, often amounting to severe restrictions on freedom of expression. Governments use data that citizens willingly put online to monitor them, and employ sophisticated surveillance technologies to track and target activists.
Yet although reasonable regulation is legitimate, much bureaucratic oversight has become overly burdensome – a tool to obstruct and constrain dissenting voices rather than enhance accountability. Many CSOs are unable to cope with complex, changing procedures and struggle to obtain unrestricted funding required for effective, accountable organisations
Oxfam's Ross Clarke and Araddhya Mehtta on the challenges that civil society spaces face. 

Why the UN doesn’t pay its interns

Internal resistance from clerical UN staff and their unions is another problem. They fear that paid internships may become a back door for recruitment and increase competition for coveted low-level “professional” positions. Others worry that a system of paid internships would be susceptible to nepotism: interns go through a much less rigorous—and less transparent—hiring process than that for official staff, which is governed by the UN Charter. Another barrier to paying interns is a larger matter regarding the geographical make-up of UN staff.
Senior managers privately grumble about missing out on top young talent, who accept paid offers elsewhere or cannot afford to live unpaid in swanky cities like Geneva and New York. The interns who can afford it, chiefly the affluent and metropolitan locals, collectively bear little resemblance to the sort of workplace diversity the UN strives to achieve.
The debate around unpaid UN internships is, as always, a bit more complicated than simply blaming the organization and The Economist manages to present a more balanced picture; at the end of the day, the internship policy needs serious revisions in a global 'shadow' labor market economy where (unpaid) internships are part of professional development and the broader aid industry.

Following Outcry, the Red Cross Is Shifting Its Priorities in Haiti

From funding technical studies on soil quality, to ensuring that each part of the Canaan is accessible by road, to creating local governance structures, the Red Cross will support residents as they "plan what Canaan will look like five years, ten years from now," she said.
To everyday donors, that may not sound coherent or even measurable. But it's what the Red Cross, USAID, and Haiti's government agree is the best way forward.
"Infrastructure, roads, electricity — this is our vision, and the Red Cross is supporting this," Belizaire said.
But Canaan's fate remains uncertain. Some believe the land may be a flood zone, and that heavy rains or hurricanes could jeopardize the homes and lives of its residents. A study released in April warns that "large areas of the settlement are currently exposed to flood hazard." If those risks aren't properly mitigated, Canaan could be another disaster in the making.
Critics like Katz counter that the premise of assisting the development of a city in a disaster-risk area is ill-advised.
"Helping people live more permanently in Canaan… is that a good idea?" he asked. "If in five years there's a hurricane and 2,000 people are dead in Canaan, [the Red Cross] better not say that they had nothing to do with that and then try to raise more money."
But Belizaire says there's little alternative.
"Yes, the area has a very high risk of flooding," he said. "We are a natural disaster risk country."
Jacob Kushner writes an very nuanced piece for VICE news on the complexities of 'reconstruction' in Haiti and the role of external donors such as the Red Cross-and how difficult it is to be 'sustainable' in a natural and governance environment that is all but...

Refugee feedback inspires flat-pack homes

Its shelters are designed to be more robust and durable than the tents humanitarian organisations typically supply. Unlike tents, which last for around three to six months, the metal structures and polypropylene panels of the Better Shelter units are designed to withstand harsh sunlight, strong winds and dust storms, and last for at least three years. Feedback from refugees in Ethiopia, Iraq, Macedonia and Nepal now using the Better Shelters is helping to shape how the design evolves.
This could be a rare example where social enterprises, UN agencies and CSR money can come together for impactful social change.

Meet The Companies Whose Business Is Letting Governments Spy On Its Citizens

In April 2014, LGBT activists in Uganda began noticing that their computers and cell phones were behaving suspiciously. Phishing emails began to target the community, asking them to click on what appeared to be links to news articles, but which activist groups in Uganda later identified as malware.
Sheera Frankel shares only one of the many examples how malware and ICT4D directly interfere with development issues and social movements-just another reminder Why the #HackingTeam hack should be a wake-up call for the #globaldev community 

What nonprofits could be learning from artists

But you see, Sharon Bridgforth and Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, accomplished interdisplinary artists in the theatrical jazz aesthetic, scholars, and incredible humans that they are, are bringing something profoundly different to our philanthropy table — the radical power of vulnerability; the opportunity for improvising in the midst of uncertainty and ambiguity; and the transformative potential of witnessing each other in community.
Jennifer Lentfer shares some fascinating insights from IDEX's artist in residence program-a kind of social change answer to the free gourmet meals and dry-cleaning services that the corporate world can offer-this is an excellent way to build an organization and commit to social and personal change in the non profit 'industry' environment!

Can randomized trials eliminate global poverty?

The work quickly expanded, and J-PAL has now run nearly 600 evaluations in 62 countries, and trained more than 6,600 people.
Partnering with a group of US researchers, the state ran an experiment in 2009 that divided nearly 500 plants into 2 groups. Those in the control group continued with the conventional system, in which industries hire their own auditors to check compliance with pollution regulations. The others tested a scheme in which independent auditors were paid a fixed price from a common pool. The hope was that this would eliminate auditors' fear of being black-balled for filing honest reports. And it did: independent auditors were 80% less likely to falsely give plants a passing grade, and many of the industrial plants covered by those audits responded by curbing their pollution.
This Nature piece is an interesting overview and very good starting point for seminars etc.-I find the last example quite revealing vis-a-vis the limits of 'evidence': The fact that independent auditors are more, well, independent is not exactly an earth-shattering conclusion-but try to implement a similar program in the US or EU and you will have lobbyists fighting with all their money and influence, precisely because they know what works and want to stop efficient control measures...

Evidence matters when policymakers accept it and have the motive and opportunity to act on it

‘The evidence does not speak for itself’ is a truism in policy studies. Evidence based policymaking (EBPM) is about power: to decide what counts as evidence; to ignore or pay attention to particular studies; to link the evidence of a policy problem to a particular solution; and, to ensure that policymakers have the motive and opportunity to turn a solution into policy. Indeed, an attempt to portray EBPM as a technical or scientific process is often an attempt to exercise power: to rule some evidence in and most evidence out; and, to use particular forms of evidence to justify political action.
Paul Cairney analyzes how tobacco and alcohol control measures have (not) evolved over time. It's the move from 'evidence' to action and it takes time and efforts beyond assembling more evidence or training people.

The day I left office, my phone literally ceased to ring

The Kenyan culture is such that people attach value to friendship, but their friends value them for their money or influence.
The day I left office, my phone literally ceased to ring. My “friends” had moved on.
This renewed wealth will, needless to say, come from the public till. In essence, we have put ourselves on a self-destructive path in which one’s social relevance is determined by money and position.
As culture puts benefits ahead of sustainable relationships, we make many of those close to us to seek material wealth that will give them sustainable relevance to people. This is where corruption starts.
I don't agree with every aspect of Bitange Ndemo's reflection on (Kenyan) culture, (public) office and relationships, but his piece is an interesting contrast and reality-check to the 'evidence-based' discussion we had before-how can you rely on data, be open and transparent while receiving 200 emails a day with demands, propositions and notes from 'friends'? Easier said than done to 'do the right thing'...

Hot off the (digital) press
State of social media technologies for disaster preparedness in Asia Pacific region

This report aims to contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the implications of social media analysis tools for disaster preparedness, focusing on the Asia Pacific region. The research it is based on follows a technology-in-practice approach, that is, it examines users’ practices enacted in their interaction with technological features and functions (e.g., message broadcasting on Twitter, visual analytical tools on ThinkUp) in different situations. Specifically, this research aims to solicit data from humanitarian organizations’ self-reported opinions and usage of social media and related analysis tools, which helps answer the practical question of whether and in what ways organizations’ information behaviour (i.e., communicating on social media, monitoring and assessing information via analysis tools) leads to disaster preparedness and resilience building.
A good overview and starting point for vert practical discussion around technology and disasters.

Our digital lives

How Google Could Rig the 2016 Election

More alarmingly, we also demonstrated this shift with real voters during an actual electoral campaign—in an experiment conducted with more than 2,000 eligible, undecided voters throughout India during the 2014 Lok Sabha election there—the largest democratic election in history, with more than 800 million eligible voters and 480 million votes ultimately cast. Even here, with real voters who were highly familiar with the candidates and who were being bombarded with campaign rhetoric every day, we showed that search rankings could boost the proportion of people favoring any candidate by more than 20 percent—more than 60 percent in some demographic groups.
Algorithms, gate-keeping & power - THE debates for our present and future!

The hacker hacked

Here is where the second form of corruption begins to emerge. The construct of the ‘good hacker’ has paid off in unexpected ways, because in our computerised world we have also seen the emergence of a huge, aggressively competitive technology industry with a serious innovation obsession. This is the realm of startups, venture capitalists, and shiny corporate research and development departments. And, it is here, in subcultures such as Silicon Valley, that we find a rebel spirit succumbing to perhaps the only force that could destroy it: gentrification.
Gentrification is the process by which nebulous threats are pacified and alchemised into money. A raw form – a rough neighbourhood, indigenous ritual or edgy behaviour such as parkour (or free running) – gets stripped of its otherness and repackaged to suit mainstream sensibilities. The process is repetitive. Desirable, unthreatening elements of the source culture are isolated, formalised and emphasised, while the unsettling elements are scrubbed away.
Key to any gentrification process are successive waves of pioneers who gradually reduce the perceived risk of the form in question.
Hackers have neither been hacked nor gentrified
The word we’re looking for might rather be appropriation of hacker culture. It fits the articles’ analysis of making “exotic” things and ideas more palatable for a broader audience. This is where it get’s interesting. Because cultural appropriation works along power lines, with a dominant group appropriating the culture of a group with less power. Having little power is a trope intricately woven into nerd pride and here might be a place where we actually see this in action.
Brett Scott's Aeon essay and Helga Hansen's short reply form an interesting debate. In the end, 'hacking' like most, if not all, fields that at some point involved strong notions of social change (such as development) have entered various shades of mainstream culture-and marketization. At the same time, there is also a new/emerging writing and journalism culture, including the great Aeon magazine, that is still too much focused on developments in reach, in their own gentrified neighborhoods, cities and online circles (including the write of this blog, of course...)?

Women’s Groups and the Rise of the Book Club

Both Oprah’s Book Club and the BOMC sold the idea of self-improvement through reading. And though detractors have always argued that they aren’t sufficiently literary, the clubs never, in fact, have attempted to engage with literature for literature’s sake. The same could be said for women across the country who are part of the book club boom. From self-culture to consciousness-raising to self-help, women’s cultures of individual improvement have often had a communal aspect. Book clubs provide opportunities for individual intellectual development, but they also emerge from a tradition that stresses the power of the group to implement social and personal change.
Pamela Burger on the history of book clubs as spaces for women's interaction, agency and intellectual empowerment. I appreciate the idea of featuring articles and material from the JSTOR archive in a more accessible way, but I also wondered whether there was more critical literature available on this particular demographic and how book clubs avoid further engagements with the complexities of the real world?


OER021: War on Learning – Can Open be a Weapon of Defense?
Elisabeth Losh talks about her 'War on Learning' book and complexities of the 'digital university' (Podcast in English, hosted by a German OER site).

The Netflix Effect on Training

Respect different learning speeds and decrease the amount of time wasted on travel by delivering training that is consumable anytime, anywhere and on any device. Imagine the difference in ramp up time and productivity gained between Option A: flying an entire training class, with varying levels of experience, to Vegas for 2 weeks of rigid classroom sessions vs. Option B: delivering an online course that allows participants to "test out" of material they already know, and quickly move on to what they still need to learn.
I am always skeptical and hesitant when the CEO of a business makes promises about the future that her company is best-suited to address...but the 'Netflix effect' not just on training, but also on higher education teaching will be an issue that deserves attention.


Popular posts from this blog

Happy retirement Duncan Green!

Dear white middle class British women: Please don't send used bras (or anything, really) to Africa

Should I consider a PhD in International Development Studies?

61 authors, 39 chapters & 3 very happy editors! Our Handbook On Humanitarianism & Inequality is finally published!

Racism in the aid industry and international development-a curated collection