Links & Contents I Liked 155

Hi all,

The first week of term was quite overwhelming-so the latest link review is a bit delayed. But this also means that plenty of interesting readings will be featured below!
Development news looks at new volunteering research with a Southern focus; the Clintons & Haiti; the limits of how the new BRICs bank challenges the system; the challenges of humanitarian biometrics; Oxfam embracing the ‘data revolution’; what lacking preparedness for the next Katrina says about development & technology; how Gasland changed public debates & action; the myths of ‘Effective Altruism’ is this week's must-read!
Our digital lives on data scientists and mommy bloggers’ disappearing income. Finally, some digital tools for reflective academic practice.


New from aidnography

New research on vocationalization in international development studies education
The latest published outcome of my fruitful research and writing partnership with Daniel Esser is a new article in Learning and Teaching where we discuss Countering the risks of vocationalisation in Master's programmes in International Development
Dealing with digital in media development —7 things to consider
Media development needs to think digital every step of the way, says development researcher and blogger Tobias Denskus. Read on for more of his insights on #mediadev.
Me sharing some reflections on digital media development for the Deutsche Welle Akademie blog.

Development news
Volunteering and Development Research: time for a rethink
South-South volunteering is not a new phenomenon – there are long histories of solidarities through volunteering between countries in the global South. But the interviews I have recently completed with individuals from China and the Philippines who have volunteered in Bangladesh, Kenya and Nepal, reveal dynamics, connections and hierarchies that have been largely ignored in volunteering research to date, but which speak directly to new debates around who is doing development, where and with whom.
As volunteering thinking and practice becomes widely accepted and globalized, often shaped by the volunteering ideas and experiences of the global North, there is an urgent need for more serious attention to the multiple ways volunteering is defined in and between settings.
Matt Baillie Smith shares some interesting insights into the way global volunteering is changing-and the powerful role of the Northern-led volunteering and voluntourism discourse; as he writes, more interesting research is being conducted; here on this blog I wondered whether we
Are we doomed to repeat every North-South development mistake globally like #SWEDOW?
and how new forms of volunteering may lead to a global precariat:
The professionalization of development volunteering – towards a new global precariat? 

The Clintons’ Haiti Screw-Up, As Told By Hillary’s Emails

But then came the recommendations—and a second classic pitfall. Far from speaking uncomfortable truths to her parents’ power, Chelsea was largely agreeing with their own assessments. At a March UN donors’ conference for Haiti over which Bill and Hillary Clinton presided, the secretary of state would tell the assembled delegates that the global community had to start doing things differently. “It will be tempting to fall back on old habits—to work around the [Haitian] government rather than to work with them as partners, to fund a scattered array of well-meaning projects rather than making the deeper, long-term investments that Haiti needs now,” she said, nearly repeating her daughter’s dismissal of the “ad hoc efforts” that had defined the early response.
As it was, that personality-driven leadership style meant the response to the Haiti quake would focus on priorities set by those surrounding them, rather than those of majority of Haitians.
Jonathan Katz investigates the Clinton's involvement in post-quake Haiti humanitarian efforts based on the recently released Hillary Clinton emails. In the end, personality- and Beltway-driven habits were stronger than advocating for different forms of engagement, let alone a better way of engagign with bottom-up local efforts. I reviewed Jonathan's award-winning book on Haiti some time ago.

Why the new Sustainable Development Goals won’t make the world a fairer place

It sounds wonderful, but unfortunately it’s not as good as the media would have us believe. In reality, the goals are inadequate to the task of delivering the new economy we so desperately need. And in this sense they are not only a missed opportunity, they are actively dangerous: they will lock in the global development agenda for the next 15 years around a failing economic model that requires urgent and deep structural changes.
Jason Hickel provides a concise critical review of the SDGs-development goals based on an old political-economic model that will guide policy, practice, research and funding for many years to come!

The BRICS Bank isn’t Challenging the System, Only Western Leadership of It

The launch of the NDB is a huge success for the BRICS grouping, but the grouping’s greatest challenges lie ahead. Creating a globally active development bank is fiendishly difficult, and the BRICS will be wise to draw from existing institutions’ experiences. In a sign of welcome pragmatism by member countries, the bank’s key decision-makers, such as K.V. Kamath, who comes from the world of private banking, and Nogueira Batista, an IMF man, possess expertise from established bodies.
While the new institutions must first show that they can make a tangible contribution to addressing international development challenges, the NDB – along with the AIIB – may serve as symbols of a very different global institutional landscape: more complex, less Western-centric, but ultimately more adequate for a multipolar world.
A nuanced commentary by Oliver Stuenkel on the new BRICS development bank-in the end, Western leadership of the global financial institutions is challenged, but deer-rooted challenges of global governance in a capitalist world will provide lost of material for IR scholar to research in the coming years...

Eyes Wide Shut: The challenge of humanitarian biometrics

This fits with a wider and more worrying pattern in the field of biometrics: it's marginalised groups who are used as guinea pigs for new biometric applications, always with claims that it's for their own benefit. Privacy International has identified that in countries where democratic processes – such as parliamentary oversight and the rule of law – function more effectively, biometric schemes have been repeatedly challenged and rolled back by informed citizens. The real issue here is accountability – or lack thereof – precisely because humanitarian biometrics are being implemented in countries where those factors are weak to non-existent.
Building on this and other efforts, and incorporating the principles of participatory design, our starting point should be designing from the point of view of refugees, rather than our own organisations. Unfortunately the humanitarian community consistently fails to engage with that perspective, but this debate is more critical than ever, and not just for biometrics. The debate around design imperialism has died down, but it hasn’t disappeared, and digital design is becoming increasingly important.
Paul Currion makes some excellent point-as more and more 'big data' is collected in development and humanitarian settings, we risk repeating mistakes about privacy and accountability in our quest for timely and innovative forms of digital engagement.

A data revolution is underway. Will NGOs miss the boat?

Over the last two decades, NGO have been collecting increasing amounts of research and evaluation data, largely driven by donor demands for more rigorous evaluations of programs. The quality and efficiency of data collection has also been enhanced by mobile data collection. However, a quick scan of UK development NGOs reveals that few, if any, are sharing the data that they collect.
We are very proud of this initiative and excited about the contribution that it will make to the development knowledge-base. Nonetheless, we are proceeding with caution, as it feels a bit like venturing out into uncharted waters. The process will take place gradually, starting with a small number of datasets and expanding overtime.
Oxfam's Sophia Ayele on how the organization is leading data policies for NGOs that are going to share data in similar ways as other big development players.

ICT4D as revenue generator: complications in serving the underserved

While the situation described in Uganda is a real (and painfully common) manifestation of too much cash available only as yearly or short-term expenditures (foundations, large NGOs, etc.), too little oversight (need for country-level M&E of ICT4D projects) and not enough collaboration (aside from the lack of PR benefits, how many of these projects could be combined?), I am not sure the counterbalance to that situation is a revenue-driven ICT4D economy, or least not exclusively. (...)
Ultimately, it will be a balance between revenue and philanthropic work. One goes where the other cannot, and vice versa. So they work in some sort of symbiotic balance, ideally.
Michael Gallagher shares some critical thoughts on ICT4D and revenues from such projects. So can ICT4D be part of a new, different economic model in emerging economies?!

War is a tragedy, not our own road trip

"Sick of photojournalists who use war as: 1. adventure 2. escapism 3. personal therapy 4. & then write a book about it"
Yes, there is something seductive about war and poverty. But when it's your job to take photos, and you are a Magnum photographer, not some kind of clueless tourist, it's also your job to stop, think and not commodify people's struggle for freedom.
Alessandra Pigni short rant-ish reflection on how international journalism and humanitarian aid work suck 'us' in in an age of (over) mediatization and growing competition for attention.

No One Is Ready for the Next Katrina

Structural vulnerability comes from financial neglect, which leads back to politics. “There’s a lot of political incentive to fund new, shiny infrastructure, but less of an incentive to be a responsible caretaker of stuff that’s already built,” Hsiang says. After all, it’s not particularly likely that a given piece of infrastructure will fail during a given politician’s term. Easy enough to pass the bill on to the next guy. Politicians also get things wrong when it comes to what happens after the storm. “People argue that after a storm we can build back better. That’s a very politically savvy statement to provide encouragement, but empirically it doesn’t hold up in the data,” says Hsiang.
Nick Stockton's piece is one of many that has been published in the context of the 10th anniversary of hurricane Katrina. But what I found quite interesting and a bit scary is how well it resonates with other humanitarian debates from Haiti to Nepal-in some ways, New Orleans is still a powerful example of 'third world America'.

10 Years After Katrina: Would Social Media Have Made a Difference?

Given the pervasiveness of social media, crisismapping and crowdsourcing platforms, I find it inconceivable that the same information vacuum could exist in a major city in a highly developed country today. Instead, I’m convinced that these technologies would have led to enhanced situational analyses which would have flagged situations at places like Memorial as urgent and critical so that hopefully it would never have escalated as it did.
Of course, this is all conjecture and wishful thinking. But I believe that these technologies can significantly improve operational decisions when used quickly and competently so that fewer lives are lost the next time.
Timo Luege reminds us that digital humanitarianism has come a long way in the 10 years since Katrina.

Gasland: HBO documentary key driver of opposition to fracking, study finds

“Local screenings of Gasland contributed to anti-fracking mobilizations, which, in turn, affected the passage of local fracking moratoria,” according to the study, which was authored by University of Iowa associate professor Ion Bogdan Vasi.
Researchers said they analyzed internet searches, Twitter posts, mass media coverage and activist mobilizations that focused on fracking at various points following the release of Gasland on TV channel HBO in June 2010.
They found spikes in activity immediately following the release, the film’s nomination for an Oscar in February 2011 and its various local screenings. The study said the documentary helped shift fracking “from a place of almost complete novelty” to “an established and contentious position”.
New research on the impact of documentaries on 'real life', e.g. fracking.

Against Charity

The irony of Effective Altruism is that it implores individuals to use their money to procure necessities for those who desperately need them, but says nothing about the system that determines how those necessities are produced and distributed in the first place.
As charities and Effective Altruists publicize how badly the global poor need food, for example, capital acquires and controls their fertile land, using it to grow crops that can be sold for higher returns to populations with deeper pockets. The farming practices it brings require already-scarce water supplies and are slated to overdraw the sources of those supplies — to say nothing of ecological havoc like mass extinction and global climate change.
Rather than asking how individual consumers can guarantee the basic sustenance of millions of people, we should be questioning an economic system that only halts misery and starvation if it is profitable. Rather than solely creating an individualized “culture of giving,” we should be challenging capitalism’s institutionalized taking.
Mathew Snow's essay takes apart the concept of 'Effective Altruism'-definitely a highlight you should put on your reading list!

Hot off the (digital) press
Peacekeepers in the Sky: The Use of Unmanned Unarmed Aerial Vehicles for Peacekeeping

Yet the use of UUAVs is complicated by a number of issues related to perceptions, politics, ethics and empowerment. The use of surveillance technologies by the UN may at times be politically unpopular among those UN Member States that fear technologies like UUAVs will inevitably compromise their territorial and political sovereignty
Helena Puig Larrauri and Patrick Meier just published a new report on behalf of the ICT4Peace foundation-I will check it out in more detail, possibly disagreeing with some parts about the innovative potential of UAVs

Inequality, Democracy and Development under Neoliberalism and Beyond

This book is the collection of articles by young researchers from Latin America, Africa and Asia who were laureates of the South-South Institute held in Bangkok, Thailand in November 2014. The primary objective of the South-South Institute is to offer advanced research training opportunities to the younger scholars on the diverse problems and challenges faced by the countries of the South, and the theoretical and methodological perspectives that might be appropriate for gaining a full understanding of the specific situation of the countries and peoples located outside the core of the international system such as it is presently structured.
Open access ebook with contributions from a great range of global 'Southern' voices.

Our digital lives

You don’t need a data scientist (yet)

While data science is currently over-hyped, many organisations still have much to gain from hiring data scientists. I hope that this post has helped you decide whether you need a data scientist right now. If you’re unsure, please don’t hesitate to contact me. And to any data scientists reading this: Be very wary of potential employers who do not have good answers to the above questions. At this point in time you can afford to be picky, at least until the hype is over.
Yanir Seroussi asks some fundamental questions about data science and data scientists in an age of hype.

Can Mommy Bloggers Still Make a Living?

So are mommy bloggers doomed? Must they choose between scraping by on what’s left of the banner-ad market, on one hand, and enlisting their children in staged sponsored-content outings, on the other? Bidel says it’s too soon to ring the banner ad’s death knell for small bloggers. She knows of many stay-at-home moms who blog in their free time and use their sites to bring in side income.
The key, she says, is to manage expectations. “If you can generate enough content to attract a good enough audience by working all by yourself, and you'll be happy with an income of $50,000 a year, you'll be fine,” Bidel says. If you’re like Armstrong, who at one point had a husband, assistant, and two kids relying on Dooce for money, maybe not.
These days, Armstrong says she wouldn’t recommend blogging for money. The popular aphorism advises, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Armstrong did what she loved, so she never stopped working.
As often in this section of my review, the actual story, Olga Khazan reports on the changing online advertising market, is an indication of larger changes-and the question as always is: how does this affect the non-profit, development community?


Reflective practice goes digital

Reflective practice for academics in Higher Education is not a new idea, in fact reflection is encouraged in most professional fields and is a habit that students should be developing as part of their wider digital capabilities.
Unfortunately, reflection can easily be overlooked when time is short. If digital tools can make it easier to quickly capture thoughts and ideas across a range of media, then there can be huge benefits for learning and professional development.
Anne Hole with a short introduction and overview over digital tools and method for reflective approaches to (academic) work.


  1. I found the article 'Against Charity...
    The irony of Effective Altruism' an interesting philosophical read. As a summary id say it is an anticapitalist perspective about arguing for justice rather than charity and especially monitary charity......However surely if we take one more step down the philosophical line we now have charities, academics, professional activists that ask for donations not for charity but for justice campaigns and supporting social movements. Often such donations go to western organisations battling injustice around the world and part of this is supporting local organisations to have voice....Now if Effective Altruism is focused upon what Westerners can best do in international there really any contradiction in those who are wealthy donating money to people who campaign about the injustices of capitalism?....Also one can ask who is best placed to campaign about injustices of capitalism? Perhaps one might donate money to health care campaigns and humanitarian emergencies to yes save the life of children...because it is these children who are best placed to be part of and lead social movements rather than people sat in offices in London or New York. There is a balance of course to be struck which is painful of being in a position of saving a life now, vs long term change which brings up the question of how that long term will change will happen and by who.

    I am not arguing here for neoliberal capitalist charity, but i think it is more about attitude and focus. What can a western citizen best spend their time on when trapped in a capitalist world....this remains a difficult question, fight the system and donate....i remeber talking to a fundraiser about a certain Individual donor that worked in the city and donated several hundred thousand pounds a year to a human rights charity. Upon hearing that the donor had decided to pack in the ratrace and fight for justice themselves there was mixed feelings....the loss of the donation would mean loss of funding and less support for southern campaigns and campaigners


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