My development blogging & communication review 2015

Dear all,

It only feels like yesterday that aidnography went live, but this is actually my fifth end-of-the-year reflection post after 2011, 2012, 2013 & 2014!

In the 2014 post my first headline was Aidnography as a small, permanent writing retreat and that is still how I feel about the project most of the time.
As you can see from the list of posts below, my comments/ reflections are eclectic, often inspired by current affairs and loosely linked together by the broad topic of 'communication for development' in practice (development commentary), research and academia.

Quite frankly, I was a bit surprised about the amount of book reviews I managed to publish this year. Even though they may not be the most eye-catching posts, they are an important part of this blog and in 2016 I am planning some review essays to provide more books with a space and focus a bit more on key topics rather than just individual books.

As satisfied as I am with the steadily growing number of visitors and page views, I do not want to dwell on the metrics and quantified aspects of the project - I have a day job where I can worry more about the quantified self ;)!

On the shoulder of a vibrant community
As the 34 link reviews indicate, curation and sharing are essential features of the blog. They are time-consuming to compile, but also very satisfying as they provide an almost weekly window into digital writing and communication by great individuals and organizations. I referenced my reflections on curation from 2013 in the #150 anniversary review in the middle of the year.

And since I do not just want to promote my own writing in this post, I will start with three very different writing projects that particularly caught my attention this year:

The relaunch of IRIN under Ben Parker has added another great site for humanitarian news and commentary to the virtual sphere. Panoply Digital quickly became my favorite group blog this year and Life After Aid is yet another reminder of what a great tool for reflective writing blogging can be (and I have to mention our 2013 research article briefly).

Aid worker well-being and the World Humanitarian Summit
Even though many digital discussions focused on the refugee developments, 2015 will probably be remembered as the year when aid worker well-being emerged on the agenda for real. Notable contributions came from Brendan McDonald, Megan Norbert, Alessandra Pigni and those who commented on the Norwegian Refugee Council verdict, e.g. Tayles from the Hood. In the built-up to the World Humanitarian Summit 2016 this issue has gained momentum and organizations want to and will have to do better to provide a professional and safe environment for expat and local staff whether they are a large international or small non-governmental organization.

More and better development journalism & critical writing on aid
I mentioned IRIN already, but it would not be fair to exclude other great humanitarian and development news projects, from Thomas Reuters Foundation to the GUARDIAN's NGO Agony Aunts, from the Humanosphere to Jacobin's many critical articles on philanthropy and capitalism and many great posts on many other sites.
On the other hand, many mainstream news outlets are still unwilling or unable to change their approach to charity and development reporting, see for example CNN's Hero of the Year event.
All this good, critical writing helps to firmly locate 'development' in political and pop-cultural discussions, debates around the changing nature of work, approaches to charity and humanitarianism. And this debates are intertwined with our digital lives, the ways we communicate and engage with ICT with or without D.

Organizations do get better with communication and/for development
Whether it was an invitation to a workshop at the German ministry for economic cooperation and development after I published a critical post on their ICT4D strategy for Africa or our Örecomm work with UNICEF there were quite a few reminders that large organizations are getting better at digital engagement and communication. UNU-WIDER is also paying more attention to digital engagement after 30 years of research and communication.Together with a colleague I am working on research around the 2014 Climate Summit and the UN's Twitter strategy that relied on celebrities and worked well as a campaign. These are often small cracks in organizational discourses, but they are getting bigger I feel. Greenpeace hiring investigative journalists is another interesting approach.

Does it 'add up' to anything?
Just in the latest and final link review for this year there are a number of pieces that are somehow indicative of core debates throughout this year, e.g. on power and 'evidence', the political nature of (big) data and more nuanced insights about online activism. Maybe there is an inherent wish for direction and a bigger picture in an end-of-year piece, but I have a hard time seeing one emerging. As the debate around Mark Zuckerberg's charity announcement clearly showed many not-so-great approaches to aid and charity get repeated regardless of evidence and profound discussions about harmful impact. One of the authors I have been sharing quite extensively this year is Nicole Aschoff and her book The New Prophets of capitalism is a very recommended read.

So we will think, write, read and share our reflections in the new year as well and I am looking forward to connecting with you in 2016!


Development commentary
The visible lessons of Invisible Children- #globaldev critique in the viral age (in response to Paul Currion)

TOP 5 post: 5 reasons why everyone should work for a large organization at some point in their international development careers

TOP 5 post: The professionalization of development volunteering – towards a new global precariat?

Are NGO & civil society regulations the development version of 20th century copyright laws?

Why Katie Hopkins is so dangerous for development (journalism)

Of drones, encounters nothing short of life-changing & building a movement – how the BBC reports on ICT4D & technological solutionism

Why the #HackingTeam hack should be a wake-up call for the #globaldev community 

Top 5 post: What the German government thinks a “Strategic Partnership for a ‘Digital Africa’” should look like

Barbara Bush, the rise of global health & white privilege

TOP 5 post: On Facebook’s false promises of a “poor man’s internet” (guest post Hani Morsi)

Does the ADB have a problem with women?’s Tom Esslemont and the pipe dream of overhead-free humanitarian aid

CNN Hero of the Year event offers a glimpse into today’s depoliticized charity industry

New research on International Development TED Talks & their role for communication for social change

New research on vocationalization in international development studies education

New journal article on peacebuilding and anthropology

Is banning Powerpoint from the classroom the best we can do for digital, inclusive education?

Who do anthropologists think they are?!

Apply to our MA in Communication for Development & Advances in C4D course!

The answer to academic publishing challenges is not always open access

If you want more diverse conferences & panels, make technology part of your diversity strategy

Why I prefer Academia_edu over Academia_eu

Book reviews

Chasing Misery (book review)

A journey to the dark heart of nameless unspeakable evil (book review)

Blinded by Humanity (book review)

Why I promote book reviews

Honor Among Thieves (book review)

TOP 5 post: Jeffrey Sachs-The Strange Case of Dr Shock and Mr Aid (book review)

The new prophets of capital (book review)

Status Update (book review)

The Frontman-Bono (in the name of power) (book review)

Geek Heresy (book review)

A Mighty Purpose (book review) 

State Crime on the Margins of the Empire (book review)


  1. Tobias, thank you so much for this recognition of the work that me and other members of Panoply Digital put into creating blog posts. It is a great honor and we hope that we can continue producing content you enjoy reading in 2016!


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