Links & Contents I Liked 166

Hi all,

It is Friday and time for some week-end reading recommendations:

Development news: Microloans don't solve poverty; accountability reforms are complicated; a new project on leaving the aid industry behind after 30 years; how to improve M&E for mobile services; UNU-WIDERs digital communication reform; men leaving Nepal; the political marketplace for (non-) violence; the future of Think Tank researchers.
Digital lives: Open data & the criminal justice system; PhD thesis on Spain's 15M movement.
New publications on Media and Information Literacy and openness in education.
Academia: The value of the 'ivory tower' & and review of the open access publishing debate.


New from aidnography
Why I prefer Academia_edu over Academia_eu

I use Academia_edu a lot, I find it very useful and with low opportunity cost and I am not keen on an alternative ‘Academia_eu’ platform that has huge risks of becoming a white elephant-an expensive, laborious, elite-institution-driven endeavor that in the end will not deliver the same quality as today’s Academia_edu features
Development news
Microloans Don’t Solve Poverty
The studies find no evidence that borrowers are, on average, hurt by the loans. But they don’t appear to be helped much either. In a paper introducing the six randomized studies, economists Abhijit Banerjee, Dean Karlan and Jonathan Zinman walked through the findings: None of the six studies found statistically significant increases in household income or spending. Four of the six found no change in food consumption; one found a modest increase and the sixth found a significant decrease.
Ben Casselman's piece is a very good overview over the microloan/microcredit debate, including findings from recent research studies. By the way: There will never be that one tool or approach to 'solve poverty' no matter how hard we try...

Have those hard-won accountability reforms had any impact?
New accountability systems can serve as useful political channels for marginalized social groups affected by Big Aid. Downwards accountability practices have sometimes achieved modest but significant shifts in the norms and power relations underpinning decision making.
But while such institutional changes have benefited some project-affected people, they have failed to make a difference for many others. The unevenness of such impacts reflects the inescapable ways in which accountability institutions (like all institutions) remain constrained within broader relations of social power. Whether we think all the hard won claims have been worth it perhaps depends on the level of ambition or modesty of our initial expectations.
Kate MacDonald and May Miller-Dawkins on the, maybe unsurprising, complexities around 'accountability' that, like any other development discourse, need to be situated in political and social realities rather than applied generously and generally...

Leaving it behind
Many years, missions, countries and employers have come and gone since July 1991 when I posed with my peshmarga friend in that gorgeous ravined river valley between Penjwin and Chaklawa. For the most part I thoroughly enjoyed those years and the ‘journey’. I rose to pretty high positions in a number of organizations and was generally regarded as a good manager, thinker and problem solver by peers and superiors. Until relatively recently I never seriously considered changing my career. Humanitarian and development work was what I did. I was the sole source of income for my young family. After about 15 years I could do most of my jobs while half asleep. Why would I want to leave it behind?
'Mr Harmonium' shares his reflections on life after 30 years in aid-sounds like a very exciting blog project with great potential for reflective writing and learning!

How to improve M&E for mobile services: 5 questions
Based on our experience, here are 5 questions to ask yourself when doing M&E with a mobile or ICT product or service
Alexandra Tyers on proper planning and budgeting, being pragmatic, borrowing from the private sector, utilising data analytics and incorporating qualitative feedback. Sounds like good advice for many sectors...

From newsletter to blog - welcome to the new WIDERAngle
When I arrived at UNU-WIDER for the first time, we put together the WIDERAngle as a printed newsletter, with desktop publishing software. It was then printed on nice black and white paper (the later colour print was an exciting innovation like the move from black and white TV to colour). WIDERAngle was then put in a plastic bag, and posted. I still remember helping stick labels on the bags (thousands!) when the machine malfunctioned. It was very nicely produced, and the content was good—we did a special issue of WIDERAngle on the theme of ‘IT and development’, as we were one of the first research groups to work on the issue. But today it seems very odd to disseminate research on such a topic via paper and post. Still, we did have a very good website for its time (the late 1990s, early 2000s), having given special attention to making it readable for slow desktop PCs (no tablets or smartphones then).
Tony Addison reflects on the changing communication approach of UNU-WIDER; I am always happy to highlight more innovative approaches to sharing knowledge in the UN system and Tony is very (pro)active and authentic on social media which adds an important personal touch to the often quite academic output of the organization!

Why thousands of people are leaving Nepal
"It's not only about the money," says Sabin, who is back home from his job in Qatar for the first time in two years. "So many of the men have gone away there's no-one left here now to repair the earthquake damage and build the houses. No-one to do the pipes, the electricity - they're all gone."
More than three-and-a-half million Nepalis - that's well over 10% of the population of this mountainous, underdeveloped country - have left to work abroad over the past 20 years.
Kieran Cooke reports for the BBC on the challenges of migration from Nepal, the importance of remittances and how it makes post-earthquake reconstruction all the more difficult physically and mentally. Nepal remains a very fragile state and society.

Non-Violence and the Political Marketplace
A marketplace analysis allows us to see how mistakes in law enforcement, counter-terror or peacemaking can lead to worse outcomes. Decapitating a criminal cartel in a political marketplace will probably lead to a proliferation of lower-level criminal entrepreneurs, more violent and less well regulated. Decapitating a violent extremist organization will have a similar outcome, as well as generating more anger and resentment among its constituents. Trying to enforce a peace agreement without the resources that would enable a political budgetary buy-in will likely lead to repression, as the parties to the agreement remove claimants and rivals.
Achieving non-violence in a political marketplace is therefore a very different task to eliminating men of violence or pressurizing belligerents to sign peace agreements.
We should not labor under the illusion that institutions can be built, and rules and procedures established, in these societies, in the foreseeable future. The standard formulae for state-building are therefore unlikely to be relevant. Rather, the focus of action should be on building on the political vernaculars and existing societal values, to enhance non-violent practices.
Alex DeWaal introduces a political marketplace analysis of war, transition and 'peace', highlighting the many complexities and grey areas that tend to get ignored once the global peacebuilding industry moves in and want to 'build states'.

The future of researchers
This is not a message that my generation would like to hear but it is not far-fetch to expect that younger researchers –those entering the sector today- won’t have these skills already.
Changes in the research culture will affect hiring practices, the roles and responsibilities of various members of staff, leadership roles in particular, and governance structures as a consequence.
Enrique Medizabal of how the future for researchers in Think Tanks may look like and how organizations will change in the 'digital age'.

Our digital lives

Data and Civil Rights-A new era of policing and justice

From the Open Data, the Criminal Justice System and the Police Data Initiative paper:
This primer addresses a number of questions about the role open data can play within the
criminal justice system. What data is being released, and how will it serve private and public interests? Will sharing existing data do enough to build community trust and transparency, or do new types of data need to be collected? Does data collection and release need to be coordinated across police departments, and, if so, how? What role will data intermediaries – such as journalists and private businesses –play in communicating open data to the public? And how is open data used for advocacy and reform?
Robyn Caplan, Alex Rosenblat and danah boyd explore very interesting questions in their background document for the conference-questions that should resonate with the development open data community and their debates.

Thesis Defence. Arnau Monterde: Emergence, evolution and effects of the 15M network movement (2011-2015): A technopolitical approximation
Centrality of the interaction of the 15M with the technologies of network communication.
The evolution of the 15M after the uses of the networks, action and organization.
The 15M transforms the conditions of the electoral arena.
Technopolitial contribution to the study of the 15M and its evolution.
Interesting overview over a PhD thesis that analyzed Spain's 15M movement and its implication for politics in the digital age.

Hot off the digital press

New Publication: "Media and Information Literacy"
Media and Information Literacy (MIL), defined as the ability to access, analyze, and create media, is a prerequisite for citizens to realize their rights to freedom of information and expression. A rights-based approach is pursued to define MIL in general, and Digital Media and Information Literacy (DMIL) in particular. Different projects initiated by DW Akademie are drawn on to show the importance of the aspects of creation and engagement. They illustrate that various stakeholders need to be involved so that citizens can critically access, use, and participate in the flow of information on a broad scale.
Good overview over the discussion from a media development perspective.

Dimensions of Openness: Beyond the Course as an Open Format in Online Education
The paper outlines three pedagogical dimensions of openness: transparency, communication, and engagement. Transparency relates to the opening up of student work, thoughts, activities, and products in order to provide students with insight into each other’s activities. Communication aims at establishing interaction between educational activities of an institution and surrounding practices. Openness as joint engagement in the world aims at establishing interdependent collaborative relationships between educational institutions and external practices.
In my fantastic 'day job' I have the privilege to think about these topics and explore them practically with great colleagues. Christian Dalsgaard and Klaus Thestrup's open access paper ads some important theoretical nuances to the discussion we often have in and around our glocal classroom.

Academics: forget about public engagement, stay in your ivory towers
Engaging the public is important, but we should not assume that what will be integral to future society is the same as what can be made popular or immediately understandable now.
James Mulholland's piece has a bit of a clickbaiting headline for a very practical and reasonable argument: Excellent, long-term and not always 'useful' research will always be part of academia and why people choose this career path-and as much as I dislike the term 'ivory tower', I appreciate the value of reading, writing and thinking in a scholarly environment.

Open Access and the Serials Crisis
Open Access is only one possible answer to the serials crisis and even at 10 years old, there is still a challenge among advocates to win over academics who are concerned about publishing in specific journals for tenure and promotion purposes. There is clearly a need to change subscription costs as the current trend of increases can only end up hurting all parties involved, including publishers. There is a strong desire amongst many researchers, academics and Librarians to remove barriers of access to research and Open Access is one way to achieve this. Furthermore changes to funding and policies are increasingly insisting on research being available in Open Access. The hybrid method in which parts of a journal are made OA, while the remainder remains behind a pay-wall, may be am attractive model to Publishers but largely defeats the point of Open Access, especially as it results in ‘double-dipping’ whereby institutions are paying twice, for access and for Open Access. The growth of new platforms funded via a consortium model such as PLOS and OpenLibHums maybe the future of Open Access and a truer answer to the serials crisis for some but there will still need to be a role for publishers.
In some ways, Thomas Ash' final paragraph is one of the best summaries of the open access debate I have read in a long time; his essay does not contain many new issues for those who work in academia and are regularly faced with open access challenges, but it is a very readable summary of key themes.


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