Links & Contents I Liked 167

Hi all,

In-between my last book review for the year and my forthcoming annual blogging review post I am happy to share a comprehensive final link review before the holidays!

Development news features updates on UN whistleblowing and concerns about gender parity for senior positions; precarious outsourcing in the fashion industry; overlooked crises; UK’s self-serving aid strategy; tips for successful NGO-academic collaborations; a plea to treat non-profits as businesses; you can’t get rich and change the world; Ford Foundation’s new focus on inequalitities.
Digital lives on the working poor of vlogging; new research on why slacktivists matter & how open learning can become part of professional development.
And in Academia, we look at students as customers; how elite scientist need to die for progress & another new study that finds that ‘pre-print’ versions of paper pretty much read like the final versions behind expensive paywalls.


New from aidnography
State Crime on the Margins of the Empire (book review)

State Crime on the Margins of the Empire, is a powerful reminder of how valuable qualitative research is in understanding the dynamics of conflict, war and its broader political economy. Kristian Lasslett reminds us once again about ‘devils in the detail’ and encourages us to immerse ourselves in the complexities of institutions and structures that enable violent conflict.
Last not least, the book is an important reminder that classic Marxist development theory about centers, peripheries and rentier states should be more actively (re-)discovered in the 21st century!
Development news
The U.N. Official Who Blew the Lid off Central African Republic Sex Scandal Vindicated

Anders Kompass, a senior U.N. human rights official who was disciplined last spring for leaking a confidential report documenting the sexual abuse of children by French and African peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, has been cleared of wrongdoing by an independent U.N. panel, according to a copy of its findings.
However, it gets more complicated from here and there is a lot of internal UN politicking going on behind the scenes with multiple shades of grey...

The Lost Agenda: Gender Parity in Senior UN Appointments

Seemingly unnoticed, this year's selections for the seniormost level of UN staff have skewed nearly 92 per cent male. Between 1 January and 10 December 2015, 22 men and only two women were appointed as UN undersecretaries-general, according to public sources. The rhetoric of UN achievements has overshadowed the reality.
Information on senior appointments can be patchy. Often, press releases omit the grade level, and do not distinguish decision-making positions from those that are part-time and largely unremunerated (and which are excluded from this review). Moreover, the UN can give the impression of massaging the data to show the appointment of senior women in a more flattering light, according to Professor Rob Jenkins, who cites a graph on senior managers in UN peace operations showcasing women "in a managerial bracket specifically devised to include more junior positions and exclude some that are higher up."
Several measures are needed. The first step is greater transparency around senior appointments. The UN should promptly set up an open database covering full-time, paid appointments at the most senior levels, making it easier to monitor benchmarks towards gender equality.
Karin Landgren on lacking gender parity in senior UN appointments; also interesting that in a age of open data/development rhetoric actual data on those appointments seems hard to come by...but, hey, open data are supposed to produce nice visualizations and Rosling-lectures, not change organizational power dynamics and hierarchies!

A huge underclass of ghost workers are making your shirts in their homes

But there’s no single, definitive count of their numbers, or of how many are producing for international companies, because they’re almost always informally employed, and therefore practically invisible. It’s their invisibility that makes homeworkers one of the global economy’s most vulnerable labor groups. It’s this invisibility, coupled with the fact that most are poor and disadvantaged to begin with, that make homeworkers one of the global economy’s most vulnerable labor groups. Despite the work they contribute, they generally fall outside the protection of labor laws. They have little to no bargaining power in relation to the contractors who employ them.
Marc Bain on how globalization always finds ways to outsource labor-first it was outsourcing from the North to the South, now, probably with increased pressure and more CSR rhetoric, the outsourcing takes places in country to keep fashion cheap.

Five humanitarian crises largely overlooked in 2015

From civil war and urban gang violence to drought, some humanitarian crises around the world receive less media attention and donor funding than others and are less visible.
Anastasia Moloney presents an interesting and sad list of different forms of crises that have been overlooked this year, partly because they are complicated and have more than one simple and single root cause.

Is the UK Putting Its Own Interests Ahead of the Poor in Its New Aid Strategy?

This is very much an aid strategy written in the Treasury, which rather artlessly makes clear that aid will now be used to further Britain’s own interests. The phrase “national interest” is mentioned twelve times, compared to four mentions of the new “global goals”. This shift is apparent in two ways. First, there is much greater emphasis on using aid to tackle problems which affect Britain directly, such as the present refugee crisis on Europe’s borders. Second, the government intends to use aid in ways which both contribute to poverty reduction and which help create opportunities for British industries and institutions or help the public finances.
Aid advocates should be careful what they wish for. If you advocate for an input target like 0.7%, you don’t have have a leg to stand on when the government hits the target but uses the money for whatever it can get away with within the rules.
Owen Barder's detailed analysis of the UK's development strategy is a bit of a sobering read-but then again when was the last time an official aid strategy made an inspiring, visionary read...?!

Working with academics: it gets easier. Honestly

Academics are often accused of hiding in “ivory towers” as described in a recent Guardian newspaper article that demanded they get better at sharing their ideas with a wider audience. But as practitioners, “policy influencing” and “research uptake” are increasingly becoming key components of our work, and it is essential that we also strive to bridge the divide and find ways to collaborate better with our academic colleagues.
Gemma Ferguson shares some useful tips on how academics and NGOs ca collaborate; however, many of these debates have been around since I first encountered policy research, universities and Think Tanks a good 10 years ago. I especially like #9, the need for different deliverables and the fact that both partners operate in highly professional and specialized industries these days.

Hey, you want nonprofits to act more like businesses? Then treat us like businesses

Given all these statistics about for-profits, and restrictions on nonprofits, should we really keep insisting that we are businesses, that we are pretty much the same as for-profits, but different? Can we just not be the awesome unicorn sector that we are? Do we need to compete with for-profits on their terms when we are so different? I am open to counterarguments, but right now, I don’t see the advantages. If we want to be seen as equal to, and treated with the same considerations as, for-profits, then we need to fight for the above demands. Society needs to provide nonprofits with the same level of funding, speed of investment, flexibility, autonomy, and acceptance of risk and failure, or else stop trying to get us nonprofits to be more like for-profits. You can’t have your nonprofit cake and yet withhold your for-profit icing. Either we are fully businesses, with all the rights that entail, or else we are beautiful and complex snowflakes of equity and justice and need different considerations.
Some great points by Vu Le; right now, it seems that the Silicon Valley logic will further dominate the sector and start-ups will tell the non-profit sector how superior they are in 'eradicating poverty'...

Why it’s time to say goodbye to ‘doing good and doing well’

The first is simple mathematics: climate change, inequality, violence, racism and sexism are such difficult and deep-rooted problems that no less than 100 per cent of our energies will be needed to confront them. We can’t build a sharing economy unless people are actually prepared to share, nor combat environmental degradation without sacrificing some of our consumption, nor achieve true equality unless men take up a half of all responsibilities in the home. These are extremely demanding challenges that require major personal, social and economic shifts.
But blending social and financial considerations together automatically reduces the priority that’s given to one side or the other, since one can’t have more than 100 per cent of anything at one time. Is 50 per cent good enough to make real progress on such problems? What if social considerations fall even further below that level?
The goal of making money is making money. The goal of social change is social change. Sometimes the two meet in the middle, but usually they don’t, and that’s absolutely fine. For a new generation of Samaritans who need a financial return on their compassion, a new slogan may provide some necessary extra motivation. But the rest of us don’t have to settle for self-limiting, self-promoting and self-interested ‘solutions.’ ‘Doing good and doing well’ is no basis for social transformation. It’s time it was put to bed.
Michael Edwards presents some interesting reflections on why transformative social change won't happen if billionaires and globalized charities models are in charge of the discourse.

Why Giving Back Isn’t Enough

At the Ford Foundation, our efforts will focus on inequality: not just wealth disparities, but injustices in politics, culture and society that compound inequality and limit opportunity. We will ask questions like, are we hearing — and heeding — those who understand the problems best? What can we do to leverage our privilege to disrupt the drivers of inequality?
Darren Walker outlines the new agenda of the Ford Foundation and its radical shift to focus on inequalities...this should be an interesting space to watch!

Our digital lives

Get rich or die vlogging: The sad economics of internet fame

The disconnect between internet fame and financial security is hard to comprehend for both creators and fans. But it’s the crux of many mid-level web personalities’ lives. Take moderately successful YouTubers, for example. Connor Manning, an LGBT vlogger with 70,000 subscribers, was recognized six times selling memberships at the Baltimore Aquarium. Rosianna Halse Rojas, who has her own books and lifestyle channel and is also YouTube king John Green’s producing partner, has had people freak out at her TopMan register. Rachel Whitehurst, whose beauty and sexuality vlog has 160,000 subscribers, was forced to quit her job at Starbucks because fans memorized her schedule.
In other words: Many famous social media stars are too visible to have “real” jobs, but too broke not to.
Gaby Dunn on the economic realities of online fame-and the 'everybody can become a star' mantra does rarely lead to economic stability and a good, regular income.

In Social Movements, “Slacktivists” Matter

Some dismiss them as “slacktivists,” but a new study in PLOS One finds that these peripheral players actually play a critical role in extending the reach of social movements — even doubling them.
Protest networks show a division of labor where there is a small minority active at the center, generating most of the messages, photos, and content. Meanwhile a much larger group — “the critical periphery” as the researchers describe them — amplify and echo the messages from the core group. In many cases, these “slacktivists” may retweet only one or two messages, but in aggregate, their actions served to double the reach of the core protesters.
Interesting new research on the 'critical periphery' of social media users that can support the core of protests.

Open Learning as Professional Development: Iterating on Organizational Culture

A loose structure that might be employed internally in an organization looking to take advantage of these open learning opportunities would be simply to have teams or individuals review existing open learning courses, develop a yearlong professional development plan of no less than three courses over a year, take the courses, get the certificates as needed, and report back in after the course to the larger team or organization about takeaways and applications at the local level. It could be much more sophisticated than this, but having some autonomy over the process helps in empowering employees to see this as personal as well as professional development.
Michael Gallagher on how open learning resources could have a greater impact on organizational training and learning activities with a focus on the ICT4D sector.

Hot off the digital press
PV and MSC Guide

The toolkit is designed to support you in planning and carrying out evaluation using PV with the MSC technique, or PVMSC for short. This is a participatory approach to monitoring, evaluation and learning that amplifies the voices of participants and helps organisations to better understand and improve their programmes.
Great new guide from InsightShare!

My students have paid £9,000 and now they think they own me

I wish I’d had the gusto to reply to those posters. “Hey student – all I’m asking for is a little respect, seeing as how much you pay makes no difference to my wages, yet the level of support I am forced to offer you takes up 80% of my time despite the fact that teaching still only equates to 33% of my workload. But I’ll be in the office until 9pm anyway because if I don’t publish two papers by the end of the year, I’ll be fired”.
With about 30,000 shares and close to 4,000 comments this piece from the GUARDIAN is obviously hitting a nerve. The neoliberal system has many losers, including students and academics and very few winners-which is the intention of course. I guess one practical advice is simply not to take academia and teaching too seriously sometimes...

Study: Elite scientists can hold back science

Sifting through citations in the PubMed database, they found evidence that when a prominent researcher suddenly dies in an academic subfield, a period of new ideas and innovation follow.
Here's the pattern: After the unexpected death of a rock-star scientist, their frequent collaborators — the junior researchers who authored papers with them — suddenly see a drop in publication. At the same time, there is a marked increase in published work by other newcomers to the field
Brian Resnick summarizes a new study that, not unsurprisingly, finds that it is not the 'best' scientific research that gets published and the 'best' ideas spread, but that science, academia and publishing are still run by humans with egos, power and networks.

How Much Does $1.7 Billion Buy You? A Comparison of Published Scientific Journal Articles to Their Pre-print Version

After matching papers via their digital object identifiers (DOIs), we applied comparative analytics and evaluated the textual similarities of components such as the title, abstract, and body. The results of our assessment suggest that the vast majority of post-print papers are largely indistinguishable from their pre-print versions. These findings contribute empirical indicators to discussions of the value that academic publishers add to scholarly communication and therefore can influence libraries’ economic decisions regarding access to scholarly publications.
Very interesting paper which supports my anecdotal evidence that many 'pre-print' versions of academic papers are simply unformatted final versions and that you can trust them pretty much if you find them on the Internet.


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