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Hi all,

The first week of 2016 has been quite fruitful reading-wise and I am happy to share my first review of the New Year!

Development news: Medium launches a new project on ‘The Development Set’; communication trends not just for NGOs; is the aid system broken?; don’t use refugees for vanity storytelling projects; how open source software helped to end Ebola; World Bank discovers political economy of evidence; engaging with girls’ digital privacy; HRW and its unpaid intern rebellion; play bullshit bingo with philanthroentrepreneurship!

Our digital lives: The cultists of the Silicon Valley; investigative reporting and positive change

Academia: Elsevier, predicted obsolete in 1995, is alive and making billions of dollar; the LSE blog offers thoughts on the reverse skills-gap and creating transferable people; reflections on the hegemony of elite institutions and graduates; reflections on peer review (are we fetishizing journal publishing too much?!)


New from aidnography
My development blogging & communication review 2015

Development news
Welcome to “The Development Set”
Medium’s new publication, The Development Set, hopes to change the tenor of the conversation about international development. We want to ask, without ego or presupposition, what it actually means to make a difference in the world.
We will question the status quo. We will report from the ground up. We will make you productively uncomfortable.
Over the coming months, we’ll publish a range of stories about global health and the business of “doing good.” They’ll be in the form of investigative features, photo essays, personal stories, letters from the field, wide-ranging debates, and more.
Sarika Bansal introduces Medium's new blogging project on development which I am really looking forward to! Another interesting digital project supported by the Gates foundation.

Six communications trends NGOs should follow in 2016
We’ve finally reached a stage in development communications where digital comes first. No longer sidelined as a separate channel, it sits across all communications activities and means we are now creating everything from HTML publications to easily-shareable content.
The only question I have is why Caroline Cassidy's post should be limited to NGOs and their communication?!

Is humanitarian aid really broken? Or should we all just calm down?
Sure, in the last 50 or so years, we have tacked a lot onto that basic system. We’ve added complexity, as has been pointed out, around the who, the what and the how. But strip away the add-ons and the re-packaging, and the fact remains: The purpose of the aid system is to move resources – money, stuff, knowledge or expertise – from the hands of donors to the hands of beneficiaries. It is that basic.
J. on the 'the aid system is broken' discussion. The 'aid system' has always been and will always be part of a much broader political economy and unless you are willing to change these structures aid will continue to be blamed for a lot of things it is unable to deliver because they are outside her control.

Why we need to stop turning refugee stories into aid agency vanity projects and start listening
Take a refugee camp for example. In order for people to find their voice, they need to be listened to, and it is the humanitarian response community that needs to do this. But if we as a community only train refugees in telling their stories without addressing the challenges they express through dialogue in the camp itself, we will have missed an opportunity. The real stories of these refugees should capture their specific feedback on what is happening to them, what can be changed and made better about the aid they receive – how to give them their dignity back. This is actionable stuff, but aid agencies need to be ready, willing, and able to listen.
UNHCR's John Warnes reminds us that communication with/about/on refugees needs to serve a purpose other than creating fancy storytelling projects.

UNHCR Chief: Election of a Bureaucrat by Helen Mackreath
The election of the new High Commissioner is neither here nor there for most refugees. The chain of decisions is so fragile and stuttered that by the time it reaches them, it bears little resemblance to its origin. The chessboard politics that operates in New York boardrooms does not find bread or shelter at night. It doesn’t mean much when life is a constant cycle of circumstances, none of which are any better than the previous. On the ground, UNHCR officials feel they have a certain level of autonomy to interpret the mandate in the context of local place and situation (this, indeed, is a necessity for refugees to be sensitively and sustainably handled).
And yet the decreasing appetite among states to grant asylum space, shrinking aid budgets, refusal to connect conflict with human spillage, and condemning of protracted refugee situations to recesses of collective minds makes the UNHCR something of the elephant in the room.
Helen Mackreath essay on the election of UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi is an interesting piece of writing that engages with the bureaucratic nature of UNHCR, global diplomacy and the realities of refugees.

How software developers helped end the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone
The problem that most urgently needed solving was distributing wages to healthcare workers on the frontline fighting the epidemic.
To solve the problem, Massally and his team drew on existing open source software solutions for payroll management, biometrics, logistics and accounting.
“None of this would be possible without open source software and frameworks,” Tan told the audience at the technology conference. “You could not possibly develop systems this quickly for such low amounts of money without the existence of this huge open source ecosystem.”
The team cannibalized Sierra Leone’s existing voter registration machines to create a payroll enrollment scheme. They couldn’t use fingerprint biometrics because it would have created a cross-contaminating risk, so they used open source facial recognition software called OpenBR to enroll healthcare workers.
Then, in conjunction with other groups and individuals working in Sierra Leone, they developed a mobile money system that substituted cellphone-minutes for cash, and created an automated payment system.
They completed the core system in two weeks, going without sleep for days at a time, knowing that millions of lives depended on their work.
Interesting case study of how open source software helped in the logistics to manage the Ebola epidemic.

Turning the gaze on ourselves: Acknowledging the political economy of development research
And even when research chips away consistently at dominant ideas, the translation to practice remains far from straightforward. For instance, we see that despite the fact that non-state justice and security providers in many contexts are now widely accepted, including by donors themselves, programs continue to be overwhelmingly state-centric. This stems from at least two things: one, it can be incredibly difficult to dislodge ideas and it takes many, many reports to do so. Two, donors are trapped within the confines of political risk concerns and bureaucratic logic – Weber’s “iron cage” – that prevents the transmission of knowledge into practice. This is especially so when donors are challenged to take on board the fact of the “complexity” of social, political and economic change. All of this is to suggest that the questions raised by the production of “evidence” for policy is deeply political and yet it is often treated as a straightforward, unproblematic exercise. Discussions that start to lift the lid on the political economy of this research process are needed both to mediate expectations about the holy grail of evidence-based policy, as well as to ensure those involved are self-aware and reflective of their role, power and responsibilities.
On the one hand it is great that the World Bank blog hosts posts like this one by Lisa Denney and Pilar Domingo, but on the other hand we have to be careful as to not treat these insights as new or ground-breaking just because they were published in December 2015. Critical development research, sociology of policy-making or development anthropology have been 'gazing' at themselves and others for many years, possible decades since the first qualitative studies emerged in the late 1990s. Institutions like the Bank need to a) listen and b) more importantly act on the mounting evidence that evidence-based discourses will not influence or change policy easily.

Africa’s Boom Is Over
In fact, Africa has had difficulty industrializing because its leaders drank the Kool-Aid of free markets and free trade proffered by the World Bank, the IMF, and the best university economics departments over the last 30 years. Of particular harm has been the insistence that African countries forswear the use of industrial policies such as temporary trade protection, subsidized credit, preferential taxes, and publicly supported research and development. As a result, African countries have abandoned these key tools, which they could have used to build up their domestic manufacturing sectors.
Rick Rowden with a critical review on industrialization policies and efforts in Africa.

A discussion on girls’ digital privacy, security and safety
The Girls Privacy, Security and Safety policy and toolkit shared at the Salon includes a risk matrix where project implementers rank the intensity and probability of risks as high, medium and low. Based on how a situation, feature or other potential aspect is ranked and the possibility to mitigate serious risks, decisions are made to proceed or not. There will always be areas with a certain level of risk to the user. The key is in making decisions and trade-offs that balance the level of risk with the potential benefits or rewards of the tool, service, or platform. The toolkit can also help project designers to imagine potential unintended consequences and mitigate risk related to them. The policy also offers a way to systematically and pro-actively consider potential risks, decide how to handle them, and document decisions so that organizations and project implementers are accountable to girls, peers and partners, and organizational leadership.
Linda Raftree shares a comprehensive and readable review of the latest technology salon on girls' digital privacy.

EXCLUSIVE: ‘Unpaid internships perpetuate system of inequality,’ say HRW interns
One anonymous intern quoted in the report said of the Agreement: “[It] made me very angry. I arrived an intern, had to sign an agreement to say I was a volunteer, and then was referred to as an intern for the rest of my time at HRW.”
“The word ‘volunteer’ in the Agreement was clearly a way for HRW to avoid the legal consequences of the country’s national laws.”
The report comes after HRW interns in New York raised the issue of remuneration in August. The Brussels group wrote a letter to Roth claiming no progress had been made to secure stipends for interns.
Responding to the report on behalf of Roth, EU Advocacy Director Lotte Leicht said although management “generally agrees” with the interns’ concerns and is “not happy with the state of play,” due to budget constraints, interns are unlikely to receive compensation from the organization any time soon. is certainly a source that should always be read with a critical eye (but then again, which news site shouldn't these days?!), but this is an interesting debate on a familiar topic: Unpaid internships and how organizations struggle with the complexities around the concept. My question is: If there are 'budget constraints' (and they exist always and everywhere...) shouldn't NGOs refrain from hiring interns and simply do fewer projects because they don't have access to cheap/free labor? The truth is that intern labor is built into organizations and the political economy of the aid system and goes further than just 'give us more money'.

Bolder Giving for Stronger Education Impact
Pierre Omidyar, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Bill and Melinda Gates, Jacqueline Novogratz, Paul Polman, Jeffrey Skoll, Amr Al-Dabbagh are leading a movement of impatient optimists who strive to shatter the centuries-old notion that business principles and generosity are inherently incompatible.
For them, philanthropy is a powerful cocktail of cash, connections and creativity. Indeed, their strategies are not controversy-free or failure-proof, but encouraging results are beginning to show in many sectors.
I realize that the review is called 'Links I LIKED' and I also realize that I usually try to avoid to link to platform like Forbes. But Sebastien Turbot's piece makes for perfect analysis of plastic words ('Philanthropreneurship') and playing bullshit bingo with the discourse of philanthrocapitalism. You also learn very little about education in this post...

10 tricks to appear intelligent during development meetings
What Gary Owen's piece screams loudly and clearly is that we need to re-vamp Stuff Expat Aidworkers Like! We need more and better aid snark in 2016!!

Our digital lives
Beware: Silicon Valley’s cultists want to turn you into a disruptive deviant
In Silicon Valley’s conception of the universe, everything is already rotten and corrupt and the only source of purity is to be found in Californian basements, where the hardworking and hoodie-wearing saints are toiling to accelerate progress.
Ideologically, Silicon Valley is rapidly coming to occupy the space traditionally reserved for the radical populists of the right. In a sense, Silicon Valley is like the cosmopolitan and tech-savvy equivalent of the Tea Party: the startup contingent wants us to believe that, while capitalism works in theory, today’s practice is, in fact, very different.
Thus, public institutions have been co-opted by big (or, rather, bigger and older) business and it’s now the citizens who have to pay the price – quite literally – through higher transportation and housing fares, restrictions on what they can do with their property and time, and so on. Worse, all those public institutions are a drag on entrepreneurs – the only class worth defending.
Even though Evgeny Morozov's essays often engage with similar themes, his writing is always a reminder to approach the SiliconValley-led 'revolution' with caution and critical tools to understand our current iteration of capitalism.

How investigative reporting can lead to positive change
The University of Phoenix can’t recruit on military bases or participate in the Department of Defense’s tuition assistance program after we revealed that the for-profit school improperly gained exclusive access to recruit on military bases by sponsoring events.
The Center for Investigative Reporting reviews 2015 with a great range of stories that had an impact and contributed to positive social change.

Can’t Disrupt This: Elsevier and the 25.2 Billion Dollar A Year Academic Publishing Business
Twenty years ago (December 18, 1995), Forbes predicted academic publisher Elsevier’s relevancy and life in the digital age to be short lived. In an article entitled “The internet’s first victim,” journalist John Hayes highlights the technological imperative coming toward the academic publisher’s profit margin with the growing internet culture and said, “Cost-cutting librarians and computer-literate professors are bypassing academic journals — bad news for Elsevier.”
A lot has been written about open access recently, including on this blog. Jason Schmitt highlights another interesting point about the speed (or absence thereof) of 'disruption' in academia, something not just true for the publishing industry. The big for profit publishers will be with us for a while and open access will remain either expensive or complementary for many younger scholars.

There is no skills-gap: it is employers who have not kept up with the improved skills of graduates
In other words, the skills gap actually runs the other way. It is employers who have not kept up with the improved skills and knowledge of university graduates over the decades. The managerially imposed hierarchy of jobs, the shrinking of the public sphere and the draconian features of a fast style of capitalism that disposes of workers at will means that workers in most places are not able to adequately utilize their knowledge for the betterment of the organisation they work for or society as a whole. They are merely hands to move and manipulate and minds to take and follow orders. They can be easily replaced as things shift about and can then be forced to join the precariat reserve labor force “making do” and waiting for a never arriving well-paying and stable job to come down the pike.
The skills movement shows the propensity of the current version of the market economy to devour itself and the social institutions that support it by trying to align everything to fit its immediate and short sighted purposes.
As much as I agree with Stephen Ward's analysis of the 'skills gap' discourse, I find it a bit ironic to read this on an LSE blog-a university that is so firmly embedded in the skills building industry in modern neoliberal academia...

The ‘transferable skills’ paradigm is cover for the creation of transferable people
When transferable skills come to dominate education and employment above all others, we can be sure that what is really being taught is the ability to be transferable. An education that focused instead on values, deep knowledge and intransigence would be an education for a different world.
Another great article from the LSE blogosphere-this time by Nina Power. And again, it seems to be a bit ironic to read this under the header of the LSE logo and a picture of the British parliament...

Academic Inequality
As the graph on the preceding page shows, the top ten PhD-granting institutions account for more than half (56 percent) of all articles published. Authors with PhDs from Harvard, Yale, University of California–Berkeley, Columbia, Chicago, Cornell, Stanford, Oxford, Princeton, and Cambridge wrote 1,843 of 3,318 articles. Authors with PhDs from just two universities, Harvard and Yale, accounted for more than one-fifth (21 percent) of all articles. As indicated in the second graph (left), all three journals also have a history of publishing articles primarily from male contributors.
Chad Wellmon, Esther Vinarov, Anne Manasché and Andrew Piper on the hegemony of academic institutions, graduates and publications.

An Editor’s Thoughts on the Peer Review Process
As academics, the peer review process can be one of the most rewarding and frustrating experiences in our careers. Detailed and careful reviews of our work can significantly improve the quality of our published research and identify new avenues for future research. Negative reviews of our work, while also helpful in terms of identifying weaknesses in our research, can be devastating to our egos and our mental health. My perspectives on peer review have been shaped by twenty years of experience submitting my work to journals and book publishers and by serving as an Associate Editor for two journals, Foreign Policy Analysis and Research & Politics.
As much as I appreciate the time and effort that Sara McLaughlin Mitchell spent on reflecting on her experience with peer review as a journal editor, I am wondering whether there is an element of fetishization over the academic journal publishing process and its value for individual scholars, scientific communities and the 'civilian' world.
Academic journals are the benchmark for scientific publishing, but, as in other fields of higher education, I sometimes think that we as a professional community overestimate and overthink our contributions-be they as teachers, researchers or providing 'service' in the community.


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