Links & Contents I Liked 170

Hi all,

On the official first day of the spring term I am particularly welcome our 150+ new and returning ComDev students who have enrolled in one of our four modules that start today!

To add a few more interesting items to your reading lists I am glad I can share a fairly substantive link review that features many areas and themes that cover the content of the course, our research themes and pedagogical engagement.

We start Development news with a bit of aid satire; ‘Secret aid worker’ on quitting the industry; ‘The Internet’ is not an equalizer; Unicef & Skype in the classroom; Nestle & slave labor; the unregulated volunteer travel industry; a must-read from Medium’s ‘Development Set’ blog.
Our digital lives on how Silicon Valley elites think & how to live in the time of the gig economy.
New papers on big data and development, policy makers’ use of research & digital journalism predictions are hot off the digital press.
Finally, in Academia we confirm why blogging makes you a better academic writer; an overview over digital labor and digital learning & Giving up on academic stardom.


New from aidnography

Have a peek at peeps magazine!
The magazine is jam-packed with really interesting contributions that bring an ethnographic depth to a wide range of culture and communication subjects and the layout, texts and photos form a coherent and very calming symbiosis.

Development news
$100 million for coordination cluster
A Senior Coordination Officer within the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will manage the coordination of coordination amongst humanitarian partners, while an additional Coordination Director within the Resident Coordinator’s office will coordinate the coordination of senior coordination officers who coordinate coordination at the field level.
Nothing better to start off a new week than a little bit of aid satire supplied by The Pillar...

How to run a Nigerian NGO
Remember that the local people you are trying to help have no idea what they want. If they did, they wouldn’t need you in the first place. If you say they need Freedom of Information, then that is what they need. If you say they need a borehole, then what they need is a borehole. There is no need to spend time asking the people on the ground how they would do things. Often, they will be too grateful for what you have done for them to bother about the effectiveness of your intervention. And that is all that matters: their gratitude.
Ok, that's enough with the aid cynicism for this week ;)! I also loved the signature underneath the post:
According to his Twitter account Elnathan John is a (Nigerian) satirist; recovering lawyer; not an award-winning anything; and in an abusive relationship with Nigeria.
Secret aid worker: I feel disillusioned by the favouritism in my organisation
You know what is the worst thing about this situation? That you feel trapped. Though we pay lip service to safeguarding the mental health of our staff, in reality admitting that you needed time off, because of burnout or depression because of your relationship with your superiors or because you feel mistreated, often works against you. No one will say that to your face, but we all know this to be the case.
What I find so interesting/scary/disillusioning is that most of the aspects are common in most other industries. Would you be surprised if a hospital doctor, high school teacher, college professor or freelance graphic designer had written this post? We live and work in a difficult world and the professionalization of development work means that many broader issues may have a bigger impact on individuals than in the good (?) old (?) days?!

The internet - not an equaliser
Not exactly an inspiring message then - the benefits of the digital revolution have been slow to arrive in developing countries and just as they get there the negative impacts will start to kick in.
The World Bank says the answer is to bring in "analogue" measures - better regulation, more open government and a focus on improving skills - in tandem with the roll-out of connectivity.
The Bank's World Development Report is on my reading list as well, of course, but this short item from BBC seems to sum up and highlight some of the key issues. It seems that the biggest omission of the report is its lack on how digital technologies can be employed for social mobilization, digital accountability, protest etc.-but I am not sure how keen the Bank is on this kind of disruption...

Skype in the Classroom
Not all initial Skype in the Classroom tests succeeded: Internet connectivity, in particular, proved to be a challenge, despite the use of a low-bandwidth version of Skype. FilmAid procured a 4G mobile Wi-Fi gadget to salvage operations in three schools, but eventually decided to focus the project on one primary school only, Mogadishu.
The first four Skype lessons in Mogadishu primary school were prepared with the help of FilmAid by global teachers from Russia, Lithuania, Denmark, Belgium, Austria and Portugal, and focused on cultural exchange, mathematics and science.
Due to bad Internet connectivity, several of the lessons were delayed and work plans had to be revised. FilmAid and its partners took notice, adjusting their lesson planning.
This is a very interesting critical reflection on UNICEF and FilmAid using Skype in classrooms. It confirms many of the challenges that any form of digital, web-based blended learning has and the investments that are necessary to make education work. Digital learning requires investments and an understanding that any pedagogical approach will cost money and require qualified teachers, facilitators etc.

Nestle is being sued for allegedly using child slaves on cocoa farms
The plaintiffs, originally from Mali, say that the companies aided and abetted human rights violations through the purchasing of cocoa from the Ivory Coast. The companies were allegedly aware of the problem of child slavery in the region yet provided financial and technical assistance to local farmers to get the cheapest product.
Abby McGill, campaign director from the International Labour Rights Forum, which originally filed the lawsuit, told The Independent: “We have fought for a long time to bring accountability to supply chains and to bring redress for the victims.”
Pay taxes, work on accountable supply chains, don't bullshit me with CSR stuff!

How a textile company became a development powerhouse
Often one set of innovations inspires another. The early guinea worm filter, for example, led to the development of LifeStraw, a hollow fiber membrane filter that takes even the dirtiest water and makes it safe to drink. The original product, which has now morphed into its own growing brand popular among outdoor enthusiasts, was designed for humanitarian response.
The model of using developed world sales to finance related products or projects in developing countries seems to be on the rise — and while LifeStraw’s Follow the Liters program is not exactly a “buy one, give one” model, it might be mistaken for one. Vestergaard Frandsen is quick to respond to skeptics by saying that LifeStraw differentiates itseIf in several ways — one is that it addresses a basic human right and another is that it doesn’t dump products on the market, which is a chief criticism of buy one, give one efforts.
“The distinction is not so much in the how do you connect with the consumer, the distinction is what happens on the ground, how credible is your operation and do you actually make an impact or are you howling at the moon,” he said.
Even though I am not a big DevEx fan, Adva Saldinger's article offers a very nuanced account on how companies can work with/in developing countries and combine different traditional business models. But in the end it is always about being a responsible company who is genuinely interested in long-term approaches and not not short-term shareholder value...

Volunteer travel: experts raise concerns over unregulated industry
Of far greater concern to NGOs and professionals, however, is the premise of sending untrained and inexperienced young people across the world to do difficult and sometimes inappropriate work. People as young as 18 are sent to teach in schools, work in orphanages and residential care centres or hospitals, construct buildings, or work with wild animals.
The report concluded that all short-term and orphanage volunteering should be eliminated, and that any long-term volunteers should submit to police background checks, be adequately trained to respond to children’s behaviours, and be committed to child protection.
But some believe that with so many different projects, organisations and countries involved, it will be almost impossible to develop an achievable universal standard.
Katherine Purvis and Lindsey Kennedy on how the voluntourism industry wakens up to the challenge of regulation-and how many smaller organizations rightly or wrongly oppose a regulatory system because of added cost and workload.

The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems
But don’t go because you’ve fallen in love with solvability. Go because you’ve fallen in love with complexity.
Don’t go because you want to do something virtuous. Go because you want to do something difficult.
Don’t go because you want to talk. Go because you want to listen.Don’t go because you loved studying abroad. Go because, like Molly Melching, you plan on putting down roots. Melching, a native of Illinois, is widely credited with ending female genital cutting (FGC) in Senegal. But it didn’t happen overnight. She has been living in and around Dakar since 1974, developing her organization, Tostan, and its strategy of helping communities collectively address human rights abuses.
There is a lot going on in Courtney Martin's essay for the recently launched 'Development Set' blog project on Medium. Essentially, it is a 'required reading' overview for students, teachers and aid professional alike to bring them up to speed about key discussions that have been around for a while now.

Our digital lives

I quizzed dozens of Silicon Valley elites about inequality. Here's what they told me.
Founders believe that equality of opportunity is crucial to a fair and healthy economy, while equality of outcome is economically paralyzing.
They believe that a relatively small slice of geniuses advance humanity more than the combined efforts of everyone else, and that economic growth is better at improving the overall quality of life than burdensome redistribution schemes.
"An uninspired population is a stagnant population. Inequality breeds creativity, and fosters motivation to change one's situation," wrote Byron Morgan, founder of the music startup Vinylmint. "Mass change starts with one person inspiring another."
We all exist in certain filter bubbles. Gregory Ferenstein highlights that 'we' (in the development and/or education industry) should be clear that 'they' (Silicon Valley folks) have fundamentally different values and philosophies. Which makes a dialogue difficult, but I am still somewhat hopeful that the IT industry will start listen more to the 'socialist' aid world when it comes to reaching marginalized communities and social group who will never have equal, fair access to services etc.

Bending The Moral Arc of the Gig Economy
Reputation systems give each consumer dramatic power over workers’ lives. Have you noticed the urgency with which restauranteurs and shop owners now respond to even unreasonable or marginally reasonable consumer complaints? The threat of a one-star Yelp review is powerful — and on Gig Economy platforms, analogous effects are even more severe, as someone with a low rating may be kicked off the platform entirely. Consumers, entrusted with this almost managerial power over workers’ fates, have little incentive beyond their own sense of decency to wield that power responsibly.
As Slee puts it, such systems “provide a disciplinary mechanism that keeps service providers smiling and efficient by virtue of erratic and inconsistent ratings. For service providers, reputation systems are a form of surveillance, mainly enacted by the most entitled and demanding consumers on the platform.”
David Robinson reflects on Tom Slee's new book What’s Yours Is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy. And as I often add: Remember that similar systems may be coming your way, regardless of whether you work in academia, policy-making or aid work!

Hot off the digital press

Big Data and International Development: Impacts, Scenarios and Policy Options
Many people are excited about data, particularly when those data are big. Big data, we are told, will be the fuel that drives the next industrial revolution, radically reshaping economic structures, employment patterns and reaching into every aspect of economic and social life.
In the world of data, size obviously matters. But how much will it matter in the end, in what ways will these effects be felt and by whom. Perhaps most importantly, what can be done to influence this? While considering the potential impacts of big data in a broad sense, this paper applies these questions specifically to developing countries.
New IDS Evidence Report by Stephen Spratt and Justin Baker.

Do Policy Makers Use Academic Research? Reexamining the “Two Communities” Theory of Research Utilization
Academics and policy makers in many Western countries are perceived as occupying separate communities, with distinct languages, values, and reward systems. However, data from a survey of more than 2,000 policy officials and 126 in-depth interviews with public servants in Australia suggest that the “two communities” conceptualization may be misleading and flawed. More realistically, there is a range of interaction between policy and academia, with some individuals valuing and using academic research more than others. Furthermore, this relationship is complicated by the internal division between the political and administrative components of the public policy process.
Interesting new, open access article by Joshua Newman, Adrian Cherner and Brian W. Head

Journalism, media and technology predictions 2016
Robo-journalists, an ongoing battle between publishers and adblockers, bendy smartphones and social media for the workplace; the Reuters Institute launches its new Digital News Project with a set of technology and industry predictions for the global media’s year ahead.
Nic Newman from the Reuters Institute looks into the digital journalism Chrystal bowl...

Seven reasons why blogging can make you a better academic writer
Of course, some people do argue – and I’m in this camp – that blogging is in and of itself academic writing and academic publication. It’s not an add-on. It’s now part and parcel of the academic writing landscape. As such, it is of no less value than any other form of writing. Even though audit regimes do not count blogs – yet – this does not lessen their value. And therefore those of us who engage in bloggery need to stop justifying it as a necessary accompaniment to the Real Work of Serious Academic Writing. Blogs are their own worthwhile thing.
An important reminder from Pat Thomson on my blogs and blogging matter in academia.

Udacity Guarantees Graduates From Its New Nanodegree Plus Programs Will Find A Job In 6 Months
Udacity is launching a new spin on its Nanodegree certification programs today. With its new Nanodegree Plus offerings, the for-profit education company guarantees that you will get a job within six months after graduation. If you don’t, you will get all of your tuition back.
What do the words 'student', 'degree' and 'education' have to do with an online training course? While these courses may be helpful for some we just should not compare them to university-based education.

The digital labor of digital learning: notes on the technological reconstitution of education work
In many ways these education technologies simply reflect how ‘immaterial labor’ is now organized across society. Teachers and students are not the only people experiencing the blurring of work and leisure time. Education is not the only area of employment that relies on ‘precarious’ and unpaid labor. Principles of automation and ‘open’ production underpin many forms of contemporary technology use. As such, the changes just described could be celebrated as bringing modern efficiencies to the traditionally conservative work settings of the school and university. Many of the examples outlined are certainly faster-paced and more flexible than is the norm in education. These technologies undoubtedly allow education workers to be better connected and less confined by institutional restrictions. There are benefits and improvements associated with these new ways of working. Yet there is also much to be wary of.
Neil Selwyn's essay is a good starting point to think about how the digital relates to the university and education and vice versa.

Giving Up On Academic Stardom
I am giving up on my dream to become the Lady Gaga of sociology. I have to do so for my health. I have to stop comparing myself to other scholars because so many things vary, making it nearly impossible to find a truly fair comparison. Of course, I will never become the publication powerhouse of an Ivy League man professor whose wife is a homemaker. Even with that example, I simply do not know enough about another person’s life, goals, and values to make a comparison. I do not want others to compare themselves to me because my level of productivity also entails Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I am not a good model, either!
Erin Grollman's reflections are quite interesting in the context of how notions of work, collaboration and competition are changing across industries and institutions - and how important it is to define one's own path within these parameters.


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