Links & Contents I Liked 171

Hi all,

This first link review of the new term gives me the pleasure to welcoming all our new & returning ComDev students! It just so happens that this review aligns quite nicely with some of the seminar discussions we has had and will have next week!

In Development news we are looking at more commentary on the World Development Report; a new report on the power of the Gates foundation; how to communicate the refugee situation; Lesotho & development; the story of the (humanitarian) tarp; how aid work can strength empathy at home; how to improve UN’s systems to deal with corruption; how to manage projects, people and results in contested development spaces; ITU on IoT;
Our digital lives features predatory bureaucratization; big data & the ethnographer & the fear of screens.
Lots of new readings, including the first open access IDS Bulletin; new study on how misinformation spreads; handbook on Twitter & research, social media in Uganda and why paying teachers more does not seem to lead to better results in schools.


New from aidnography

Representation of aid in/and pop culture: Reading Living Level-3

There is an inherent risk of creating new stereotypes of what aid work and aid workers look like through graphic novel ‘heroines’. Leila seems to be working more than one job as well as on different career- and pay-levels at the same time at the beginning of her assignment.
The concept of ‘listening’ is featured quite heavily throughout the novel-maybe as a representation of how today’s aid work works. Leila’s story between ‘finding herself’ as an Egyptian-American expat aid worker, the real humanitarian demands in Iraq and a world where ‘our aid’ will not necessarily solve ‘their’ and our problems is a story fit for 2016 discussions on these topics and I look forward to discussing them with students and colleagues in more detail!
Development news
What the World Bank report on tech-related income inequality is missing

I don’t know the exact mix of global tax reform for the top 1%, universal social insurance separated from employment, and rebuilding power relations into the architecture of production itself is best; I don’t think anyone does.
But we will need to do something like this in order to adapt to this new, turbulent and uncertain economy, and we won’t get there simply by adopting ameliorative measures built on the ideology that markets distribute income and wealth based on marginal productivity.
Yochai Benkler's take on the World Development Report is an important reminder that 'social change' and 'redistribution' are not the Bank's biggest concerns and that they lack of vision of a thoroughly different world not driven by (digital) economic growth alone.

Use Twitter if you plan a revolution, Facebook to improve farming
You will be disappointed if you are hoping that this paper from the Australian National University will provide you with empirical proof that social media is (or isn’t) effective to support economic growth and/or behaviour change in developing countries. The findings of the paper can largely be summarized as “it depends”.
The authors emphasize that social media use differs significantly between countries as well as between social groups within those countries, which once again proves that you need to define and research your target audience before launching a communications initiative.
Timo Luege looks at the WDR as well, engaging with one of the background papers.

Gates Foundation accused of 'dangerously skewing' aid priorities by promoting 'corporate globalisation'

“The world is being sold a myth that private philanthropy holds many of the solutions to the world’s problems, when in fact it is pushing the world in many wrong directions,” the report claims. The Gates Foundation is “being allowed to speak too loudly, and too many actors in international development are falling into line with the foundation’s misguided priorities.”
The Foundation’s emphasis on “technological solutions” often ignores real solutions involving social and economic justice, it argues. “This cannot be given by donors in the form of a climate-resilient crop or cheaper smartphone, but must be about systemic social, economic and political change – issues not represented in the foundation’s funding priorities.”
Global Justice presents a critical report on the Gates foundation and its presumed power over aid resources and spaces. The question remains on how to find a meaningful yet critical engagement with philanthrocapitalism.

The European Refugee crisis: 10 Communications with Communities challenges

In December, the Emergency Lab went on a scoping mission to fYR Macedonia to do just this. With refugees, UNHCR staff, and partners we identified 10 specific CwC challenges. Caveat: stop reading now if you’re looking for solutions – we’re very much at the ‘work-in-progress stage’
UNHCR continue their excellent, transparent and (self-)critical work on how to handle the refugee situation from a communication aspects. One of my favorite UN blogs at the moment!

Can Lesotho survive more development?

The philosophy of the MCC and AGOA too often rely on the unproven logic of trickle-down economics and assume competent governance. This primary focus on growth as the driver of poverty reduction is especially troubling when direct cash transfers have proved remarkably effective at providing opportunity and poverty reduction in Lesotho, and providing free health services has dramatically increased the number of women giving birth at hospitals and thus decreasing maternal and infant mortality.
The now-public critique of development only benefiting the well-connected in Lesotho needs to be taken seriously. Addressing this has the potential to help rebuild trust in government and reshape power structures in a deeply unequal society (in addition to making the delivery of aid and development more effective). But even more important to Lesotho’s economic viability than American aid packages are the labor and border policies of South Africa that contrive to keep out Basotho workers. Real “development” would address this border impasse, focus aid on raising household income for the poor and otherwise vulnerable, provide direct health and education services with fees eliminated, and provide an opportunity for substantive poverty reduction and increased life expectancy in Lesotho.
John Aerni-Flessner and Charles Fogelman visit Lesotho, a small country that has received a lot of aid money and research attention over the years and decades. Scary, how their observations still resonate with one of the ultimate classics of development anthropology, James Ferguson's Anti-Politics machine, based on field research in the country in the 1980s...

The Inside Story of an Aid Worker’s Secret Weapon: The Tarp

Working mostly alone—while still doing his job as a purchasing officer—Oger completed the specifications for tarpaulins in three years. Since 1996, the Red Cross, UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, and Oxfam have given out millions of tarps manufactured to those specs. Factories in China, Korea, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, and Kenya churn out the tarpaulin to use all over the world. And they’re cheap, at just $15 a pop in the Red Cross’s catalog. “We’ve really made a good product. It is saving money. It is saving lives,” says Oger. When you see pictures of UN shelters made out of tarp, it’s his.
Sarah Zhang's piece for Wired finds a good balance between the technical aspects around tarps, the UN official who was personally involved and broader questions of aid efficiency and procurement.

Working for MSF: How humanitarian experience can contribute to your development as a healthcare professional

Spending nine to 12 months providing vital lifesaving care to some of the world’s most vulnerable people is a humbling experience, since the needs often outstrip what is possible for healthcare professionals to provide. Many fieldworkers come back with a renewed sense of empathy, which is essential to being a great healthcare provider — something that is true whether someone is a nurse, doctor, pharmacist or any other kind of health worker.
Owen Campbell shares some hands-on experiences on how MSF work can benefit your personal and professional development as a healthcare expert.

Broken System: The Failure to Punish High Level Corruption at the UN

Each time a new corruption case is exposed, the UN’s public reaction is the same: the Secretary-General states that the organization is treating the matter with the utmost seriousness and initiates an internal investigation or audit, while at the same time the organization attempts to “sweep the matter under the rug” by claiming that senior UN officials were unaware of the problem, and that this was an isolated incident involving a few bad apples, not the UN system itself. Yet given the frequency of UN corruption scandals, it is about time that the organization stops pretending that this is just a “few bad apples” problem, and try to understand why it faces these situations with such frequency.
Sarah Krys shares some interesting points on how the UN could strengthen their anti-corruption efforts.

Aid in contested areas — reflecting diversity in staffing and measurement

However, the staffing policy has unintentionally reflected a broader experience of the conflict as well. This means there are staff members who have experienced trauma and been involved in violence themselves, or been victims of it. The families of some have been forced to flee, while others are younger and have been spared any direct experience of the conflict. Diversity of ethnicity is also likely to reflect diversity of conflict experience. Those who have experienced conflict more directly are also likely to be more mature and empathetic with respect to understanding the experiences and issues affecting the communities. These staff are therefore usually more successful at engaging with the more complex communities, which raises interesting questions around ethics, such as where the boundaries are with respect to intentionally employing this experience. A conflict-affected staff also presents the issue for employers of the extent to which you have a duty of care to provide opportunities for tackling healing, should staff wish to take it up. Transparency within the team around the intentions and profiling, as well as deliberately employing a mentoring partnership between experienced conflict-affected staff and those less experienced has been a significant opportunity for staff to learn from each other, and share technical skills and approaches for building just with and within conflict-affected communities.
Simon Richards shares some detailed and nuanced practical experiences on how to do aid work in contested places such as Myanmar.

How Can We Harness the Internet of Things for Global Development?

Harnessing the Internet of Things for Global Development explores how sensors and the connectivity technologies associated with the Internet of Things (IoT), is improving development activities in research, policy formulation, service delivery and monitoring and evaluation across a range of different sectors including agriculture, sanitation, natural resource management, energy, and others.
Wayan Vota introduces a recent ITU report on the IoT in the context of international development; supported by Cisco, the report focuses a lot on technical issues and opportunities and very little on the 'social issues', other than mentioning 'privacy' a couple of times.

Our digital lives
The era of predatory bureaucratization – An interview with David Graeber

It’s already happening: Anonymous, WikiLeaks, or to a certain extent 3D printing are the beginning of something. You know, technological developement always follows social trends. Do you think people in renaissance Florence said “let’s create capitalism: it will involve factories, stock exchange, etc.”? Of course not. It was not planned. The same is true for us: once we start with a vision of what we want to achieve as a society, technological innovation will follow.
Imagine if all these people sitting at desks producing securitized derivatives or trading algorithms were instead trying to create a system of resource allocation that would do the same sort of things the Soviets wanted to achieve but were clearly not capable of coming up with. They could probably give birth to something interesting.
An interview with David Graeber where he shares some of his optimism about social movements and social change in the 21st century...

Why Big Data Needs Thick Data

There is greater demand for ethnographers as suppliers/providers than as employees inside organizations. There are not enough ethnographers working inside companies to internalize ethnographic research and to explore different ways to extend the insights of Big and Thick Data.
Even though we have a lot of questions to answer about Thick Data, it’s important to keep in mind that this is the time for ethnographic work to really shine. We’re in a great position to show the value-add we bring to a mixed-method project. Producing “thick descriptions” (a term used by Clifford Geertz to describe ethnographic methodology) of a social context compliments Big Data findings. People and organizations pioneering Big Data and Thick Data projects, such as Fabien Giradin from the Near Future Laboratory or Wendy Hsu, are giving us glimpses into this world.
Tricia Wang makes a strong case for ethnography, ethnographers and ethnographic research in the context of 'big data'.

Fear of Screens

Rather than constant self-regulation through “mindfulness” and “balance,” we might assess our relationship to digital connection in terms of our autonomy. Are we really “addicted” to phones, or do contemporary work demands make it impossible to disconnect? In what ways is our control over how connected we are a privilege, especially when considering those for whom digital connection is prohibitively expensive or who cannot procure reliable internet access?
From this point of view, both connection and disconnection can be appreciated for their own sakes. When connection is not treated as a controlled substance, it can transcend its relation to productivity. Time away need no longer be seen as a kind of necessary recharging, as if humans were batteries. Whether we are pleasurably zoned out in front of a screen or a campfire, we might “waste” time for wastefulness’ sake, to burn it, to put it to no future productive use.
Nathan Jurgenson takes a more philosophical view at the how digital relationships are formed and maintained-and that the 'screen' does not have to be a symbol for distance and distraction.

Hot off the digital press

New IDS Bulletin debunks myths around open data and open governance

In fact, some of the contributing authors to Opening Governance find that, at best, digital technologies deployed to improve accountability and transparency have proven well-intentioned but ineffective, for example because chosen tools were not appropriate for the intended users.
At worst, the financial and technological capacities of the state to surveil and persecute citizens is often far greater than those of citizens' own attempts to use technology to hold it to account.
The first open access issue of the IDS Bulletin!

The spreading of misinformation online

In this work, we address the determinants governing misinformation spreading through a thorough quantitative analysis. In particular, we focus on how Facebook users consume information related to two distinct narratives: scientific and conspiracy news. We find that, although consumers of scientific and conspiracy stories present similar consumption patterns with respect to content, cascade dynamics differ. Selective exposure to content is the primary driver of content diffusion and generates the formation of homogeneous clusters, i.e., “echo chambers.”
Indeed, homogeneity appears to be the primary driver for the diffusion of contents and each echo chamber has its own cascade dynamics. Finally, we introduce a data-driven percolation model
mimicking rumor spreading and we show that homogeneity and polarization are the main determinants for predicting cascades’ size
New research on on how misinformation (or very selective information) spreads...'echo chambers', 'filter bubbles' and homogeneity of networks are not really surprising, though...

Handbook Twitter for Research, 2015 / 2016

This handbook published by EMLYON Press gathers recent studies where data collected from Twitter helped explore fascinating questions in linguistics, marketing, urban studies and beyond.
It comprises 13 chapters written by an international group of academics who participated in the conference "Twitter for Research" organized by EMLYON Business School in Lyon, France in April 2015.
A lot of 'stuff' on Twitter and how to use it in research.

Assessing the impact of Social Media on Political Communication & Civil Engagement in Uganda

That said: Has Social Media had an Impact on Political Communication & Civic Engagement in Uganda? Yes it has. We have seen quite a lot of it in this election period. Will Social Media be able to ‘deliver victory’ in the coming elections – I am not so sure about that, it depends on who you are talking to and how one is able to measure the impact . However the truth is – ALOT has changed since 2011. There is a lot more use of Social Media Platforms by both the citizenry and the politicians.
A couple of great authors brought together by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung have put together a timely publication titled : Assessing the Impact Of Social Media on Political Communication and Civic Engagement in Uganda – this I believe is just the beginning of the conversation of the good that Social Media is able to bring to our community.
The German political foundation KAS just released an interesting report on social media and the political sphere in Uganda.

Double for Nothing? Experimental Evidence on the Impact of an Unconditional Teacher Salary Increase on Student Performance in Indonesia

Nevertheless, after two and three years, the doubling in pay led to no improvements in measures of teacher effort or student
learning outcomes, suggesting that the salary increase was a transfer to teachers with no discernible impact on student outcomes. Thus, contrary to the predictions of various efficiency wage models of employee behavior(including gift-exchange, reciprocity, and reduced shirking), as well as those of a model where effort on pro-social tasks is a normal good with a positive income elasticity, we find that unconditional increases in salaries of incumbent teachers had no meaningful positive impact on student learning. 
Very interesting research on one of those 'age old' development questions: Does more pay for teachers lead to better results in schools?


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