Links & Contents I Liked 172

Hi all,

Thanks to a busy, but also very fulfilling week with lots of great teaching and discussions with students, link review #172 turned into a weekend edition!

Development news features a story of sexual violence and Ebola; the failure to bring US-driven ‘digital democracy’ to Egypt; more Nestle and slavery; more on new challenges for the future of humanitarianism; what ‘zero effect’ of an intervention can mean; subversive charities in China and a biography on militant philosopher Frantz Fanon.
Digital lives looks at the global app economic divide and the digital toolbox of a civil servant.
Plenty of new publications, including annual peace operations review, Think Tank ranking and NGO tech report.
Academia celebrates 45 years of UK’s Open University; a critical look at how relevant relevance discussions are-plus an anthropological view on hierarchical dependence in the German Max Planck research institutes.


Development news

A Swedish voluntourism organization is advertising pedagogical internships in Nicaragua in our university-with some of the most stereotypical images of 'North meets South'...

The Ebola Rape Epidemic No One’s Talking About
In parts of Sierra Leone, the teenage pregnancy rate increased 65 percent during the Ebola epidemic, according to a study by the United Nations Development Program. Data on rape and teenage pregnancy in the region is hard to obtain because of under-reporting. But studies by Plan International and Save the Children documented increases in teenage pregnancy ranging from 10 to 65 percent in Ebola-affected countries.
At the height of the Ebola epidemic, football games were canceled, and bars were closed. Men who usually socialized outdoors were forced into close quarters with women and children in their homes. This led to outbreaks of violence and rape in Ebola-quarantined homes. In a study conducted by Save the Children in Sierra Leone, most of the 617 girls interviewed spoke of violent attacks and sexual assaults against girls in homes that were under quarantine.
Seema Yasmin's article in Foreign Policy highlights how complex, often hidden, social issues-especially those disempowering girls and women-interact with the more visible news-worthy issues such as Ebola.

"Digital Democracy" and the "January 25 Revolution" in Egypt

The problem with "digital democracy" is that, as a theory, it was built on the false premise that the internet promotes democratic engagement. While many political scientists agree that the internet is capable of facilitating new forms of political organization, there is no consensus over the actual political impact such organizing could actually have -- the internet was attractive as a tool to those who were already engaged in political intercourse, but had little impact on those who were otherwise apathetic. As implemented, "digital democracy" was never intended to be a vector for genuine democratic reform. Moreover, in places like Egypt, where the internet is the intellectual playground of the affluent, "digital democracy" under any guise simply reinforced the position of the political and economic elite without broadening a politicized base.
Scott Ritter dissects US-supported 'digital democracy' engagement in Egypt with broader implications for the Middle East-adding to recent more nuanced analysis of the 'social media revolution' that never was...

Nestlé admits slavery in Thailand while fighting child labour lawsuit in Ivory Coast

“Nestlé’s decision to conduct this investigation is to be applauded,” he says. “If you’ve got one of the biggest brands in the world proactively coming out and admitting that they have found slavery in their business operations, then it’s potentially a huge game-changer and could lead to real and sustained change in how supply chains are managed.”
Andrew Wallis, chief executive of Unseen UK, an anti-trafficking charity advocating for more supply chain accountability, said: “For me there is a big issue with one part of Nestlé saying, ‘OK we have been dragged along with everyone else to face the issue of slavery in Thailand and so let’s take the initiative and do something about it’, and at the same time fighting tooth and nail through the courts to avoid charges of child slavery in its core operations in the Ivory Coast.”
He argues that Nestlé’s self-reporting could also be seen as a tactic to head off or deflate other pending civil litigation suits.
Annie Kelly has more on the complexities of how multinationals engage with their supply chains-driven by legalistic tactics and PR, very unlikely by a desire for social change...

Today’s challenges, tomorrow’s solutions: improving humanitarian effectiveness

We know that people closest to crises can be the best responders when given the right resources, data, tools and systems to ensure predictability and principled needs-driven action.
the report highlights the importance of being more connected to those outside of the traditional humanitarian circles who are, or could be, core contributors to humanitarian results. This is also referred to as a more “interoperable” approach or “leveraging comparative advantage”. Given the scale of humanitarian need today, expanding the pool of engagement is essential. That means finding common ground with business, military, diaspora communities and others to understand what each of us can uniquely deliver for people in crisis. It also implies a level of humility on the part of international humanitarian actors to better understand existing capacities and assets outside of our system, and to understand where we truly add the most value.
Lilian Barajas and Lesley Bourns authors of “World Humanitarian Data and Trends 2015” and “Leaving no one behind share some great food for thought as the preparations for the World Humanitarian Summit gain momentum.

That zero effect may not mean what you think it means, and other lessons from recent educational research

As an example of the above, they have a useful discussion of how we can learn from interventions with zero effects. (In this discussion, they don’t distinguish between a zero effect – what I might call a “true zero” – and a non-significant effect – which could have a large magnitude but an even larger confidence bound.) As they point out, a zero effect could mean one of five things:
-The intervention doesn’t work. (The easiest conclusion, but often the wrong one.)
-The intervention was implemented poorly. Textbooks in Sierra Leone that never got distributed to students (Sabarwal et al. 2014).
-The intervention led to substitution away from program inputs by other actors. School grants in India lost their impact in the second year when households lowered their education spending to compensate (Das et al. 2013).
-The intervention works for some students, but it doesn’t alleviate a binding constraint for the average student. English language textbooks in rural Kenya only benefitted the top students, who were the only ones who could read them (Glewwe et al. 2009).
-The intervention will only work with complementary interventions. School grants in Tanzania only worked when complemented with teacher performance pay (Mbiti et al. 2014). Each of these different zeros has a very different implication for policy. Making sure that new research gathers the data necessary to distinguish between these potential zero effects is crucial.
David Evans explains that a zero effect of an intervention can mean so much more than simply 'the intervention doesn't work'.

The Emergence of Subversive Charities in China

A new type of charity has emerged in China that is able to sidestep some of the controls that the government places on NGOs. By basing themselves on the Internet, these new charities can more easily engage Chinese citizens, raise funds, and tackle politically sensitive issues.
But as these campaigns become more popular and larger numbers of the general public participate, they run the risk of becoming institutionalized or co-opted by the government, and consequently they lose their subversive intent.
In the coming years, the Chinese may become inundated and then inured to such movements, and the campaigns may lose their bite, fading into the background like the dozens of causes and petitions Americans encounter daily. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that at this current moment, something novel, exciting, and widely galvanizing is happening on the Chinese Internet.
Christopher Marquis, Yanhua Zhou and Zoe Yang present an interesting article with a nuanced analysis of how difficult and long-term (subversive) social change is in China and that there is no 'quick fix' 'Internet revolution' on the horizon.

The militant philosopher of Third World liberation

The field journal expresses Fanon’s commitment to African unity distinct from the hollow sloganising from much of the nationalist movement on the continent. Fanon’s Africa was not the continent ‘of the poets, the Africa that is sleeping, but the Africa that stops you sleeping because the people are impatient to be doing something, to speak and to play.’ Fanon states the objectives of his mission – a declaration of determined will, ‘We must immediately take the war to the enemy, leave him no rest, harass him, cut off his breath.
Fanon’s parting gesture in his last public appearance was a warning to militants of the anti-colonial struggle: make this independence for yourselves, ensure that the self-organisation and confidence you have developed in the fight against the French becomes a sustained and continuous programme of revolutionary transformation after the Algerian flag is raised. On the threshold of victory Fanon said be warned of your leaders, ‘No leader, however valuable he may be, can substitute himself for the popular will; and the national government … ought first to give back their dignity to all citizens, fill their minds and feast their eyes with human things, and create a prospect that is human because conscious and sovereign men dwell therein.’
Leo Zeilig introduces his new biography of Frantz Fanon. I wonder how many, if any, 'militant philosophers' we have these days-or would some simply be labelled as 'terrorists' and be outcasts very quickly?

Our digital lives
Winners & Losers in the Global App Economy

The findings are hugely interesting, and sometimes stark. For all our excitement about Silicon Savannah, most emerging market countries – including India – are rounding errors when we look at their share of global revenues on the app stores. Revenue is concentrated into a handful of markets that take the lion’s share back into their own countries, with local sales from local developers almost absent except for unique markets such as China, South Korea and Japan.
We hope this research provokes debate, about what can be done to improve discoverability for local app developers, about how we can create more equitable platforms that encourage and support developers better, and also whether the focus that we have had on encouraging app development as a tool of international development has been the right strategy or not. We strongly believe that healthy local content and services are crucial not only in encouraging new users to come online, but in making sure that the massive digital dividend that the app stores have delivered is distributed more evenly.
Caribou Digital just published another great report on an under-researched ICT4D question-adding to the broader debate on how quickly we make assumptions that the 'digital economy' will 'trickle down' globally and create innovation, wealth and social change easily.

Can digital tools change the way civil servants work? My digital life in DFID

In my job I currently don't get to work directly on digital international development programmes, but I have found digital tools really helpful in improving how I work. I find they strengthen partnerships, enable cross-organisational engagement and help facilitate external ‘crowd-sourcing’ of new ideas and different perspectives.
I always appreciate real-life insights from people like Pete Vowles who works for a large aid organization and their ability to engage digitally through blogs etc. I guess my question would be if and how public agencies should use more open platforms rather than proprietary tools that often come with cost or complex issues around 'free, but pay with your data' arrangements.

Hot off the digital press
Global Peace Operations Review Annual Compilation 2015

The Review covers more than one hundred multilateral peace operations active in the previous year including missions fielded by the UN, AU, EU, ECOWAS, OSCE, OAS and coalitions. It uses a broad definition of peace operations that includes multilateral and ad hoc military and police missions, as well as civilian led political missions. Neither type of mission has a simple definition.
This substantial 264-page document is somewhat hidden on the Global Peace Operations Review website-but is a real treasure-trove for peace operations data that should be shared and appreciated!

2015 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report

Since its inception in 1989, the TTCSP has focused on collecting data and conducting research on think tank trends and the role think tanks play as civil society actors in the policymaking process. In 2007, the TTCSP developed and launched the global index of think tanks, which is designed to identify and recognize centers of excellence in all the major areas of public policy research and in every region of the world. To date TTCSP has provided technical assistance and capacity building programs in 81 countries.
Rankings are popular, but the TTCSP has been around for quite some time and features plenty of information on the global Think Tank scene (the web presentation of the endeavor could probably be improved a bit...)

2016 Global NGO Online Technology Report

A collaborative research project by the Public Interest Registry and Nonprofit Tech for Good, the 2016 Global NGO Online Technology Report is an inaugural effort to gain a better understanding of how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide use online technology to communicate with their supporters and donors. Based upon the survey results of 2,780 NGOs from Africa, Asia, Australia & Oceania, Europe, North America, and South America, the data gleaned from the online survey is unprecedented and provides valuable insight into the global NGO sector and its use of online technology.
And *another* interesting report that I should read properly at some point...

The Open University at 45: What can we learn from Britain's distance education pioneer?

Still, none of these changes and challenges suggest any core defects in the OU’s model. Over 45 years it has shown an ability to innovate effectively; to serve very large numbers of nontraditional students; to pay careful attention to designing interactive classes that work at a distance; to offer degrees that are valued in the labor market; and, increasingly, to focus on the best ways to retain adult students who are balancing their studies with work and family obligations. Among the practical strategies it has used to accomplish these goals:
Continual change. The OU's central mission of democratizing access to postsecondary education hasn't shifted. But its nontraditional culture has helped it adapt quickly over the years to new technologies that make particular sense for distance learning, from tape cassettes to DVD-ROMs to YouTube to threaded web discussions with classmates, guided by tutors.
Recognition that part-time students' learning needs vary enormously even within the same institution.
Providing multiple points of entry, at no risk, to attract nontraditional students. Trying out free course materials and podcasts, and watching BBC specials co-created with the OU, requires no commitment from students who might be intimidated by formal enrollment.
Combining scale with personalization.
Ben Wildavsky reflects on the 45th birthday of the UK's Open University-threatened by short-sighted higher education policy-making in the UK and challenging questions around the globalization of the model and higher education in general, OU certainly stands for a lot of success of progressive thinking that were alive in Europe in the 1970s.

Lost in Translation: How Relevant is the Relevance Debate in Academia?

The debate about relevance of management research happens almost entirely in academic journals. Since non-academics are practically excluded from this communication, their ability to confirm or deny the usefulness of any approach towards making research ‘more relevant’ is next to Zero. Paradoxically, from my own experience with talking to non-academics, most practitioners neither know nor care about the ‘relevance debate’ in academia at all.
But let’s also be more realistic about how ‘relevant’ management research can be. As one of my colleagues once said: Our research may not benefit society much, but it does not do much harm either. Elaborating on this rather ironic note: It is important to enjoy research as an undertaking – after all, academics are practitioners of their own discipline. And I agree with Mats Alvesson and Andre Spicer that there is little point in complying with norms of excellence and academic rigor – for the sake of trying to be ‘scientific’ – when this makes research boring.
Stephan Manning makes some very good points that go beyond issues of 'relevance' or the role of management studies. Higher education debates have become quite self-referential in many ways, often being borderline naval gazing. From professor's 'quit lit', to the umpteenth debate around 'impact', 'policy-relevance' and 'evidence' to questions around publishing outlets or the use of laptops in classrooms. There is no 'ivory tower' for the 99%-higher ed is an industry firmly embedded in our societies and contemporary economy and Stephan's point to do 'stuff' that does no harm and is even fun sounds like good advice...

Academic precarity as hierarchical dependence in the Max Planck Society

This essay examines the idiosyncratic internal hierarchy of Germany's foremost research organization, the Max Planck Society. It employs Louis Dumont's analytics of paramount value, encompassment, and complementarity to convey the symbolic logic of relations therein.
The essay concludes that the ubiquity of temporary contracts among these actors does not arise simply-as many presume-from a generic neoliberal precariatization of the academy. Instead, precarity of employment in the Max Planck Society is the contemporary expression of dependencies initiated by a far older tradition of intellectual leadership, and the morphologies of German monarchy that preceded it.
I have to be honest, for a moment I thought Vita Peacock was a clever pseudonym and very fitting for this article-my apologies to Vita. Really interesting, if a bit 'heavy' at times, anthropological reflection on the epitome of German excellence in science-the Max Planck institutes.


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