Links & Contents I Liked 173

Hi all,

Let’s start the week with some fresh readings!

Development news features: Wyclef Jean’s ‘Ask me Anything’ disaster; the troubling comfort of aid lives in Geneva; UK think tanks threatened by ‘anti-advocacy’ clause; Kagame’s Rwanda; how bad are humanitarian agencies listening?; our limited empathy in long wars; complex complexity theory; Cape Town’s Congolese dandies.
Our digital lives on auto-ethnographic Snapchat experiments; #blacklivesmatter & citizen empowerment; enhancing IS narratives?
New readings featuring: Safety & Protection of Media professionals; using Twitter data in social science; why the World Bank is still needed and still disappoints.
Academia on the laborious process of publishing research and the Khan Academy on the future of free education.


New from aidnography

Bad news (book review)
Bad news is a timely addition to current debates academics, students and practitioners have on the importance of various media formats and their contributions to democratic expression and critical scrutiny of those in power. Equally important, in an age where open data, digital storytelling and various Internet tools are all too easily heralded as the ‘future’ of accountability, small, old-fashioned media development projects are still important.
A free press, good quality journalism and engaged and informed citizens are always facing open and subtle forms of suppression from those in power. Anjan Sundaram stands up for the last journalists in the Rwandan dictatorship, reminding us that we should have learned more lessons from the 20th century to counter oppression and support media freedom and civic engagement rather than just believing glossy statistics and prepared speeches on growth and poverty reduction.
Development news
I am 3X Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter/producer Wyclef Jean, and today marks the 20th anniversary of the Fugees' The Score - Ask me Anything!
Hi wyclef
As a young songwriter myself, I have a question for you.
What's a good fake charity I could start up to rob people of money who really need it?
Thanks so much.
...and this is a more polite comment on Wyclef Jean's 'Ask me Anything!' thread on Reddit-a great example of how unfiltered communication can easily backfire in our digital age...

The troubling comfort of aid work in Geneva
Even though there’s a lot of privilege in the UN system, it keeps a lot of people insecure. A whole range of younger or more junior interns, short-term staff, consultants, etc., don’t get access to the benefits. But even those who do have great positions and salaries are often kept insecure by some means or other–by short-term contracts, by reshuffles, by organisational politics, by humiliations meted down to them by their bosses, by their own ambition for career advancement. The uncertainty keeps people looking inwards, caught up in the vortex.
As a summer evening slowly extended in one of the parks by Lake Geneva, I jokingly ask someone what their dream is. “To find a job,” they replied, all too seriously. Geneva brings together an amazing set of people together–highly educated, multilingual, often well-travelled and wanting to make the world a better place. You can sit down for a coffee with someone and instantly find a deep connection because of all you share.
But I’m worried that we talked more about employment prospects than we talked about values.
Peter Fremlin on the aid-live bubble that is Geneva.

Think tanks could be muzzled by UK charity anti-advocacy clause
Some may still prefer to draw a line between activism and research communications. However, where exactly does one draw the line? Does a parliamentary event at which research results are presented that appear to challenge government policy go too far? Does a policy briefing that makes specific recommendations count if it is shared widely across social media? If we blog or generate media articles that challenge the government to respond to new evidence does that place us in the firing line? The guidelines do mention the possibility of ‘exceptional cases’ where grants fund research that may produce recommendations that challenge government policy. Just how these qualifications will be made and what types of activities will be deemed acceptable is not explained. This is far from reassuring.
James Georgalakis expresses his concerns with a new anti-advocacy clause that could soon enter UK charity law-similar to the tax audits for non-profits in Canada under the Harper government, this could quickly develop into another case when conservative governments find new ways of muzzling dissenting voices...

Rwanda’s Achilles' heel: there is no back-up plan to Kagame
In Rwanda today there are no checks and balances. There is no independent media in the country. Since he took power there has never been a Rwandan court decision that did not end the way that Kagame wanted it to. Every vote in parliament has produced the result Kagame desired. There has never been a popular vote in which people did not concede to Kagame’s will.
Susan Thomson shares some interesting background to the 'Bad News' review I just published on the blog.

Are You Really Listening? How Feedback Mechanisms Work (or Not) in Insecure Environments
We consulted over 2,700 people who had received aid in Somalia, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Syria. Only 400 of them said aid agencies had asked for their opinion.
That’s just 15 in 100, which left us wondering what aid agencies had to say about this. In Somalia we found humanitarians have developed a range of relatively sophisticated feedback systems, such as hotlines, SMS platforms and formalized office visits, yet communities are often unaware of these or don’t know how to use them. Overall, the volume of feedback received was lower than agencies expected.
In Afghanistan, formal mechanisms are much less common. We found that most agencies collect feedback through phone or face-to-face conversations with local representatives or through local community monitors. In many cases, the information is not systematically used, and there is no clear division of responsibilities within agencies for addressing the issues raised by communities.
Surprisingly, despite the differences in practice between the two contexts – from Mogadishu and Dolow in Somalia to Kandahar and Helmand in Afghanistan – the views of the communities turned out to be remarkably similar. People were critical of existing feedback processes, and five common concerns emerged:
Lotte Ruppert and Elias Sagmeister on ongoing research on the challenges of humanitarian feedback mechanisms.

On our ability to forget
The civil war in my country Syria, and my work for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders (MSF) are inevitably intertwined. I have spent the past five years, the lifespan of this war, trying to untangle the two and prevent one from encroaching on the other in a way that might reduce my impartiality as a humanitarian worker or my consciousness as a Syrian citizen. The brutal siege of Madaya has taken me to the edge of that balance where still finding my proper place in the two facets of my life, and preventing myself from falling into a nihilistic oblivion, has become a daily exercise.
When looking at Madaya, Taiz, Bossangoa, and many other places where the gods of war rule, one cannot but wonder what has led to our collective sense of indifference and inaction, the limbo between moral virtue and moral vice.
MSF's Tammam Aloudat on the fickleness of humanitarian attention in Syria (and many 'forgotten' wars and conflicts).

Complexity and development: still more theory than practice?
It seems that complexity theory and complexity practice are out of sync in the development sector: theory got out ahead with a boost from the unrelated disciplines where it first developed, but it turns out that practitioners are muddling their way to approaches that can be explained by the theory. Practitioners in the sector are simpy responding to the complexity they encounter in their work, even if they lack the analytical frameworks for it; they are also incorporating the complexity concepts that have made their way into popular intellectual culture (e.g. tipping points, feedback loops).
Complexity thinking has gotten its toeholds in development by explaining some of this complexity-relevant-but-unaware practice (both successes and failures). If there’s a next stage, it may be the explicit application of the theory to create new practice, or at least to significantly adapt current practice.
Dave Algoso on the complexities of the complexity debate in development.

The Dual Lives of Cape Town’s Congolese Dandies
But the response from the occasional smattering of South African onlookers is overwhelmingly positive, and this hints at another function of La Sape in the South African context: it can help to win over the locals and differentiate the sapeurs from the homogeneous masses of “foreigners,” and thereby the accompanying negative stereotypes evoked by many South Africans.
As Blanchard puts it: “Generally all people like to see someone that is well-dressed. There is nothing wrong with that — it’s good. You have this demonstration of peace and gaiety — it creates a good atmosphere. Then South Africans might protect me during eruptions of violence against foreigners because they like to see us dressed like this.”
Christopher Clark on the Congolese 'sapeurs' in Cape Town-a great piece of writing and photography where fashion, culture and African politics meet.

Our digital lives

My Little Sister Taught Me How To “Snapchat Like The Teens”
Quite honestly, up until Thanksgiving, I thought I was pretty good at Snapchat.
Then I watched my little sister on Snapchat.
Ben Rosen immerses himself and the reader into the depth of Snapchat-a complex auto-ethnographic endeavor to understand contemporary media ecologies as some researchers may put it ;)!

Does #blacklivesmatter matter? Does citizen monitoring make change?
We haven’t seen immediate, quantifiable change, but we know that today’s youth are growing up immersed in a very different discussion about race and racism than my generation did just 15–20 years ago.
It could very well be that the greatest impact of citizen assessments of learning lies less in the political influence of survey results than the transformation of the volunteer surveyors who participate in the process.
David Sasaki on #blacklivesmatter and development-related discussions on new forms of citizen engagement and empowerment.

Are we enhancing IS narratives?
Well, I believe it has little to do with the sometimes stiff and rigourous academic way of writing. Rather it is a matter of an already established image of IS. An image that we all have participated in creating without being aware of it. When reporting on their activities, when publishing images straight from their propaganda industry, when sharing videos and posts in social media, when talking about them in a certain way and when simplifying the phenomena of contemporary extremism. Too often guided by misconceptions, lack of knowledge and prejudices.
Their propaganda is powerful. But it is mainly not due to their own networks. It has a potential of becoming even more powerful when replicated and distributed in a certain way through everyone from journalists, politicians, academics like myself and people in general with keen sharing-fingers moving the cursor over click-bait online.
Therefore it is so important that not only me, in a position of public speaker, make considerations of what and how to publish or communicate.
My colleague Michael Krona reflects on the delicate balance of engaging critically with IS/ISIS and contributing to sustained and enhanced discourses around their narratives.

Hot off the digital press
Challenges to the Safety and Protection of Journalists
The International Women's Media Foundation prepared this report, An Overview Of The Current Challenges To The Safety And Protection Of Journalists, in support of a UNESCO meeting last week, News Organizations Standing Up for the Safety of Media Professionals." GIJN is grateful to the IWMF for letting us excerpt the sections below, on safety practices and recommendations.
Cassie Clark introduces some new resources on the topic of media professionals' safety.

A Tutorial for Using Twitter Data in the Social Sciences: Data Collection, Preparation, and Analysis
The ever increasing use of digital tools and services has led to the emergence of new data sources for social scientists, data wittingly or unwittingly produced by users while interacting with digital tools. The potential of these digital trace data is well-established. Still, in practice, the process of data collection, preparation and storage, and subsequent analysis can provide challenges. With this tutorial, we provide a guide for social scientists to the collection, preparation, and analysis of digital trace data collected on the microblogging service Twitter. This tutorial comes with a set of scripts providing researchers with a starter kit of code allowing them to search, collect, and prepare Twitter data following their specific research interests. We will start with a general discussion of the research process with Twitter data. Following this, we will introduce a set of scripts for data collection on Twitter. After this, we will introduce various scripts for the preparation of data for analysis. We then present a series of examples for typical analyses that could be run with Twitter data. Here, we focus on counts, time series, and networks. We close this tutorial with a discussion of challenges in establishing digital trace data as a normal data source in the social sciences.
Great new research paper for Twitter analytic nerds like myself...

The World Bank: Why It Is Still Needed and Why It Still Disappoints
An institution such as the World Bank—explicitly committed to global poverty reduction—should be more heavily invested in knowing what is needed in its client countries as well as in international coordination. It should be consistently arguing for well-informed pro-poor policies in its member countries, tailored to the needs of each country, even when such policies are unpopular with the powers-that-be. It should also be using its financial weight, combined with its analytic and convening powers, to support global public goods. In all this, there is a continuing role for lending, but it must be driven by knowledge—both in terms of what gets done and how it is geared to learning. The paper argues that the Bank disappoints in these tasks but that it could perform better.
Martin Ravallion continues the debate on why we need international organizations - and why they failing to live up to our expectations, but will continue to stick around...

Neutrality and solidarity in Nordic humanitarian action
Analysing international humanitarian engagement by the Nordic countries from the First World War to today, the paper also explores how the Nordic states also challenge classic divisions in how aid functions. Historically, Nordic humanitarian action has been characterised by close integration, between development aid and humanitarian action, between civil society and government and between neutrality and solidarity.
As aid budgets and discourses are rapidly changing in the Nordic world, Carl Marklund provides a historical analysis in this recent ODI paper.

Does it take too long to publish research?
Fraser's frustration is widely shared: researchers are increasingly questioning the time it takes to publish their work. Many say that they feel trapped in a cycle of submission, rejection, review, re-review and re-re-review that seems to eat up months of their lives, interfere with job, grant and tenure applications and slow down the dissemination of results.
She acknowledges that PLoS ONE's publication time has risen; one factor is that the volume of papers has, too — from 200 in 2006 to 30,000 per year now — and it takes time to find and assign appropriate editors and reviewers. (PLOS used 76,000 reviewers in 2015.) Another, says Kiermer, is that the number of essential checkpoints — including competing-interest disclosures, animal-welfare reports and screens for plagiarism — have increased in the past decade.
Kendall Powell contributes a long piece on the speed/slowness of the academic (journal) publication process and how the quest for 'impact' and 'prestige' is slowing down alternatives to conventional publishing.

Q&A with Salman Khan
We are a website on one level, but we’ve been getting into this broader discussion about “What is a classroom? What is the best use of a classroom?” Half of what I talk about isn’t Khan Academy the software; it’s the general idea that no one should be giving lectures anymore. The idea is to move the lectures out of the way, so when humans get together in class they can be doing problem-solving.
The founder of the Khan Academy defends his vision of free education's future-more numbers, more Internet, more problem-solving mambo-jambo...


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