Links & Contents I Liked 175

Hi all,

Even though the 175th edition of my link review is more like a 'small' anniversary, it is a good moment to go back 75 reviews and revisit my reflections from November 2013; essentially, not much has changed when it comes to the importance and joy of curating development (and digital media & communication) content:
100 weekly link reviews later: Why I still like curating #globaldev content

Development news
with women challenging the development power that be; a Silicon Valley’s intelligence firm’s uneasy business with the humanitarian sector; digital development watchdogs; apps gathering digital dust; the old song of SDGs; transparent, but meaningless: DFID’s annual reviews; ICT4D and lack of privacy; the end of the ‘management set’?; Airbnb in Africa; ethnographic insights into ‘China in Africa’; tackling ‘heropreneurship’ (with better jargon?)
Our digital lives and meeting non-digitally plus Google’s surveillance capitalism
Why we post launches tons of open access books on social media & London university exploitation through teaching-only contracts.


New from aidnography
The Self-Help Myth (book review)

As the narrative of 5+ decades of charitable work in the Californian agricultural industry unfolds, we have the great fortune of exploring one of the best development ethnographies I have come across in the very long time-despite the fact that Kohl-Arenas’ research actually took place in the USA and not in a developing country.
Her detailed, yet carefully selected vignettes from the early days of the self-help movement in the 1960s to the social capital era of the 1990s and today’s ‘win-win’ coalitions including the agricultural industry are framed into three beautifully written chapters that elucidate her key points vividly, yet leave space for complex discussions rather than blaming a ‘neoliberal conspiracy’
Development news
7 ways for women to challenge the powers that be

Challenging the powers that be is an intimidating experience, but there is a point when we as women have to speak up in our aid and NGO circles, no matter how uncomfortable or afraid we may be. We have yet to fully explore, understand and unleash the depth of that potential in what is still a very male-defined do-gooder industry.
Jennifer Lentfer on WhyDev for International Women's Day.

Spies Sans Frontières?

The tool, developed by secretive Silicon Valley firm Palantir, can be enlisted to tackle a range of humanitarian problems: from people trafficking and gun-running to stemming floods. It could revolutionise disaster coordination, management and response.
But the global aid community is wary. Palantir retains extremely close links to the US security establishment, and the line between politics and humanitarian work is under constant attack and incrementally being pushed back.
After a months-long investigation, IRIN can reveal how potential aid partners are spooked by these political and security connections and how a major deal with a key UN agency recently fell through because of them.
“The question is whether humanitarian organisations should share our broader political concerns. I would argue strongly yes – that humanitarian principles actually should translate into a concern about military-industrial surveillance and its providers.”
Obi Anyadike report for IRIN about an issue that is and will remain very high on our agenda: How to harness the power of data and 'Silicon Valley' in an ethical way that confirms with our development and humanitarian ethos?

The dark side of digital development

These digital development watchdogs, accountability specialists and evaluators are not going to be popular or lauded, in fact they are likely to draw much opprobrium and criticism from many quarters, including from within the development sector. But as long as they do their job correctly and with diligence, such criticisms should be seen as nothing less an indicator of success and a firm endorsement of their value.
Ben Ramalingam's post is a 3-in-1: Interesting reflection, reminder about the great open access IDS Bulletin AND a reminder about the recently launched Principles for Digital Development.

Expensive NGO Phone Apps Gather Digital Dust

However, six months later, Krousar Koum­rou and two other apps de­veloped through the project have notched less than 400 downloads each.
Although the activists had re­searched their target populations, Ms. Rath said, “we didn’t know about mobile phone behavior.” She described a recent meeting with activists and NGO workers. “They don’t know about Play Store, they don’t have Gmail.”
“It’s a trend for funders to fund projects having to do with technology,” she said. But app creation, she added, “requires a lot of resources, especially to measure the impact.”
Ben Paviour on yet another ICT4D project with good intentions-and poor implementation; apps are a tricky tool for ICT4D projects and they can easily end up ignored in the global app universe...

An Old Song

Returning now to that line from the event’s description, this is the aid community that appears, now at least six decades deep in the enterprise of organized, institutionalized development (A) to be proclaiming to have discovered only in 2016 the need to figure out who are the most vulnerable and marginalized, or (B) to be inspiring the coming generation of work by sloganing over the fact that this is exactly what they have reported to have been doing for the past six decades, or (C) to want to convince us that ‘finding the most vulnerable and marginalized people’ somehow defines an ‘all new’ or ‘improved’ product that really will work, without explaining to us what they are going to do differently from the decades of many approaches.
Marc DuBois is reflecting on the state of our industry in his three-part blog series-as always great food for thought and discussions!

The Limits of Transparency: DFID’s Annual Reviews

DFID thus suffers a kind of technocratic schizophrenia. It possesses the most transparent and open assessment mechanism in the world – and a scoring system designed to prevent any appearance of failure.
Aid Leap on one of the essential problems of 'transparency' and 'open data': A lot of it means very little unless a) you are an expert and can read between the lines or b) you have to do a lot of work to understand nuances which very few people will be interested in doing.

Privacy and ICT4D: Mutually Exclusive for the Greater Good?

I can’t ignore that the discourses of the development field contribute to this ethical quandary, even propogate: openness, transparency, and accountability. It is hard to counter, or even question, the utility of mapping in ICT4D. But there are ethical questions here regardless. I have written about the ethics of mobile technology before, both here and here and mapping is an extension of this precisely as it redefines the permissiveness of privacy in society.
Michael Gallagher on tricky ethical questions in ICT4D-goes well with the 'surveillance capitalism' article included further down!

The Management Set

Luis Ubiñas was president of the Ford Foundation from 2008 to 2013, taking the helm at the start of the economic downturn. He had little nonprofit experience, a Harvard MBA, and nearly two decades of experience as a media consultant at — surprise! — McKinsey. Ford was facing a shrinking endowment and Ubiñas was brought on to help weather the storm. He promoted a “results-oriented culture” and took a relentlessly data driven approach to allocating resources, slashing programs and cutting staff.
Alas, it left the organization demoralized and tired, and several longtime employees left during his tenure.
The debate about 'MBAs' working in development is certainly not new, but Rikka Sharma Rani shares some interesting reflections on this notion also gets (more and more?) challenged in the sector. Back in 2012 I had a digital discussion with Charles Kennedy on this topic: Only get an MBA if you are not interested in sustainable development

Airbnb Is Changing The Way Tourists Get To Know Africa

Airbnb has upended the system. When the site launched in 2008, Africa was a minor part. That has changed, and now that more than 44,000 homes in Africa have been listed, the continent has become one of the company's fastest-growing regions. (South Africa, Morocco and Kenya top the continent's markets.)
Maybe that will make business even busier for Ndosi, who has earned enough cash through Airbnb to fund his entire graduate school education, which he hopes to start soon. The publicity has helped him gain more clients for his safari company. And he's investing in more rooms and accommodations across Arusha to expand his Airbnb business — something he now wants to do full time.
Malaka Gharib with a good news story on how the digital economy can have a positive impact on local communities.

Moving to Africa for fresh air – intriguing 'insider' insights into Nairobi's Chinese community, and what the future holds

Jun finally decides I can join him. He wants to show me the different places where Chinese hang out so we start by taking a stroll in the Yaya centre, a four-floors mall where many Chinese go for shopping. There is an open café on the ground floor, here I see two young Chinese men, elegantly dressed, in what looks like a work meeting, I overhear their fluent English as they chat to the Kenyans at their table whilst nodding to each other in Chinese Mandarin. As we head upstairs, I hear different Chinese languages, from the Northern “Erhua” to the Southern “Wu” and “Amoy” dialects.
It is evidence at just how diverse the Chinese community in this city is, they’re not all here for the same reasons either.
The new Chinese Kenyan generations will seek a space they can relate to and identify with, and that will be a Kenya that is willing to accept them as Kenyan citizens as well as acknowledge the diversity of the new Chinese migrants and visitors, from the rude shop owner with broken English to the young Chinese that feel more comfortable speaking Swahili than Mandarin.
Yuebai Liu provides some much needed ethnographic nuances to the dominant 'China in Africa' discourse. Not surprisingly, things are more complicated and nuanced once we discover the people behind the political discussions.

Tackling Heropreneurship

To really change a system, I believe people need a more holistic set of skills, including systems thinking, an understanding of collaboration tools to further collective impact, and lateral leadership skills such as the ability to lead without power and to galvanize movement toward a common goal across a diverse and disjointed solutions ecosystem. They also need a grounded understanding of themselves and their skills, such as how they like to work, which roles in a team best fit their skills, and if/how their risk tolerance fits with the range of social impact career options. Finally, if they plan to take a leadership or strategic role in solving a problem, they need a deep understanding of the reality of that problem.
As much as I agree with Daniela Papi-Thornton on identifying this important issue, her approach also seems to be very heavily laden with business school and entrepreneurial jargon. And of course we need to discuss whether the usual notion of 'let's make entrepreneurship better' needs to be more fundamentally critical analyzed-maybe we simply need less 'entrepreneurs' after all?!

Are You on Middle Class Standard Time?

If so, you may have some experience being on Middle Class Standard Time (MST). Under MST, all good ideas must fit somehow in any given timeframe. It’s elastic – you need to cover six conversation topics, for example, and they can shrink or expand to fill as much or as little time as you have. It doesn’t matter if you only have three hours in which to fit what should be five hours of material. For that reason MST is also known as Magician Standard Time. Abracadabra! We have all the time we need. (But no, we can’t do fewer things in that time.)
MST often results in rushed, over-packed workshops, conferences and meetings that leave participants little breathing room to digest concepts, to say nothing of social time. People who consciously operate on MST privilege their agenda (written or unwritten) over the wellbeing of the group. I believe most of this can be chocked-up to the influence of professional middle class meeting culture.
Andrew Willis Garcés' post is from 2013-but still a very important reminder of how 'MST' crept into our lives and meetings...

Our digital lives

How WeChat Is Extending China's School Days Well into the Night

Experts agree that the messaging app is intensifying the round-the-clock pressure that already pervades China’s education system. “It infringes on students’ privacy and affects the development of their character,” says Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of 21st Century Education Research Institute. “We should be clear about the ways in which this technology platform can be used.”
Yiting Sun on just one more tool that creates more pressure for school children in China...

Distributed teams and digital communities, offline

But during that intense and fairly intimate workshop week, I learned about other parts of their lives - parts that make what they do professionally even more impressive. The stuff behind the scenes doesn't get talked about at conferences or reported on but is simply part of the everyday fabric of people's lives. More importantly for my purposes as an online collaborator, it also rarely gets communicated as part of regular work-focused digital communications with each other unless there's an existing personal relationship there.
That's another reason why the in-person meetings are so important. Distributed teams and digital communities of practice rarely have the opportunity to really "get to know each other" online - instead, our digital communication is largely focused on our reason for being part of that community, and "working". Those online relationships might well be focused even more on task delivery than in-person work relationships, because it's often perceived that we prove our worth via the tasks or work that we get done online - so, getting down to the to-do list is prioritised time-wise, over the "relationship-building" parts of our work.
Zara Rahman on the value of 'offline' meetings and interactions; I can link this to my academic interactions and why I am so critical of mega-conferences; less is very often more; fewer conferences, but better settings, fewer projects, but with time and space to get to know people.

The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism

Surveillance capitalism reaches beyond the conventional institutional terrain of the private firm. It accumulates not only surveillance assets and capital, but also rights. This unilateral redistribution of rights sustains a privately administered compliance regime of rewards and punishments that is largely free from detection or sanction. It operates without meaningful mechanisms of consent either in the traditional form of “exit, voice, or loyalty” associated with markets or in the form of democratic oversight expressed in law and regulation.
This week's long-read: Shoshana Zuboff on Google and the move from accumulating big data to actively change behavior.

Hot off the digital press

Why We Post Launches on 29 February

UCL Press is delighted to announce the publication of a major new series on the anthropology of social media, Why We Post. Based on the groundbreaking work of 9 anthropologists who each spent 15 months living in communities in China, Brazil, Turkey, Chile, India, England, Italy and Trinidad, the series explores and compares the results in a collection of ground-breaking and accessible ethnographic studies.
A fantastic new open access collection of digital ethnography!


The 6 Universities Relying Most on Teaching-only Staff

Birkbeck, the University of West London (UWL) and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) top the list of institutions relying heavily on junior-grade, teaching-only staff, according to figures obtained by Fighting Against Casualisation in Education (FACE). At Birkbeck, more than a third of recorded academic staff are teaching fellows or teaching assistants, compared to a sector-wide average of less than one in ten
These dynamics punish those who live in London double: First, they get bad contracts and second, they have to live in Greater London on small wages...


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