Links & Contents I Liked 176

Hi all,

After the recent link review #175 anniversary, the blog passed another milestone: This is blog post #401!

Development news with humanitarian issues in post-quake Japan; 10 ways for deskbound aid workers to feel ‘fieldish’; the limits of NGOs speaking ‘for’ people; UN's discourse of impotent language; data-driven ICT4D resources; Geneva orgs paying interns; next UN SG-female and feminist? Complexity book review essay; re-negotiating informed photographic consent; the trouble with the Gates’ – plus a really, really terrible long read on G4S and the private security business.

Our digital lives: New research: Twitter pushed racial justice in the US – but hashtags don’t help Darfur; inside Amazon UK’s power-reviewer community wars.

Academia: The pressure when researching digital extremism; academics (including those at #ISA2016) need to engage publicly; has Twitter transformed the PhD experience (well…not really?); Elsevier, Sci-Hub & the Streisand effect.


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Development news
Humanitarian needs remain five years on from the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

Today some 170,000 are either housed in temporary or rented accommodation or have moved to restart their lives in others parts of the country.
“While many of the young have moved on in search of new opportunities, many older people have been left behind in temporary housing,” said Tadateru KonoĆ©, President of the Japanese Red Cross Society and of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “As these temporary housing sites slowly empty, those who remain are left more vulnerable and more alone as their communities break-up. Red Cross volunteers continue to play an important role in supporting this fragile population”.
I read quite a few comments when this was shared in my networks along the lines of 'if Japan struggles with the aftermath of a humanitarian disaster, imagine how much more difficult humanitarian work is in many other places'. I think this is an important point on how unrealistic some of our expectations have become in a hyper-modern world in terms of how quickly and easily we can back to 'normal' after a big humanitarian disaster. It's complex-even in a stable, democratic, supportive environment such as Japan.

10 ways for deskbound development workers to pretend they are 'in the field'

Now look at you: stuck at a desk, in the west, concealing a copy of Dead Aid inside a cover for The End of Poverty. No, development isn’t all air miles and romance – at least not for the thousands of us who study, research or work in development in the UK. But don’t let that stop you from doing the work that makes your colleagues’ jet-setting adventures possible. On the contrary, squint hard enough and you’ll be right there with them.
Here are 10 handy tips to make your day at the office more field-like.
Nick Aveling supplies a good start on the topic as commentators start adding more ways...I would encourage to fake power outages and/or turn off AC to get the 'nothing ever works in this hot, stuffy place' feeling...:)!

“Speak to us, not about us”: social media and international development

Right now social media is mostly a fundraising and reporting tool of development NGOs and aid agencies. It’s just another way to “demonstrate results” and make appeals for financial support. But the power of social media remains in its ability to make the marginalized heard in their own voices. After listening to the appeals of speakers like Aya Chebbi, Alicia Robinson of WaterAid, and Jessica Horn— an activist, consultant and LSE alumna – I am more convinced than ever that development organizations need to stop trying to “be a voice” for poor and instead give the poor a microphone. Don’t show me a picture of someone impacted by your development project, re-tweet her feed, publish her videos, introduce me to the content she creates; be the conduit between her world and mine.
Meredith MacKenzie shares some important observations from a recent large NGO conference. As much as I agree that NGOs in this day and age cannot and should not simply be 'voices of the poor', I think that there are other interesting avenues to explore for NGO communication, e.g. in connection with journalism, 'public diplomacy' or transparency and accountability beyond a picture from 'the field'. Large NGOs are moving towards full-service media organizations-and the opportunities and risks need to be discussed more.

The Grammar of Impotence

Despite passing 16 resolutions on Syria since 2012, the divided UN Security Council has achieved little in stopping the war and suffering. Security Council resolutions are carefully worded. What does the diplomatic language of those resolutions tell us about the divisions and frustrations of the diplomatic process? In three graphs, we show how the carefully-selected words and phrases unintentionally illustrate institutional failure and impotence.
Ben Parker meets the diplomatic language of UN resolutions-and the foundation for a critical discourse analysis is laid...

Top resources in the ICT4D community

It is not easy, but also time consuming, to find the best resources related to the topic. Therefore, I have started mining such tweets and resources to facilitate and provide them to the ICT4D community. My @ict4d acccount was always meant to be a twitter account for people in search of great resources around ICT4D. Now, this is a weekly service to deliver a list of the best trending resources to your inbox.
Christian Kreutz has started a great new curation tool/service on ICT4D content!

We pay our interns

In 2016, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Geneva joined forces on the common understanding that promoting human rights worldwide must first be applied to basic human rights in their own structures. As a result of this, they started promoting a basic pay (stipend) for their interns.
There is no justification whatsoever that could support any structure working towards the improvement of human rights that does not pay its interns. Not to pay interns prevents people from the Global South from interning in Northern NGOs and International Organisations (IOs). This is fundamentally contrary to the most basic human values that we claim to defend.
A group of NGOs in Geneva responds to the recent discussion around unpaid (UN) internships in very expensive places...

Madam Secretary-General?

Appointing a woman to the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations would send a strong signal to the world that a person’s sex need not constrain their ambition. But it will not necessarily guarantee that women’s rights will be at the forefront of the UN’s agenda. What is needed is a Secretary-General with the commitment and determination to press the UN to deliver on its many unimplemented gender equality promises, and not to abandon the women’s empowerment agenda when it becomes politically uncomfortable – which it often does. In other words, we need a woman and a feminist. Is insisting on both as criteria for selecting the next SG asking too much?
Anne-Marie Goetz with a detailed and nuanced essay on women representation, feminism and the inner workings of the UN system in the run-up to the next Secretary-General appointment.

Dead Man’s Market and the Boy Gangs of Niger

Like quicksand, a gangland born of desperation threatens to swallow a generation or more of Zinder’s youth whole. And in this overlooked corner of Africa, where development prospects are dimming as fast as the tides of Islamic radicalism are rising, the ripple effects could be sweeping. “Groups like the palais destroy the social fabric of a country, and that breeds regional instability,” argues Sophien Ben-Achour, the Sahel team leader with Search for Common Ground, an international conflict-resolution NGO. “The Sahel is geopolitically significant for so many reasons — migration, extremism, resources — and the last thing we want here are weak states with too many people and the presence of violence.”
Jillian Keenan reports from Niger, a 'forgotten' crisis that only seems to become visible now because of its potential for terrorism.

Which of these three books on complexity and development is right for you? Review/user’s guide

Fortunately, the last few years have also given the development sector three relevant books: Ben Ramalingam’s Aid on the Edge of Chaos; Jean Boulton, Peter Allen, and Cliff Bowman’s Embracing Complexity; and Danny Burns and Stuart Worsley’s Navigating Complexity in International Development.
It would take a committed development nerd to read the approximately 800 pages (not counting endnotes and indexes) of these three books. Since I am that nerd, let me help guide your reading.
Dave Algoso makes book review essays useful for the aid community!

What Is Informed Consent in Digital Development Photography?

All of this has got me thinking about what informed consent for photographs really means in a hyperconnected world. I don’t have all of the answers, but I do have some thoughts.
As with any good blog post, the discussion of Josh Woodard's initial post is almost more interesting than his actual post. Given the current debate of research ethics and ethics reviews in (US) academia, I am a bit worried that this discussion may end up in a space which may not be feasible to adhere to by smaller organizations. Informed consent needs to be renegotiated in the digital age, but it won't do away with terrible 'aid worker padding village children' shots...

Still, putting the accounts together, it’s hard to come away without a sense of urgency. The upward mobility that community colleges live for relies on a certain basic level of material security. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs isn’t perfect, but it’s hard to study for a Bio test when you don’t know where you’ll sleep that night. And the transience that affects so many low-income students -- and is effectively blamed on them -- is often involuntary.
Dean Dad's post fits into different categories as it talks about poverty in the US, the complexities of welfare systems and the challenges to mobility in connection with education. Definitely a book for the reading list!

The Gates of Perception

Bill aims for an “energy miracle”, but while he graciously concedes that governments have a big role to play in sparking new advances, his advice to readers is to “get educated” and “study hard”, in order to unlock “the human capacity to innovate”. For Melinda, “the goal is to change what we think of as normal” but her approach is exactly the same: “the solution is innovation, and you can help.” Ah, innovation – just like cocaine: if you inhale enough of it, anything seems possible!
Paul Currion is not happy with the Gates' annual letter... as Ben Ramalingam point out in his comment, Gates is the super-rich tip of a much bigger iceberg...

The Chaos Company

Nonetheless history has amply shown that national governments and aspirants to national power routinely commit abuses far greater than private security could. Furthermore, for the purpose of understanding the industry, the important point is this: the growth of private security is determinedly apolitical.
The protesters could not have picked a more difficult target for their concerns. Because it is a public company, G4S is subject to shareholder pressure, but as investors must know, its very reason for being is to stand firm in the face of trouble.
Enterprises such as G4S are now a part of the international order, more permanent than some nation-states, more wealthy than many, more efficient than most. Indeed, an argument can be made that U.N. peacekeeping forces would be more effective and less expensive if they were constituted from the best private-security companies. Had G4S owned the responsibility in South Sudan, it is unlikely that any U.N. base would have been overrun. This is not about ideology, and it is not intrinsically good or bad.
Spoiler alert: This is an outrageously bad piece of journalism that William Langewiesche supplied to Vanity Fair. A blatantly apolitical, gloriously uncontroversial and deliberately naive portray of G4S and the global private security market. The author sticks to the 'governments are not always good and private sector is not always bad' line without even a hint of a critical discussion about privatization of services, the nature of the surveillance state and profits from securitization in times of the 'war on terror'. Google 'disaster capitalism'. The market is neutral and shareholders are responsible investors...and I haven't even started to go into the misrepresentations of 'Africa' and root causes of violence and conflict.

Our digital lives

Hashtag activism on Twitter has triggered biggest ever push for racial justice in US, say researchers

"Activists managed to spread their messages much further than ever before by appealing to the moral sensitivities of non-activists such as celebrities, politicians, online humorists, and ordinary citizens who, in turn, endorsed and shared the activists' posts with their followers,” the authors wrote.
According to the report, BLM borrowed many of its digital tactics from prior movements, including the development and independent distribution of new issue narratives, media criticism, systemic critiques, and enlisting well-known endorsers.
"This report showcases how Black Lives Matter and related movements have used social media tools to broaden conversations about the general capacity of online media tools to facilitate social and political change," the authors stated.
A short summary of a longer research paper. Agree on 'broaden conversations', but 'facilitate social and political change'? We'll see...

In Solving Global Crises, How Useful Are Hashtags and Likes?

“I was spending increasing amounts of time in Sudan and had increasing connections with Sudanese, and I was just seeing this growing mismatch between the rhetoric of the Save Darfur movement — and what it was imagining that it was achieving — and what was actually happening on the ground,” she says.
In this podcast, hear a first-hand account of the disconnect between a hopeful social movement, the harsh reality for those it tried to help, and the lessons that emerged along the way.
Rebecca Hamilton talks about her experience in Sudan-an interesting contrast to the research on #blacklivesmatter

Amazon's most prolific reviewers: Meet the people whose lives revolve around rating products

In reality, Amazon has very little agency over the politics of its reviewing platform, whose tendency to attract abusive behaviour is likely the result of the unique opportunity it affords people of a certain predisposition. It's a means of self-publicity that allows those so inclined to hide behind the appearance of delivering an important service. Unlike the bare-faced extroversion of other social media platforms, it attracts a unique strand of introverted egotism, one that appreciates attention but not necessarily the more conventional, or transparent, means of obtaining it.
Nathalie Olah on how Amazon review dynamics mirror digital live and many of its challenges around online identities, trolling and 'people living for the web'.

16 women paving the way in digital media and technology

Our pick of some of the most inspiring women in media and tech, plus some suggestions from our community on Twitter
Great list to update your Twitter feed and bookmarks!


For what it’s worth?

And to be honest it is much easier to cope with explicit rants by right-wing supporters declaring my incompetence in more or less nice words, than to know how to handle this subtle and creeping sense of being checked. Espacially since I know how extremist organizations (including supporters and more loosely tied networks) have developed their social media presence and capabilities for several years. Maybe I am naive to enter this field of research, and trust me – I have often questioned why I do it. But I have always reached the conclusion that my work can help and function as a useful framework in combatting online strategies of groups like ISIS. Although, the personal experiences and my well-being are now poking the rational self to atleast talk about the above mentioned consecuences of not only working on this subject, but being visible and open with it.
My dear colleague Michael Krona on the challenges of doing research on extremism in the digital age-between subtle surveillance and open hostilities 'public scholarship' currently gets upgraded to 4.0 which raises important questions for universities, Think Tanks and those involved in engaging with new representations of violence.

Academics can change the world – if they stop talking only to their peers

Academics need to start playing a more prominent role in society instead of largely remaining observers who write about the world from within ivory towers and publish their findings in journals hidden behind expensive digital paywalls.
Government and university policies need to become more prescriptive in what they expect from academics. Publishing research in peer-reviewed journals is and will remain highly important. But incentives should be added to encourage academics to share their research with the general public.
Savo Heleta stresses yet again the need to move beyond publications as the primary, and maybe most easily measurable output, of academic work. But this is bigger than writing in different outlets and adopt more accessible writing styles. As I write this, thousands of global academics meet in a hotel complex in Atlanta for the ISA 2016 mega-conference. Other than a few snarky tweets and short blog posts about the traveling academic class, little to no engagement will take place with 'civilians' outside the bubble. From public lectures to newspaper op-eds to simply meeting and sharing differently much more needs to be done to explore the full impact of academic work and public engagement.

Has Twitter transformed the PhD experience?

“People will contact each other on Twitter before a conference, saying we should meet up and share information on a certain subject,” she said.
Twitter has also helped researchers in difficult-to-research fields, such as sex workers or child abuse, to connect with each other and start collaborations, said Ms Peach, whose own research has focused on these topics.
It has also allowed more junior researchers to build a profile and increase the visibility of their research, she added.
In short, Jack Grove is not really answering the question from the headline. A bit like development debates, PhD debates have become much more wide-spread and mainstream in the digital age, including creating academic celebrities like the 'Thesis Whisperer'. If you are even remotely linked to anything academic, chances are you have seen a PhD comic shared in your network, for example. But how do we go from here to the 'transformation'? Financial, mental health and professional issues still remain firmly in place-and at the end of the day it is in most cases about submitting a book/thesis and embark on a difficult future. I should probably write a longer post on this at some point...

Elsevier and the Streisand Effect

Last weekend the Streisand Effect reached the opinion pages of the New York Times with Kate Murphy's Should All Research Papers Be Free?, replete with quotes from Michael Eisen, Alicia Wise, Peter Suber and David Crotty. Alas, Murphy starts by writing "Her protest against scholarly journals’ paywalls". Sci-Hub isn't a protest. Calling something a protest is a way of labelling it ineffectual. Sci-Hub is a tool that implements a paywall-free world. Occupy Wall Street was a protest, but had it actually built a functioning alternative financial system no-one would be describing it that way.
The result of the Streisand Effect has been, among other things, to sensitize the public to the issue of open access.
This clearly isn't in Elsevier's interest. So, having failed to shut down the services and garnering them a lot of free publicity, where does Elsevier go from here?
David Rosenthal reviews the recent debate around Sci-Hub, how it's going mainstream and how this Streisand effect challenges Elsevier and other publishers...


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